Loving Herbie Hancock’s Jazz Music  

The New York Times recently published commentaries on Herbie Hancock’s jazz music from 11  jazz musicians, writers and critics.[1] Here are Herbie’s tunes that they listed as ones that would make someone fall in love with jazz:

  • Textures
  • Actual Proof
  • Maiden Voyage (Remastered)
  • Hornets
  • 4 A.M.
  • Speak Like A Child
  • Butterfly
  • Chameleon
  • The Prisoner (Remastered)
  • Rockit
  • Head Hunters

Although this blogger likes jazz, he did not recognize the names of any of the 11 “experts” who voiced their opinions on this issue and thereby exposed his own lack of expertise.

However, as a contemporary of Hancock at Iowa’s Grinnell College, 1957-60, I learned about jazz for the first time from interactions with Herbie as he organized several jazz combos with fellow students.

During the 1958-59 academic year, Herbie frequently spent time listening to Miles Davis records on the high-fi of my classmate, John Scott, while John played along on his trumpet and Herbie (sans piano) listened and hummed.

The next year on campus Scott was the trumpeter in the Herbie Hancock Quintet, which played three pieces by Scott and another three that the two of them together had composed. Herbie, in his  memoir Possibilities, recalled that Scott could “play pretty well” on the trumpet and became “a close friend; we even wrote a song together called ‘Portrait of Miles,’ that I would later record  as ‘A Tribute to Someone.’”

Immediately after leaving Grinnell in 1960, Herbie started a career as a professional jazz artist, and although he was obtaining critical success, his initial jazz albums did not do so well in sales. At that same time, another Grinnell contemporary, Lee Weisel, had connections with the successful  psychedelic rock band Iron Butterfly  and when Lee heard about Herbie’s lackluster sales, Lee hired Herbie’s band to open for that band’s concerts. Subsequently Weisel served for two years as Hancock’s manager.

In light of these personal connections, my favorite Hancock tunes are two of the early ones—“Maiden Voyage” and “Watermelon Man.”


[1] Moore, 5 Minutes That Will Make You Love Herbie Hancock, N.Y. Times (May 3, 2023).