Herbie Hancock has a confession to make: For the longest time, he ignored the lyrics of the songs he played on. Asked if he considered the lyrics when he assembled his poll-topping Gershwin’s World album, he says, “Not at all,” and spreads his hands before his face as if he were pushing the words aside so he could focus on the music.
What’s peculiar about this confession is that the veteran pianist makes it in a midtown Manhattan hotel while sitting next to one of the great American lyricists of the late 20th century, Joni Mitchell. Mitchell, wearing a black jacket over a low-cut black dress and balancing an omnipresent cigarette between her long fingers, doesn’t seem offended. In fact, she seems amused that her longtime friend and collaborator approaches music so differently. Hancock, wearing a black shirt beneath a black jacket with a leather collar, tries to articulate just what that approach is.