There are 88 keys on the piano, but only one Herbie Hancock. The man is one of the great practitioners of jazz piano and electronic keyboard, having helped move it from part of the rhythm section to whatever Hancock pleases at the moment. And with a long career marked by innovation in technique and form, that’s just about anything.
Hancock will play at the Mercedes-Benz Arena on Sunday. But what Hancock will be serving up exactly is a bit of a mystery.
The 50-something-looking Hancock is 73. He was a child prodigy, playing classical piano, so one might expect him to play something from the European masters. But he has played with Chinese classical great Lang Lang, so that might change things.
It’s more likely, though, that Hancock will play one of his earliest — and greatest — jazz compositions, “Watermelon Man.” Released in 1962, the song’s Caribbean and Latin influenced groove has become a jazz standard. This recording preceded 1965 classic LP “Maiden Voyage,” and the modal jazz and hard bop heard on both could make at least a cameo at Sunday’s show.
Hancock might get requests for something from his time with perhaps the greatest jazz trumpeter (and personality) of all time, Miles Davis. In the late 1960s, Hancock joined Davis’ “second great quintet” and helped produce a seismic shift in jazz. Hancock played piano on Davis’ albums like 1968’s “Nefertiti” and helped bring electronics, studio effects and overdub recording into jazz by playing electronic piano on the following year’s “In a Silent Way.”
Hancock’s celebrated repertoire kept growing. There’s the jazz-meets-funk fusion of 1973 album “Headhunters,” the jazz meets folk of Joni Mitchell’s album “Mingus,” the hip-hop influence of 1983’s single “Rockit.” Since 2005, Hancock has exhibited pop leanings, including collaborating with John Mayer and Christina Aguilera. On this tour, he’s joined by bassist James Genus, recently featured on disco cuts by Daft Punk.
Hancock’s diversity makes him hard to pin down, but it also is what has made him great.