A century on and the evolution of jazz continues to unfold. There will always be traditionalists and there will always be those who desire to walk the coals to find the next level of blowing. The intention of these weekly posts will not be to hold your hand through the chronology of jazz history, but to give you an idea of the many directions you can choose to go in the exploration of the myriad, complex, and curious forms that fall under the moniker of jazz.
Herbie Hancock is the kind of guy who has been there and done that. Producing landmark jazz albums in the '60s and '70s as well as garnering a massive mainstream crossover hit wit "Rockit" in the early '80s are just a few accomplishments of his illustrious career. A sort of jazz renaissance man Hancock was one of the architects of post-bop, the next in line after Monk and Bud Powell, and continued on to be at the cutting edge of developing jazz/funk fusion.
During his time as a member of Miles Davis' Second Great Quintet he was simultaneously releasing seminal post-bop records under his own name as well as working on numerous sessions as a sideman. Even after the Davis quintet dissolved, Hancock contributed to the important and transitional Davis records In a Silent Way, A Tribute to Jack Johnson, and the superlative On the Corner. These forays with Davis were delving deeper into incorporating heavy rock and funk elements and the idea of "Time, No Changes" established by the SGQ would reach its pinnacle. It would also distinctly inform the direction of Hancock's solo output in the early '70s.
After producing three great atmospheric and funky experimental, psychedelic jazz records in the early '70s Hancock decided to get sexy. The result was 1973's Head Hunters LP, a milestone of jazz/funk fusion. Hancock stated, "I began to feel that I had been spending so much time exploring the upper atmosphere of music and the more ethereal kind of far-out spacey stuff. Now there was this need to take some more of the earth and to feel a little more tethered; a connection to the earth.... I was beginning to feel that we (the sextet) were playing this heavy kind of music, and I was tired of everything being heavy. I wanted to play something lighter."
Unlike the dark acerbic maelstrom of Davis' output of the same period the Headhunters did indeed create a lighter more accessible groove while maintaining a deeply funky momentum. Head Hunter is one of the largest-selling jazz albums ever, but its popularity and influence have moved well beyond the world of jazz, and its importance remains undiminished. As the kids say, it's sick.
Make yourself comfortable and spend some quality time with this brilliant 1974 footage:
Ever the gear aficionado, Mr. Hancock demonstrates the latest sampling keyboard (in 1985) to the kids on Sesame Street: