Lawfare's Quinta Jurecic on what's next for the January 6th Committee and the steps Congress can take to safeguard American democracy.
Herbie Hancock is best known as a jazz artist. But his music spans genres as well as decades. He was a child piano prodigy, performing a Mozart concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra when he was 11 years old. As a young man, he was invited to join the Miles Davis Quintet-and his career took off. He began winning Grammy awards— he has earned 14 to date—and he won an Oscar for his musical score for the movie “Round Midnight.” In a new memoir, the 74-year-old Hancock talks about his life and his music, and how Buddhism has guided him along the way.
Featured Clip: What "Rock It" Meant To Hip Hop
Joining us via skype from New York, Herbie Hancock talked about what winning five 1984 MTV music awards for “Rock It” meant to the Hip Hop Genre.
Featured Video: Round Midnight
More than being a great musician, Herbie Hancock is also known for being a great performer.
His career took off with the Miles Davis Quintet, with hits like “‘Round Midnight.'”
Featured Video: Rock It
He went on to strike out on his own with hits like “Rock It” (below).
Featured Clip: Hancock With The LA Philharmonic
Herbie Hancock is not just known for jazz. He started as a classical pianist and continues to perform in the genre, as in this video with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Photos: Herbie Hancock Through The Years
Read A Featured Excerpt
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Herbie Hancock has been making music for nearly 70 years. From his start as a child piano prodigy to his active performing career today, he's pushed himself to explore new musical directions, classical, jazz, techno-pop, electronic funk. He's done it all. His new memoir is peopled with great musicians who've inspired him over the decades. He, in turn, has left his mark on generations of music makers and music lovers.
MS. DIANE REHMHis new book is titled, "Possibilities." Herbie Hancock joins me from an NPR studio in New York. I know you'll want to be part of the program. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Herbie Hancock, it's good to meet you.
MR. HERBIE HANCOCKGreat to meet you, too, Diane.
REHMThank you. I want you to know, you have had me chanting all weekend long.
HANCOCKFantastic. I love it.
REHMYou know, and I found myself wondering, for you, what the relationship is between Buddhism and music.
HANCOCKMusic, particularly jazz, has so many humanistic values associated with it in the sense that it's in the moment, the musicians respect each other, they trust each other, playing jazz is about sharing and trying to take whatever happens and make it work. And that, very much, is completely consistent with what Buddhism is about.
REHMSo it's a beautiful coming together for you.
HANCOCKAbsolutely, absolutely. It just fit right in. As a matter of fact, when I first heard about this practice of Buddhism, which is Nichiren Buddhism, I mean, the organization is SGI, which means Soka Gakkai International, when I first heard about it, it sounded like what I kind of already believed in anyway. I think you probably had that same experience, right?
REHMI really, really, did. Tell me when that was for you.
HANCOCKThis was in 1972 in the summer. And I wrote about it in the book. I was up in Seattle and we were -- I had my band. We were playing at a club there. And one Thursday night, we hung out after the gig was over 'cause we heard there were a lot of parties and we actually only got a couple hours of sleep that night. And then, the next night was Friday. The club was packed and none of us felt like playing.
HANCOCKWe went there and, anyway, I called the tune that I never call as the opening tune because it starts with the bass, which is the softest instrument. The upright bass is the softest instrument in the band. But, for some reason, I called a song called "Toys" and the bass player started playing his improvised introduction and what he played was so incredible, I was wondering where is this coming from.
HANCOCKThe audience was going nuts. And then, I could feel myself waking up. We played this incredible set and I realized that he really woke up the whole band. And people ran up to us afterwards, many of them were crying. And somebody said to me, we didn't just hear this music. We experienced this music. So I took Buster Williams, who was the bass player, I took him into the musician's room and I read him and I said, I heard you were into some new philosophy or something.
HANCOCKIf it can make you play bass like that, I want to know what it is.
REHMBut you didn't jump right on you, did you? I mean, especially the chanting part, you sort of questioned that somewhat.
