Jazzin' it up
When Herbie Hancock ’60 won the Grammys’ coveted Album of the Year award with his album River: The Joni Letters in 2008, it was only the second time a jazz artist had taken the prize in the history of the Grammys.
Jazz pianist and composer Hancock is known for audacity -- his 1973 album Head Hunters introduced a revolutionary blend of jazz, funk, and rhythm and blues and became the first jazz album to go platinum.
Science and arts are a perfect blend
Herbie Hancock ’60 is regarded as one of the greatest living and most influential jazz musicians of all time. His success in the early 1970’s catapulted him to the cover of Newsweek’s August 1997 edition “Jazz Comes Back”. In 1987, he won the Oscar for best song with his 1986 scoring for “'Round Midnight” and his 2007 album River: The Joni Letters won the Grammy for best album of the year, only the second jazz album to do so. The fame and recognition Hancock has accrued over the years reflects his innovative music, unique voice, and superior talent.
Hancock’s musical talent was recognized at a young age. At age 11 he performed Mozart Piano Concertos with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and at age 13 he started playing jazz in his high school band. At the age of 16 he enrolled in Grinnell where he originally declared as an engineering major. Even his Physics professor, Dr. Grant O. Gale, recognized his musical prowess, “As a student, Herbie was Music at Grinnell. He personified Jazz." With little pressure, he switched to a music major early in his second year. He flourished in Grinnell’s student musical group “Velvetones” and participated in Grinnell’s radio station KGRW.
In 1960 Hancock left Grinnell one class short of graduation to play in trumpeter David Byrd’s band. He continued with music and released his debut album “Takin' Off” in 1963. He was invited to join Miles Davis’ band. He did not stop there.
He used his Grinnell engineering education to experiment with electronic instruments, synthesizers, and different technologies. His successful experiments allow him to perform various types of music like jazz, rhythm and blues, funk, and elecro-funk.
In 1999 Grinnell invited Hancock to celebrate the Bucksbaum Center for the Arts dedication. At the outdoor ceremony he surprised the audience of 1,300 by performing a rare solo of “Dolphin Dance” which he dedicated to his mentor and Grinnell Professor, Norman Goodbrod. Afterwards he triumphantly told the audience: “It [Bucksbaum] makes me proud to be a Grinnellian."
Within worldwide success, Hancock remembers Grinnell and the experiences he shares with his professors and classmates. In a 1996 performance in Darby Gymnasium (the old one), Hancock addressed Grinnellians warmly, “I feel really comfortable being here. The liberal arts education I received while at Grinnell provided a feeling, a sense of security. I had some sense of independence when I left Grinnell. I knew a lot about music when I came to Grinnell. While I was here, I learned about history and classical music. But the most important things I learned were about myself”. He continued by playing “My Funny Valentine” at his father’s request for his mother.
Sources: Grinnell Magazine Summer 2003, Fall 1999, Fall 1996; Grinnell Cyclone 1959 and 1960; www.herbiehancock.com.
Gratitude to Grinnell College Archives and Matt Rosenbaum ’12