American pianist, keyboardist, band leader and composer Herbie Hancock is bringing his jazz-fusion style to Shanghai.
On Sunday, Hancock will perform at The Mixing Room and MUSE, the intimate, 800-capacity theater at Pudong’s Mercedes-Benz Arena.
Being a true icon of modern music, he has transcended limitations and genres while maintaining an unmistakable influence.
With an illustrious career spanning five decades and 14 Grammy Awards, he continues to amaze audiences across the globe.
“It’s actually not my debut in China. I’ve performed in Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou with Lang Lang, a famous pianist from China. He’s very open, very willing to try things, a very courageous player,” Hancock says.
“When we first met, we just really connected with each other, very well. He’s more like a younger brother to me. He’s been very supportive of me and my classical work. And I’ve been very supportive of him,” he adds.
It is, however, the first time that Hancock brings his own group to China’s mainland. He will be joined by his band: James Genus, one of the world’s most versatile and sought-after bassists and a member of the distinguished Saturday Night Live band; Lionel Loueke, hailed as a “gentle guitar virtuoso” by The New York Times for his harmonic complexity, soaring melodies, African folk forms and conventional and extended guitar techniques; and Vinnie Colaiuta, a highly regarded drummer who has played with Frank Zappa, Sting, Faith Hill, Jeff Beck and Megadeth.
“Hancock is a jazz legend,” says Michael Craig Enoch, general manager of the Mercedes-Benz Arena. “There are few artists in the music industry who have had more influence on acoustic and electronic jazz and R&B.”
Hancock helped redefine the role of a jazz rhythm section and was one of the primary architects of the “post-bop” sound.
He was one of the first jazz musicians to embrace music synthesizers and funk music characterized by syncopated drumbeats. His music is often melodic and accessible; he has had many songs “cross over” and achieved success among pop audiences.
His music embraces elements of funk and soul while adopting freer stylistic elements from jazz. In his improvisation, he possesses a unique creative blend of jazz, blues, and modern classical music.
Hancock’s best-known solo works include “Cantaloupe Island,” “Watermelon Man,” “Maiden Voyage,” “Chameleon” and the singles “I Thought It Was You” and “Rockit.”
Born in Chicago, Illinois, Hancock started with a classical music education like many jazz pianists. He studied from age seven and performed a Mozart piano concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at age 11.
Through his teens, Hancock never had a jazz teacher, but developed his ear and sense of harmony by listening to various types of music and vocal stylings.
The turning point came when he was in high school. He had a chance to see one of the other students in his class perform a jazz trill at school.
“For me, jazz was like my parents’ music, some of the older musicians from the 1930s. I really didn’t pay attention till I saw someone my age play plain jazz and I was fascinated,” recalls Hancock.
“So I immediately said that I wanted to learn that, I wanted to learn how to do that. And the others kid did, too. So that was really my beginning in my interest in jazz,” he says.
Even though when Hancock went to college, he started as an engineering major, not a music major.
“Because I felt like I could get a job after college. I didn’t know I could get a job as a musician,” he says. “So I took kind of the safe way.”
But he says after two years in college, he realized he was “really spending most of my time on jazz and not on science.” So he changed his major to music.
In 1963, Miles Davis invited Hancock to join the Miles Davis Quintet. During his five years with Davis, Hancock and his colleagues recorded many classics. After leaving Davis, Herbie put together a new band called The Headhunters and, in 1973, recorded “Headhunters.” With its crossover hit single “Chameleon,” it became the first jazz album to go platinum.
Now in the fifth decade of his professional life, Hancock remains where he has always been: in the forefront of world culture, technology, business and music. Though one can’t track exactly where he will go next, he is sure to leave his inimitable imprint wherever he lands.
“I’ve had a few vacation days in Shanghai and I’ve had a chance to go to some amazing restaurants, to see the nightlife,” Hancock says. “It’s a great modern city that is very much of an international city.”