HANCOCKWell, exactly. I said that, you know, when he said that the foundation is actually chanting this sound, nam myoho renge kyo, because it's the law of the universe, it's the law of cause and effect, which is the law that connects everything that exists in the universe. And even though I liked, philosophically, everything that he said, I said, I can't just believe that chanting this sound is going to do anything.
HANCOCKHe said, oh, you don't have to believe in it because it's a law, if you do it, it'll work. I said, really? Then, I have nothing to lose by just trying it? He said, that's right.
REHMAnd see what happens.
HANCOCKAnd see what happens. And that was 41 years ago.
REHMHow about that? You've really been immersed in music...
HANCOCK42 years ago, actually.
REHM...your entire life. What's your first memory of music sort of getting into your heart?
HANCOCKWell, I used to go over to my best friend's apartment a lot and his parents bought him a piano when he was 7. I think he was a year older than me. And so I was 6 and my mother noticed that I seemed to be interested in the piano. So on my 7th birthday, my parents bought me a piano as a birthday present, which was incredible. I know I had listened to music before that, you know.
HANCOCKI'd been listening to R&B and doowap groups and, you know, that was the music of my era, of my age and my folks listened to jazz and listened to a lot of big band stuff, like Count Basie and Duke Ellington and Fats Waller and others. But I never really paid attention to jazz until I was about 14 so I don't remember when I first heard music, but I do remember the experience of going to my best friend's apartment and always -- I mean, I walk in the door -- I knock on the door and almost before I say hello, I say...
REHMCan I play the piano?
HANCOCK...can I play the piano?
HANCOCKRight. And I didn't know how to play it.
REHMI did the same thing. I didn't know how to play, either, but I did exactly the same thing.
HANCOCKYou did the same thing.
REHMI did the same thing. But my parents did not buy me a piano so I'm glad you got yours. A few years ago, you played Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" with the L.A. Philharmonic, and certainly that's a piece that combines the classical and the jazz. Tell me how you felt about that experience.
HANCOCKWell, it actually began prior to that when I was asked to play for the 50th anniversary of the Grammy Awards by Ken Ehrlich, who's the producer/director, who wanted to have classical music and all of the genres really represented on television for the Grammy Awards. And his idea was to have myself and Lang Lang, great classical pianist, young pianist, play what he really felt was the most popular kind of classical piece that had this, of course, jazz foundation in addition to the classical foundation by George Gershwin, "Rhapsody in Blue."
HANCOCKAnd I hadn't played classical music since I was 20 so this was about 2010, about four years ago when this happened, four or five years ago. Anyway, when he called and said, you and Lang Lang, I had heard of Lang Lang. I know who he was. I thought, are you joking? I haven't played classical music since I was a kid and now you're asking me to do a duet with Lang Lang?
HANCOCKAnyway, so we wound up actually playing the piece. I practiced my tail off, I'll tell you. And anyway, he and I just hit it off so well, Lang Lang, even though we're decades apart age-wise.
REHMI want to hear some of that.
REHMAnd if you've just joined us, Herbie Hancock is my guest. He's on with me from an NPR studio in New York. I can see him because he's on Skype. You can hear him because he's on radio. He has a brand new book out. It's titled, "Possibilities." And I want to talk with him about that title. He is, of course, jazz pianist and composer. He's won 14 Grammy awards, an Academy award for his "Round Midnight" film score, and a Kennedy Center honor.
REHMIn 2011, he was named a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador. Just before the break, Herbie, we were listening to "Rhapsody in Blue." And that was Conductor Gustavo Dudamel. Tell me…
REHM…he was 33 at the time. He has been the Venezuelan conductor. He's a violinist. He's been there since 2009. What was it like working with him?
HANCOCKIt was fantastic working with him. As a matter of fact, before we went on stage, I said to Gustavo, I said, "Let's just go out and have some fun." And he said, "Yes." I mean, and we had fun.
REHMWhat'd you do?
