The legendary pianist, composer, Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award winner, and master of jazz fusion has touched every popular music movement since the 1960’s. His 1962 debut album, “Takin’ Off,” was an instant success, with the hit “Watermelon Man,” and his 1965 “Maiden Voyage” became a classic in the jazz canon.
He was a member of the Miles Davis Quintet in the post-bop 60s, alongside Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams. In the next decade, he produced record-breaking albums such as “Headhunters,” which combined electric jazz with funk and rock in a style that became highly influential for contemporary music. With the crossover hit “Chameleon,” it became the first jazz album to go platinum.
Hancock also continued playing acoustic jazz in the ’70s, recording and performing with his Miles Davis colleagues and in duet settings with Chick Corea and Oscar Peterson.
In 1980, Hancock produced Wynton Marsalis’ debut album and toured with him. In 1983, he produced the album “Future Shock,” including the song “Rockit,” which won a Grammy for Best R&B Instrumental and is considered the first hip-hop jazz song, inspirational to musicians and breakdancers alike.
Over his nearly six decades as a professional musician, Hancock has collaborated with a remarkable variety of artists, including Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Tina Turner, Norah Jones, Paul Simon, Susan Tedeschi, Stevie Wonder, Jeff Beck, Sting, Annie Lennox, John Mayer, Christina Aguilera, Pink, Dave Matthews, Derek Trucks, Bill Laswell, Anoushka Shankar, Michael Brecker, Roy Hargrove, and most recently Kendrick Lamar, Thundercat, Kamasi Washington, Flying Lotus, and Snoop Dogg.
The 14-time Grammy winner and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Goodwill Ambassador, Los Angeles Philharmonic as Creative Chair For Jazz, is also the new namesake for the UCLA Institute of Jazz Performances, where he teaches.
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By Susan Kirby-Smith