Herbert Jeffrey Hancock

born April 12, 1940, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.

American keyboard player, songwriter, and bandleader. A virtuoso pianist who revolutionized the use of electronics in jazz and jazz fusion genres.

At only 11 years old, Hancock won a regional piano competition in Chicago and was awarded the opportunity to play the first movement of a Mozart concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He became immediately recognized as a young virtuoso. He continued to perform regionally with a high school and college bands and graduated from Grinnell College in Iowa in 1960.

Hancock moved to New York in 1961. He had already been scouted by trumpeter Donald Byrd and so joined his group. In Donald Byrd’s group, Hancock became known through tours and recordings, as a reliable accompanist and was soon recruited by Miles Davis.

Hancock played with the Davis quintet’s on albums from 1963–68. The quintet’s mid-1960s explorations of rhythmic and harmonic ideas (post Kind of Blue) inspired Hancock.

Herbie playing with the Miles Davis quintet (solo at minute 25)

Hancock continued to play with Davis through the late 60’s, even after finding success in his own combos. In the 70’s, Hancock went on to pioneer fusion bands, playing playing electronic keyboards, from electric pianos to synthesizers. Electronics opened up new timbres that Hancock was thrilled to experiment with. These sounds went far beyond the fender Rhodes and other organs that epitomized much of the earlier decade’s keyboard sounds. Hancock began to incorporate keyboard synthesizers such as Hohner clavinet and ARP keyboards (Odyssey, Soloist, 2600, String Ensemble and other models). New electronically-inspired timbres, blending sounds of strings and brass, created a new kind of texture to much of Hancock’s music. Perhaps most famous from this development was Hancock’s “Chameleon,” from his best-selling Headhunters album (1973).

Article on making of Headhunters


Through the 70’s and 80’s, Hancock continued to play both piano and synthesizers in a range of combos. He became known as one of the most versatile keyboardists of the Century. He also composed a great deal of music for television and film, including the music for Round Midnight  in 1986, for which he won an Academy Award.

More recently, Hancock has preferred acoustic piano on projects and performs routinely across the globe. He is known as one of the great ambassadors of jazz who brough the genre to mainstream audiences by pioneering funk and fusion genres.

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