HANCOCKYou know, yeah, we -- the camera work was really great because it caught those special intimate looks that we had and smiles, you know, facing each other. And I enjoyed it so much. And I feel like, you know, Gustavo's like a brother, you know. It's a great experience.
REHMSo that relationship between the two of you has lasted?
HANCOCKOh, yeah, absolutely.
HANCOCKAs a matter of fact -- because I'm actually the -- what's called the chair for jazz for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association. I'm responsible for the programming of jazz for the Hollywood Bowl and for Disney Hall, where the L.A. Philharmonic resides. And so we recently had the yearly gala celebrating the L.A. Philharmonic season. And Gustavo, of course, always conducts at that time. Anyway, afterwards there's a party. And so we were hanging out.
HANCOCKAnd he and his wife -- who is wonderful -- and they have, I think, two kids -- one or two kids. The kids weren't there that night, but Gustavo is just a warm-hearted, caring individual, which is great.
REHMTell me about your wife. You've been married a long time.
HANCOCKRight. My wife, Gigi, she's like my rock. I mean, she's steady, strong woman, you know. She doesn't let me get away with any crap.
REHMWhere did you and she meet?
HANCOCKWe actually met here in New York. We were both living in New York at the time. It was -- and this is also in the book. We met at a jazz club that is -- then, The Village Gate. She actually had never been to a jazz club, I found out later. But some friends of hers had brought her there. And I was there with a buddy of mine. It was Halloween. Can you imagine? We met on Halloween.
REHMHow about that?
HANCOCKAnd now we've been married 46 years.
REHMI love it. I love it. And in what year did you get married in then?
HANCOCK1968, we got married.
REHM1968. In 1983, you won a Grammy for the hit single, "Rocket."
REHMTell me about "Rocket."
HANCOCK"Rocket" came about because first of all, a friend of mine, a guy named Krishna Booker, who was a young rapper at that time -- he's still rapping. And I knew him because of -- I knew his mother and father. They've been friends of my wife's and mine for many years. His father was a jazz bass player. And Walter Booker was his name. Anyway, I had asked Krishna to prepare a cassette, you know, which existed at that time.
HANCOCKYou know, before CDs. Anyway, I asked him to prepare a cassette of what he thought might be some really hip, kind of cutting-edge things that were happening on the youth scene at that time because I wanted to know. And one of the things that was on this cassette was by Malcolm McLaren, and it was called "Buffalo Gals." And it had this sound of scratching on it. And I liked that sound. I said, "That's a hip sound." And anyway, the guy who was managing me, Tony Milan, had contacted Bill Laswell and Michael Beinhorn, who were partners -- they were record producers, they also are musicians, too.
HANCOCKBut anyway, they wanted to do a track for me for my next record. And so I said, "Okay. They can try it." And they lived in New York. I was living in L.A. And they brought to L.A. some things that they had prepared for me. Well, the first thing that they played for me has scratching on it. I said, "That's exactly what I want to do."
REHMLet's hear it.
REHMTell me what kind of music you would call "Rocket."
HANCOCKWell, it really comes from the hip-hop scene. But at that time, hip-hop was underground, primarily here in New York. And it hadn't really bubbled to the surface yet. And I had the good fortune of being at the right place at the right time with the right people. And it was my record that really brought hip-hop forward to be, you know, cutting-edge, recognized music, internationally.
REHMAnd then a music video of "Rocket" won five MTV awards. That was kind of a milestone in your career, as well as a milestone in the music world.
HANCOCKThat was the first MTV award show. And, yes, we did get five MTV awards. And actually I was kind of up against Michael Jackson. He got three. Nobody got four. Nobody got four.
REHMAnd you got five.
HANCOCKMichael Jackson was a sweetheart. He was great. Yeah, we got five. So it was a great night. And I had young band. So they were so thrilled and particularly, DST, who is now DXT -- he changed his name a little bit. But he was in his early 20s and he just -- he jumped up and put his arms around me. He was so happy, you know. It was great moment.
