Herbie Hancock (born April 12, 1940) is an American jazz keyboardist who has been musically active since the late 1950s.
Hancock was born in Chicago on April 12, 1940, the middle child of government meat inspector Wayman Edward Hancock and secretary Winnie Belle. Herbie was named after singer and actor Herb Jeffries. At age seven, he started piano lessons and was soon recognized as a child prodigy. On February 5, 1952, at age 11, he played the first movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 26 in D Major, K. 537 (Coronation) at a young people’s concert with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Hancock was an autodidact through much of his teens as he trained his ear to the harmonic concepts of pianist/arrangers Maurice Ravel, Clare Fischer, Bill Evans, Gil Evans, and Chris Anderson. In 1960, he briefly studied with neoromantic composer Vittorio Giannini.
In 1961, Hancock made his recording debut on the albums Royal Flush and Out of this World by trumpeter Donald Byrd, the latter credited to the Pepper Adams Donald Byrd Quintet. His reputation grew quickly and on May 28, 1962, Hancock recorded his first album at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.
The resulting Takin’ Off appeared that year on Blue Note. It features six originals in the hard-bop vein, mostly within the six-minute range, including “The Maze,” “Three Bags Full,” and the much-interpreted “Watermelon Man.” Hancock’s backing band here consists of trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon, bassist Butch Warren, and drummer Billy Higgins. As par for the label’s course, all players receive cover-billing. This and Hancock’s subsequent four albums were produced by Blue Note co-founder Alfred Lion.
“Watermelon Man,” with its distinct brass refrain, became a jazz standard with more than 200 versions recorded during the ensuing decades. Soon after the original,
Shortly after Takin’ Off, Hancock returned a favor by playing on Hubbard’s sixth album, Hub-Tones. Also in 1962, Hancock and Byrd backed trombonist Al Grey on two tracks (“Minor on Top” and “Hi Fly”) on the Argo Record Co. release Snap Your Fingers, which also features saxophonist Billy Mitchell and vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson.
On March 19, 1963, Hancock recorded his second album, My Point of View, released the following September. The set consists of five originals, including
- Takin’ Off (1962)
- My Point of View (1963)
- Inventions and Dimensions (1963)
- Empyrean Isles (1964)
- Maiden Voyage (1965)
- Speak Like a Child (1968)
- The Prisoner (1969)
- Fat Albert Rotunda (1969)
- Mwandishi (1971)
- Crossings (1972)
- Sextant (1973)
- Head Hunters (1973)
- Dedication (1974)
- Thrust (1974)
- Man-Child (1975)
- Secrets (1976)
- Third Plane (1977)
- Herbie Hancock Trio (1977)
- Sunlight (1978)
- Directstep (1979)
- The Piano (1979)
- Feets, Don’t Fail Me Now (1979)
- Monster (1980)
- Mr. Hands (1980)
- Magic Windows (1981)
- Herbie Hancock Trio (1982)
- Quartet (1982)
- Lite Me Up (1982)
- Future Shock (1983)
- Sound-System (1984)
- Village Life (1985)
- Perfect Machine (1988)
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