Herbie Hancock: Outside The Comfort Zone

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By: Andrew Bruss

Herbie Hancock
From Miles Davis and The Headhunters, all the way to the likes of John Mayer and Sting, Herbie Hancock's career has been preternaturally blessed with collaborative projects.

Hancock built his bones in the jazz scene over forty years ago, acting as the keyboardist for Miles Davis from 1963-1968 in what jazz critics call Davis' "second great quintet." However, as his career progressed, so too did his idea of what music should be. As he grew in age, his discography always expanding, he began to constantly broaden his aims beyond the jazz spectrum with the goal of frequently working outside of his comfort zone.

After a successful project with bassist-producer extraordinaire Bill Laswell, Hancock put out 2005's Possibilities, an album that found the keyboardist jamming out with a new superstar on each track. Critics and fans alike used the term "sellout" but the creative approach Hancock took to the project was more akin to the style of Wu-Tang Clan's studio brainstem, the RZA, than what the music community has come to expect from aging jazz artists.

So as Hancock continues to take his Wu-Tang-meets-Sun Ra-esque approach to the studio, JamBase managed to catch up with him prior to a tour stop in Boston to discuss everything from Buddhism to the iTunes music store to his next studio album in a conversation that touched on the past, present, and future of a legend that has no intention of slowing down.

JamBase: You've been on the cutting edge of many different developing music scenes over the years. I'm curious about how you think the promotion of music has changed in the forty or so years you've been involved in the process.

Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock: Technology has opened up some new areas for exposing, selling and distributing music. We're finding that musicians have the ability to sell their own product on their own websites, and independent labels can develop and make deals with online music sites like the iTunes music store. It means that people can buy individual songs and make up their own compilations. They can buy iPods and pick the songs they want without having to buy the whole album with a lot of songs that they don't want. It's a whole different paradigm, in a sense. Instead of the label making the package, people get to make their own package.

JamBase: Seeing as how people are able to buy songs individually and leave chunks of an album out of their purchase, do you feel that this devalues the concept of an album as an individual piece of art? Or do you think it's beneficial?

Herbie Hancock: If you set about thinking in the old way, which is you've got this package that fits on a CD that can only hold 72 minutes or whatever, when you put that product on the iTunes music store people may not buy the whole thing in that sequence. They might just buy individual songs. So, artists really don't have to think in terms of an underlining theme for an album if they don't want to. The last record I did was called Possibilities, and there's an overall theme to it but not in a traditional way. In other words, there wasn't a single subject. It was more of an idea about working outside of the box with myself and other artists. In a way, Possibilities was a compilation, in and of itself.

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