REHMIt was a great night. And then there is the song you composed for which you won an Academy award. Tell me what was going through your head as the awards were proceeding to that point where they were going to announce the winner of the best song.
HANCOCKWell, it was…
REHMWere you chanting?
HANCOCKOh, yeah, I was chanting a lot.
HANCOCKDuring that week. And each night that I chanted -- and I think during that time I was chanting about three hours a day.
HANCOCKAnd at first, I mean, before I first began that, you know, series of long hours of chanting. I was just happy that I was nominated. But I still had to think this would be an incredible moment, not just for me, but for the whole jazz community. You know, for this great music. And so I decided I'm going to go for it. So that's why I really started chanting, to win. And by the third day -- third or fourth day, I was not only feeling that I had a chance, I got this inner feeling that I was going to get it.
HANCOCKAnd when Bette Midler announced my name, I was still shocked, but the first thing was I realized that my wife was next to me and her name wasn't in my speech. So I kissed her and then I walked to the stage and I got my Academy award.
REHMNow -- and we should say, this was composed for the film, "Round Midnight."
REHMSo you hear your name announced and what goes through your head?
HANCOCKI think my mind went blank. Except I remembered that my wife's name was not in the script.
REHMYou knew that immediately. And you still got up on the stage and you did your speech.
HANCOCKRight, right. I had written the -- well, they told us -- because there's a meeting with all of the honorees.
HANCOCKNominees, right. Exactly. And they said, "We suggest that all of you write a speech because this is going to be viewed by a billion people.
HANCOCKAnd you don't want to leave it up to divine chance or something. So…
REHMYeah, sort of set your teeth on edge when you hear the number of billion people.
HANCOCKYeah, that did something. Right.
REHMAnd how did your wife feel about the fact that her name was not in your speech?
HANCOCKOh, she didn't mind it all. She thought about it, but then…
REHMShe thought about it.
HANCOCK…considering what kind of speech it was, I mean, the speech was not about me, it was more about the we. And, as far as the music of jazz and the jazz community is concerned, but also about the courage of the Academy for giving that award to jazz, basically.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm going to open the phones, take a call from our listeners. Let's go first to Maurice, in Grand Rapids, Mich. Hi there, you're on the air.
MAURICEHello there. Good morning to both of you.
MAURICEMr. Hancock, it is a privilege and an honor to speak with you. I'm a 51-year-old who grew up in Chicago, Ill. And unbeknownst to me at the time…
HANCOCKA long time.
MAURICE…I was introduced to jazz via your ground-breaking song "Chameleon," from your legendary "Head Hunters" album. And I would like you to speak on what change you would say that song had on not only jazz, but how jazz was imported to cross generations at that time, primarily my generation, as I was 12 years old at the time. And my last question would be what would you say is the most admirable -- is most admirable about today's music scene? And what would you say is most lamentable?
HANCOCKWell, "Cantaloupe Island," I wrote that for my -- I think it was my fourth album. And it was, in a way, a follow-up to "Watermelon Man," which I had written for my first album, back in 1962. Because "Watermelon Man" somehow caught the attention of public. And it was a big hit. And so I wanted it to have something on each record that kind of related to "Watermelon Man." So "Cantaloupe Island" was a flavor, that kind of funky flavor that I wanted for that record.
HANCOCKThat goes back to my roots, coming from Chicago, which is a blues town. And anyway, years later, there was kind of a second hit record by us three of "Cantaloupe Island," but it was called, "Cantaloop" because they looped some of it. But it was a rerecording, actually. It sounded so much like kind of a beefed-up version of my recording. The first time I heard it, which at the time I was in Japan, I thought it was a sample of my record. But I found out later that it was completely rerecorded.
REHMHerbie Hancock. And we've got to take a short break here. When we come back, more of your questions and some of that Buddhist chant that we've talked so much about.
REHMIt's beautiful. It's beautiful.
HANCOCKGreat sound, right?
REHMPeople want to know how that chanting and how the practice of Buddhism has affected your life.
