All About Herbie

by Steve Houk

Over the jazz legend’s stunning 60-year career, there’s just one thing that might still be daunting. 

Amid the surfeit of summer concerts around the DMV, no one can surpass the legendary status of Herbie Hancock, whose nearly 60-year career as one of the world’s greatest jazz players, composers and innovators is virtually unparalleled. Washington Life’s music writer Steve Houk caught up with Hancock as he prepared for his summer swing.

WASHINGTON LIFE: You kick off your tour at WolfTrap in July, what has you most excited about this run?

HERBIE HANCOCK: What I’m looking forward to most is that Kamasi Washington and I are doing this tour. Kamasi is someone I highly respect, he’s a great young talent and he’s putting out great music. There’s a whole fresh group of extremely talented people on the jazz scene now, and anything I can do to promote and encourage them and share with them, but also learn from them too, is a blessing. Because this is a new day, a new age, with new possibilities, new technologies, new approaches. Plus, I just love playing WolfTrap.

WL: You’re also performing at the Newport Jazz Festival this summer, marking 50 years since you first played there. What are your impressions of it today?

HH: It’s still so beautiful, and of course there’s the ocean – when I was in Miles Davis’ band, he came to the show on a private boat. There’s always a sea of people and it’s very joyous, and the whole audience, rather than folding their arms and saying, ‘Okay, let’s see what you can do’, they’re like, ‘Whatever you do, we’re going to love it.’ Everything is encouraging, which is really great.

WL: Do you have a favorite D.C.-area gig that stands out?

HH: Playing at the White House for President Obama on International Jazz Play was an unforgettable experience. But I remember one gig, playing with Richard Pryor in Georgetown, opposite each other on stage, and he was killing it. It wasn’t so much what we were doing, it was him. It was really cool.

WL: The Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, a non-profit education organization helping young musicians, was renamed the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz in January. How did that make you feel?

HH: It was a huge honor, but also kind of daunting because it takes on a new kind of responsibility if my name is there. Being on the board is one thing, but if the name of the institute is mine, my heads’, heh, on the chopping block, so to speak! But, what an honor, yes.

WL: In addition to your music, what makes you happiest these days?

HH: Pretty much everything, but let me qualify that. The world we’re living in now is a tough world, and there are a lot more questions that we have now that we either haven’t had in the past, or haven’t had in a long time. But if we can get through this and solve some of these issues, we will be a healthier humanity.

Related Articles