Herbie Hancock | Interact

I learned that there are a lot more dimensions to people than even they themselves realize.



This month, jazz legend Herbie Hancock, releases Possibilities. The DVD follows him through the creative journey of writing and recording music for a collaborative project with many of today’s top recording artists, including Sting, Paul Simon, John Mayer, and Santana. The DVD captures the very human and open interactions as the artists communicate ideas and talk about lessons of life. Mixed in is some great old footage, including performances with Miles Davis and Hancock’s legendary funk group, the Headhunters. Hancock, a worldly and wise man, was kind enough to share some of his unique insight with me.

What message do you most want the new DVD to convey?

I’m hoping that people will start to realize two things. One, start from the standpoint of serving humanity in some way. In other words, giving something, sharing something, sending something to the world that they don’t have already. Something fresh, something unexpected, something they hadn’t considered, something that has new clothing on it, or a twist of some sort. Basically something that is outside the box of their expectations. Then you have a chance of waking up something inside the viewers that pertains to inspiration, which every human being possesses. The second thing is in how many ways can I use whatever it is that I’m using—in this case, it’s music—to get the most bang for the buck. In other words, for the time that’s spent doing it, for the amount of money that’s spent doing it—how can you make it a win-win-win?

Music is a powerful force. How do you see it having an affect on our current social and political environment?

For the most part, people never think that they make a difference. What eye-opener came each time is that if you look at things in the standard way, you won’t see anything but what you’ve seen before. But…there [is] an infinite number of ways to look at things. In that way, you see more possibilities. When you see more possibilities, you stimulate your own creative juices, your own ability to come up with the solutions, with new solutions. In this way, you can make a difference.

By working with a diverse range of co-writers, do you hope to spread awareness of jazz and improvisation to try and reach a larger and younger crowd?

When I looked at the project to weigh the pros and cons, that’s one of the pros. But as I said, there’s a lot of pros to it. That wasn’t the reason for doing the record. The reason for doing the record was to show artists who are normally pigeonholed into whatever the public recognized them for; the tendency is for people to want them to do that again and again. I wanted to show that if you give artists another kind of environment that they have a hand in creating, even though it may be slightly outside of their comfort zone, there is a part of them already in the setup. And made in such a way that things are more geared toward being in the moment. They will rise to the occasion and they will love that, and will put a thousand percent into doing a project like that.

The result is something other than what they have done before, something new. A context that people never hear these artists in.

Through this process, do you see yourself more as gaining influence from or spreading influence to others?

Both; that’s why I said it’s a win-win. I learn, and they learn, too. I went into that project wanting to learn.

What have you learned?

I learned that there are a lot more dimensions to people than even they themselves realize.

Did you find it difficult to work with anyone during the course of the DVD?

I didn’t have problem communicating with anyone that I could tell. When we talked about the philosophy of the record, they all loved it. They loved the fact that the first thing I said to everybody is, “I don’t want to do a record.” I stopped doing records that are copies of records I’ve done before. I like to do new things that I haven’t done before. I don’t want to do a record like they’ve done before, either.

Is there a difference in the level of discipline required of younger musicians today?

A majority of jazz musicians are schooled in music, and they may have a certain kind of technical artistry that is beyond what pop artists have. But technical artistry is not what makes music. You only need to play one note to make music. But you have to play with your heart. You have to play with conviction. You have to play something that you want to play. You know you can play a million notes and be technically correct, but that’s not music, as far as I’m concerned. Very often, Miles Davis would play few notes, few complicated things, but the things that he chose were so heartfelt that the soloists that played after him, playing thousands of notes, paled by comparison.

What projects are on the horizon?

We have some ideas that I think can be very, very interesting. I don’t want to talk about them now, because they’re not etched in stone. But I’m very excited about putting some new music together in a way that hasn’t been done before. I’m not limiting myself to audio; I’m thinking both audio and video at the same time, so let’s say multimedia. I’m also thinking a convergence of cultural direction. Converging dance, music, art, books—that kind of thing. I’m keeping open, so that what may come out may be the result of not just musical ideas, but book and music.

This will be an experience for the audience, rather than it just being a record that they hear. We’re looking at creating environments and using various other directions in culture, as part of the team—integration.

The lasting sounds that get passed down through generations, really are an experience, not just a piece of music.

Right. You know what I like doing? I like putting different kinds of things together. Things that are normally not put together, things that people don’t normally hear together at the same time.

I think that your new DVD really does that. There is such a wide range of music.

I like when things don’t stay the same, when they can morph into something completely different. So you get taken on a journey. I’ve done it in a way with Possibilities; that’s one example of how to do that. This new stuff is a totally different approach to doing that.

I wasn’t just looking to do a video just to sell videos. It wasn’t just a record that was about records. We talked during the process of making the DVD about social issues, about the environment, about political issues, about family, about aging. About medical problems, about fun, about sports. We talked about life. I wanted the music to grow out of life relationships, even though the relationships were new and short. But I wanted the music to grow out of the lives of the person and not just outing a bunch of notes together because they sound good, not composition in a standard sense. I think that’s the reason the record sounds the way it sounds, and I hope the message comes across in the DVD.

Those people who I collaborated with on the record were called upon to be human beings. To interact together and record it live so you get a sense of the musicians interacting and responding to each other. That human element is what makes a difference and what gives it the life and vitality. In today’s world, the creative process doesn’t always work that way. It’s much more cut and dry and people do things with layers. Yes, you can make music like that. But you’ll never get it to come out with that kind of heart.



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