HANCOCKWell, first of all, chanting nam myoho renge kyo awakens your true self, the deepest part of yourself that every human being possesses, which is you're enlightened nature. And it nourishes that. And all the things that are in the way of you really manifesting the deepest part of yourself, chanting nam myoho renge kyo, little by little, removes that. It's a lifelong process. It's continuous. There's no endpoint to this.
HANCOCKBut what the great result of doing this practice is, is that it really makes things so much clearer. I mean, how you view the world, how you view other people. Things become clearer and your perspective gets deeper. So consequently it affects the decisions you make and it's such a cause for your own awakening that it also triggers your fundamental darkness that's trying to (technical) you.
HANCOCKYou know, we have these two voices, the fundamental darkness and fundamental enlightenment and one is trying to help you move forward and the other is trying to keep you back. And it's that battle against your negative forces that through practicing Buddhism by chanting nam myoho renge kyo and doing the activities and studying that you're able to transform yourself and transform those negative forces into something positive, something -- some way for you to grow and learn and expand.
REHMWere you using cocaine when you began practicing Buddhism?
HANCOCKI don't remember if I was. I may have been at the time because I had been snorting cocaine, you know, in the '60s. The '60s were a time when people were taking LSD and there was a lot of, you know, pot that was being smoked at that time. Cocaine was around, all those things and, you know, all the young people were exposed to that. But anyway it wasn't occupying the biggest part of my life, cocaine was not.
REHMDid you stop using cocaine once you began practicing Buddhism?
HANCOCKI didn't stop once I began but at some point, I mean, it started to slow down. And yes, it stopped sometimes and sometimes I would do it again. But the worst thing that happened was not so much just the snorting of cocaine. It was once, out of curiosity, I smoked it. And that was one of the biggest mistakes I ever made in my life.
HANCOCKI had no idea what real addiction was like. And, you know, because with cocaine I could take it or leave it, snorting it. It was -- we used the word recreational drug at the time like alcohol to me. But smoking it was not like that. You know, that is like a thorn in your side or a hook in your side. And even though I knew at that first time that this was something I should have never done and I said to myself, I'll never do this again, about three months later I did it again. And then I said I'd never do it again. Three months later I did it again. And little by little it started taking more of my time.
HANCOCKI did have some barriers I placed in front of me. One was I never wanted my family to know anything about this. I never wanted it to interfere with my music schedule and my touring. So that kept me from consuming it more than I did. But at some point I had to go to rehab. And anyway, I haven't done any of it since. I stopped smoking, I stopped drinking since the year 2000. And so it's not in any way a part of my life but I tried to shove it out of existence as though it never happened. And fortunately because I continued to chant and because I had gone to rehab, thanks primarily to my family and to a few really close dear friends of mine, I don't have to fight that battle anymore, you know.
HANCOCKAt least my forces are strong enough so that it's not getting through that barrier. I don't even think about any of that. But I wanted to talk about it in my book, because I feel like I could help people.
REHMAnd I'm glad you did. I'm glad you did because I do think by talking about it, as you have here, and as you have in your book you do help lots of people. I'd like to ask you about your sister. I know you lost her in a tragic airplane accident. She and you sort of quickly.
HANCOCKShe was my younger sister. Her name was Jeanne. And Jeanne was the kind of person that could do anything and everything better than anybody else. Bright, I mean, IQ of 180. And I think she had a photographic memory for words. She wrote songs. She taught herself to play guitar. She was also in the computer science business. She worked for IBM and she's one of the three women that developed the ATM machine.
HANCOCKBut in 1985, at the time I was 45 years old, and she was 42. Right after I had finished the score for "Round Midnight," I flew to the Island of Corfu, on one of the Greek Islands to meet my family. Anyway, it turned out that same night that I was flying to Corfu to meet my wife and daughter and another friend of ours Maria Booker -- Maria was not Maria Lucien. Anyway, while I was flying there my sister was taking a flight from Ft. Lauderdale to L.A., a flight that connected in Dallas. Anyway, the plane crashed and she perished.
