Keeping it fresh
Jazz legend Herbie Hancock improvises to thunderous applause
Published: Thursday, October 10, 2013
Updated: Thursday, October 10, 2013 15:10
As the lights dimmed, the vibrant audience grew quiet with anticipation. Within a few moments, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta appeared on stage and began hammering away on his drums. As the beat began to transfix the audience, bass player James Genus and guitarist Lionel Loueke chimed in.
Jazz legend Herbie Hancock walked on stage to thunderous applause. After briefly waving and bowing to the audience, Hancock sat down at his clavinet and piano and added the iconic melody of his music to the mix.
The world-renowned jazz musician, whose career spans over five decades and includes 14 Grammy Awards, commanded the Center For the Arts (CFA) stage with his presence Thursday night and delivered an unforgettable performance.
Hancock is well known for his ability to transcend and culminate musical genres in his performances, and this performance was no different. During the two hours that Hancock played, there was plenty of jazz, funk, pop and R&B, with some classical music thrown in.
There was no warm-up routine or opening act; this was two hours of non-stop musical bliss. After the musical ensemble’s first song, which lasted over 10 minutes, Hancock stopped to thank everyone in attendance and introduce his fellow musicians. After that, there was rarely a pause other than to introduce the next segment of the show.
The group played a variety of beats; some were familiar, like “Watermelon Man,” one of Hancock’s first hit songs; others were seamlessly sewn together for 10-15 minutes at a time.
A highlight of the show came halfway through as Hancock, Genus and Colaiuta abandoned the stage mid-song, leaving Loueke to perform a 10-minute-plus solo. Loueke played “Come Running to Me,” one of Hancock’s more well-known songs.
After his solo, Loueke left the stage and Hancock reemerged. Sensing the crowd’s amazement, he said the solo was entirely improvised and asked if the audience had ever heard anything like that. They hadn’t.
“[Loueke] brought a whole other cultural identity to an instrument we’re all familiar with,” said audience member Canara Faruq of Orleans County.
Just like Loueke’s act, Hancock’s solo was improvised. He started off with a somber song on his piano before moving on to produce a mystical melody on his clavinet. The final piece was upbeat and continued for some time after the band returned to the stage.
The band played for another hour before thanking everyone again and heading off stage. But the audience craved more and began shouting for the group to play “Chameleon” – one of Hancock’s most popular songs. As the crowd cheered, the band came back for an encore of three songs, including “Chameleon.”
Although the performance was energetic and entertaining, nothing in the concert compared to the encore. Despite it being in the final few moments of the show, the encore electrified the crowd to ecstatic heights. As Hancock jammed away on his keytar, the audience cheered and danced along, ending an outstanding show on an even higher note.
You would never know – based on the energy, enthusiasm and improvisation he puts into each performance – that Hancock has been performing for over 50 years. That is part of what makes each performance so unforgettable and fun.
“It’s because he keeps it fresh,” Faruq said. “Like [Hancock said during the show], ‘I don’t even play it the same way every time. It’s a new show; I’m not sure what I’m going do.’”
Zachary Steinberg, a senior music major, has seen Hancock perform twice, and he agreed with Faruq. He said the shows did not sound similar and that speaks to Hancock’s prowess as a musician.
“[Hancock] is extremely important – he bridges the gap between [the creators of jazz back in the 1920s and ’30s] and what’s happening and really hip in the jazz scene today,” Steinberg said. “He’s brought an entirely new vision to jazz music and uses a culmination of a number of different genres to do it.”
Stephen Lattimore, a senior history and music major, said he spends most of his time listening to and playing music, and the concert offered him something he hadn’t experienced before.
“It’s very important to remain surprising for as long as he’s been playing,” Lattimore said. “It’s as alive as music can be and it’s alive as art can be. It’s really just in the moment, full expression. Eventually, you don’t have to think at all; it just happens.”
Hancock’s tour continued Thursday in Detroit and Friday in Chicago before he tours in Asia next month.
The next concert in the CFA will be the Piano Guys on Thursday, Oct. 17.