Acclaimed jazz pianist Herbie Hancock recently took time out from his busy schedule to appear on the Voice of America's worldwide music show "Border Crossings." VOA's Doug Levine gives us a recap of Herbie's visit that centered on the making of his new album, "Possibilities."
Having returned to the United States only a few days earlier from a goodwill tour of Southeast Asia, Herbie Hancock was feeling the effects of jetlag. Adding to his itinerary were the Kennedy Center Honors the night before and an appointment on Capitol Hill later that day. But, for Hancock, now 65, it was all in a day's work.
Timetables, deadlines, connections and schedules are virtually meaningless when Herbie Hancock gets in front of the microphone to talk about music. When asked about his latest album and the all-star lineup, his face glowed with a fantastic energy.
He says he was especially grateful to work with singer John Mayer whose idea of collaborating was complete spontaneity.
"We hadn't prepared anything because I really wanted it to be a collaboration," he said. "The record Possibilities is about collaborations. We actually composed the song in the studio. Of course, John had to make up some lyrics temporarily because we were composing it right there, and he had to create the lyrics later and the final melody later. But we collaborated to write the song."
Choosing to work with John Mayer and others outside the jazz circle is typical of Hancock's probing personality. For example, admitting that he almost chose electrical engineering over music, Hancock says he eventually discovered a way to combine both.
"I'm always wondering how does this work or how does that work," he said. "It's a basic tendency that I have. I've always been interested in science and interested in music, but I wasn't really able to satisfy both of those interests until synthesizers came along, oddly enough. Because they are electronic devices, and at the same time, I've had my training on the acoustic piano since I was seven."
The world has known of Herbie Hancock and his love affair with electronics for decades. From his work with Donald Byrd and Miles Davis to his groundbreaking groups The Headhunters and V.S.O.P., Hancock has always looked for ways to test the boundaries. He says his incurable risk-taking nature has opened the door to endless possibilities, thus the name of his new album.
"The idea of creating an atmosphere where the artist would feel comfortable about delivering more dimensions than people are accustomed to hearing from them was really created by the collaboration itself," he said. "In other words, I didn't just say 'O.K., I'm going to create this atmosphere.' I actually got with the artist and together we created an atmosphere."
When he's not in Washington coordinating the efforts of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, or on tour in some remote corner of the world, Herbie Hancock is most likely at the keyboard dreaming up more musical possibilities. Making his wish list come true on the new Possibilities are such guests as Paul Simon, Christina Aguilera, Santana, Jonny Lang, Joss Stone, Annie Lennox and Sting.