HANCOCKThat's a rough thing for me but I was more concerned about my mother more than anything. And my father, of course, is losing his daughter but he was also more concerned about his wife. And so the plan was for me to call L.A. because my mother was living in L.A. temporarily at the time and my father was still in Chicago. And anyway, we did manage to kind of sync together my call and their arrival at her apartment. And that's, again, you know, as we can only imagine...
REHM...a tough thing, tough thing to do.
HANCOCKYeah, roughest thing. But, you know, after that I flew home to L.A. and I was really, again, concerned about my mother because we were having a memorial celebration of my sister's life at my house. And so I flew -- the next day after I arrived in Corfu I flew back to L.A. But my mother had started chanting actually a few years prior to that. And anyway, when I finally arrived at my house my mother was sitting on the steps in front of my house. The first thing she said was some joke about Jeanne. So I felt so relieved that somehow everything was going to be okay.
REHMYou know, it's interesting, you write in the book of your regret about Jeanne because she came to you and asked you whether you thought she had a voice good enough for a professional career.
REHMAnd she pressed you.
HANCOCKYeah, she did.
REHMShe pressed you.
HANCOCKThat was -- and I was frank. I was very frank. I had to tell her -- I'm not the kind of person that lies. I wasn't very diplomatic either and I was -- my response would have been very different now than it was then but I had told her, I said, frankly I don't think you can make it as a professional singer. Anyway, it really hurt her to hear that from me because she really kind of put me up on a pedestal.
REHMAnd indeed there are an awful lot of singers out there who, with the right background, with the right accompanist, with the right acoustics who don't have great voices who managed to make it.
HANCOCKExactly. And this is what I realize now. But for some reason I didn't have the -- I guess I put some standard up in front of me that if she didn't hit that mark she wasn't going to make it. But I was wrong in my response. But I've learned a lot since then.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to, let's see, Linda in Chapel Hill, N.C. You're on the air.
LINDAThank you. It's a pleasure to talk to both of you.
LINDAI'm honored to speak to you both. And, Mr. Hancock, you have been some idol of mine for many, many years and a great friend in Orange County Calif., Rick Sherman, musician, introduced me to you. And then hearing you at the university and all through school I'm -- before I die, I hope to either see you in person again or to talk to you. And this is wonderful.
LINDAYour talent, was obviously something you were born with, I ask I guess? I always ask that question, if the education you received is your family background, your family helping or assisting in anyway has made that more possible that you have achieved what you have, besides your terribly hard work and great talent? Would you say that there are mentors, that there was education in the schools or something else that assisted you along the way?
HANCOCKOh, absolutely education has helped me. I mean, I started classical lessons right away. And my parents found a teacher -- actually my first teacher was the organist with the church that we attended at that time. It was Ebenezer Baptist Church in Chicago. And I was with that teacher for like three years. And then I changed to Mrs. Jordan who was really the one that made a huge difference in the way I looked at music and the way I approached playing the piano. And I talk about her in my book.
HANCOCKBut when I went to college I started thinking about -- oh, by the time -- I should preface that by saying, when I was 14 that's when I really became interested in jazz because I heard some kid my age at a variety show at our school, High Park High School, we used to give with a jazz trio. And he was improvising on the piano. So I was hearing him and I was saying, he's doing something on my instrument that I can't do. So I wanted to learn how to do it.
HANCOCKAnd anyway, that perked my interest in jazz but I was an engineering major in college first because I loved science ever since I was a little kid. But then I switched to music composition and I'm still a student of music, but I'm also a student of life. That's the most important thing.
REHMAnd I want to take us out with the clip from "River: The Joni Letters" for which you won a huge award.
REHMAnd that is of course the voice of your dear friend Joni Mitchell to whom you created and for whom you created this. Herbie Hancock, what a pleasure to talk with you.
HANCOCKThank you so much, Diane. I really enjoyed myself.
REHMI'm so glad. I'm so glad. And his new book is titled "Possibilities." Talk to you again. Thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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