Highway 61 Revisited: The Tangled Roots of American Jazz, Blues, and Country Music

By Gene Santoro | Go to book overview

8
Herbie Hancock

TECHNO IS FAR FROM NEW. After forebears like Stockhausen and Kraftwerk (who synthesized, in several senses, the psychedelic era's sonic radicalism), Herbie Hancock and Bill Laswell were among the earliest big names to start messing with it almost two decades ago. On February 8, 1998, Hancock's 1980s techno landmarks, Future Shock, Sound System, and Perfect Machine, were reissued—just in time—or so the corporate thinkers at this major label, facing the precipitous sales drop decimating their industry at the onset of the 21st century, must have hoped—to catch the lastest heaving waves of house, techno, and electronica. Hence the following meditation on Hancock's long and prolific career as an eclectic and catalytic sonic explorer.

IT WAS 1951, AND THE 11-YEAR-OLD piano prodigy was onstage with the Chicago Symphony, performing a Mozart concerto for his debut.

That would have been unusual enough. But in addition, to make things more intriguing, the youngster was black, in an era when virtually all American symphony orchestras were lily-white and, unthinkingly or not, were determined to stay that way.

Welcome to the life of Herbie Hancock. Musically speaking, it seems to have started far far away from the sound we call funk—especially since funk, when Hancock was a boy, was a backyard word polite folks listening to Mozart certainly didn't utter: it meant the pungent smell of sex.

Hancock's talent hasn't been limited to his gifted fingers, though there have been few greater or more versatile keyboard players, whether on grand piano or Macintosh computer, in the annals of American music. No, he is also a cultural synthesizer, a reimaginer, a visionary artist whose ears have been able to pluck fascinating sounds, the sounds needed or useful as grist to his creative mill, regardless of their pedigree. He is one of those artists who is continually reintegrating the changing culture around him, and in the process helping to change it. Funky, after all, was not a word young Herbie Hancock would have used to describe nice

-80-

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Highway 61 Revisited: The Tangled Roots of American Jazz, Blues, and Country Music
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Highway 61 Revisited - The Tangled Roots of American Jazz, Blues, Rock, & Country Music iii
  • Contents v
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I: Avatars 5
  • 1: Louis Armstrong 7
  • 2: Woody Guthrie 17
  • Part II: The Postwar Jazz Era 31
  • 3: Mary Lou Williams 33
  • 4: Max Roach 37
  • 5: Sonny Rollins 49
  • 6: Chet Baker 64
  • 7: Miles Davis 68
  • 8: Herbie Hancock 80
  • Part III: Rebirth of the Blues 91
  • 9: The Gospel Highway 93
  • 10: Chess Records 99
  • 11: The Folk Revival 104
  • 12: Willie Nelson 119
  • 13: Lenny Bruce 124
  • 14: Sweet Soul Music 135
  • Part IV: In the Garage 151
  • 15: Bob Dylan 153
  • 16: Electric Blues Revival 171
  • 17: Buffalo Springfield 179
  • 18: Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris 185
  • 19: The Grateful Dead 193
  • 20: The Band 204
  • 21: The Firesign Theatre 216
  • 22: Bruce Springsteen 223
  • 23: Tom Waits 235
  • Part V: Possible Futures 241
  • 24: Ken Burns, the Academy, and Jazz 243
  • 25: The Politics of Music Don Byron and Dave Douglas 257
  • 26: Cassandra Wilson 265
  • 27: Marty Ehrlich 278
  • 28: New Jazz Fusions 283
  • 29: Ani Difranco 297
  • Index 302
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