Feb. 12, UNC Greensboro and the Miles Davis Jazz Studies Program received an extraordinary visitor: 14-time Grammy winner, and illustrious visionary in the jazz fusion world for nearly six decades, Herbie Hancock.
He played a riveting two-hour set to a packed UNCG Auditorium, as part of the University Concert and Lecture Series, and also held a Q and A session for students in the Music Building during the afternoon.
With humor and profound sincerity, Hancock answered questions moderated by Professor of Music Steve Haines and junior jazz studies major Julia Whalen, on topics ranging from how to refine musical tone to what the purpose of anger is in our lives.
Hancock shared anecdotes from his own life, beginning with his days playing with Miles Davis. The wisdom he offered to UNCG students focused on the human experience and the place musicians occupy in the world, not only as musicians but as human beings.
“What makes music valuable is that our lives are valuable,” he said. “When we play music, we’re expressing life.” He also spoke about the value of mistakes and how musicians can use mistakes to grow and move forward. “The mistakes that we make lead us to what we finally achieve in music and in life – that’s their greatness.”
Joining Hancock on stage for the evening performance were bassist James Genus, guitarist Lionel Loueke, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, and keyboardist and saxophone player Terrace Martin, who is also a renowned rap album producer. Hancock himself alternated between grand piano, synthesizer, and keytar.
Together they delivered the newest incarnation of Hancock’s funk-jazz fusion, which included the difficult Head Hunters tune “Absolute Proof” as well as “Butterfly.” Beyond demonstrating outstanding musical skill, Hancock and his colleagues displayed instrumental and technological innovations that most listeners would not have seen or heard before.
“Herbie was in the stratosphere,” said Haines. “The performers pushed their abilities to the absolute limit.”
To close out the concert, the band spun out funky renditions of older Hancock favorites – “Canteloupe Island” and “Chameleon.” Hancock’s personal and musical energy kept the UNCG Auditorium crowd on their feet, particularly at the end of the show.
“The entire concert was absolutely phenomenal,” said senior jazz studies major and guitarist Logan Butler, who cites Hancock as one of his biggest musical influences. “Hancock always strives to make good music that comes directly from the soul. And in the talk, he reminded us that before everything else, we are human beings. And once we figure that out, it will show up in our music.”
On Sunday, Feb. 24, at 3:30, UNCG Jazz Ensembles I and II, directed by professors Chad Eby and Thomas Heflin, will present a program celebrating great pianist composers of jazz, with a focus on the music of Herbie Hancock. The concert will take place in the Music Building’s Recital Hall. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit the event page.
View the video below to catch a glimpse of Hancock’s time on campus.
Story Susan Kirby-Smith, University Communications
Photography by Martin W. Kane, University Communications, and Michael Micciche
Videography by Grant Evan Gilliard and Chris Bozzano, University Communications