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Herbie Hancock Celebrates 70th with New Album & Special Concert

Pianist releases The Imagine Project on June 22 and headlines special concert at Carnegie Hall on June 24

Jeff “Tain” Watts

On April 11, 2010, Herbie Hancock turned 70. To the average middle-aged jazz fan, that fact is sobering, in the same way a rock fan of a certain age finds it unfathomable that Paul McCartney will turn 70 in a few years. In Hancock’s case, he has seemed ageless, looking about the same at 60-something that he did at 30-something. Creatively, too, the pianist has never stopped looking forward with new ideas and new approaches. Somehow Hancock has uniquely been able to attain commercial success without sacrificing artistic integrity. His River album saluting the music of Joni Mitchell was a perfect example of the sort of “big idea” that he keeps pulling off.

Hancock’s latest big idea is The Imagine Project, in which he performs an assortment of iconic songs with universal messages of harmony and peace, with a variety of guests from around the globe. Hancock traveled all over to record the sessions and brought together artists from a wide range of genres. The distinctly multi-cultural album includes: Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A’ Changin'” featuring the Chieftains, Toumani Diabete, Lionel Loueke and Lisa Hannigan recorded in Ireland; “The Song Goes On” with Anoushka Shankar, Chaka Khan and Wayne Shorter, with noted Indian musicians, recorded in Mumbai, India; and “Tempo de Amour” with Ceu, recorded in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Among the album’s producing consultants was Larry Klein, perhaps best known for his work with Joni Mitchell. In addition, the recording sessions were shot for a documentary. The album will be released on June 22 on his own Hancock Records label.

And what’s a birthday without a party? Appropriate for a pianist of his stature, Hancock will blow out the candles at Carnegie Hall on Thursday, June 24 as part of the CareFusion Jazz Festival New York. Among his special guests already announced are: India.Arie, Terence Blanchard, Ron Carter, Bill Cosby, Jack DeJohnette, Dave Holland, Joe Lovano, Wallace Roney, Wayne Shorter. More guests are expected as well. And after the concert at Carnegie Hall, the ebullient Jeff “Tain” Watts will host a jam session dedicated to Hancock at City Winery beginning at 11 PM. Watts’ band, with Dave Kikoski on piano, James Genus on bass and Jean Toussaint on saxes, will kick things off. Watts told JT that the band will do a few of his tunes, then a bunch of Hancock’s tunes and then they’ll kick out the jams. He said that with an incredible lineup of drummers expected there, he’s looking forward to being the MC.

Watts was effusive in explaining why he got involved in saluting Hancock. “Herbie is a special one,” said Watts. “On one hand you have this gifted and deeply informed soloist,composer, and accompanist, whose jazz improvisations have probably grown more profound and abstract through the years. By the time I first met him in 1982, he was already a legend, yet he still keeps pushing. Keith Jarrett has spoken about being ‘musically awake’ with regards to optimizing solo or group improv. Herbie pretty much lives in that space.”

Watts was clear that the legend is a living one. “The other side involves his sustained popularity and relevance,” explained Watts. “If you include the Us3 cover ‘Cantaloop,’ Herbie has had a hit in each decade since the 60’s. And not simply a hit, but ‘the jam’ of the year pretty much, making him the Ronald Isley of instrumentalists. Although I’m sure that he appreciates the record sales, the payoff for him seems to be the joy of sincerely interfacing with different musics and artists, and the resultant acknowledgement of listeners. The man really loves music, is one of the coolest people I have ever met, and there will not be another like him anytime soon.”

Indeed, there are few living jazz musicians cooler than Hancock. And many of his songs have been standards in the books of jazz musicians at every level all over the world. Beyond his own tours and albums, Hanocks’s work with the Thelonious Monk Institute has kept him at the forefront of modern jazz education and his recent tenure as Jazz Chair for the Los Angeles Philharmonic enabled him to exercise his programming chops. To keep up, or try to keep up, with this 70 year young jazz great, visit his web site.

Tickets ($35 – $100) for Herbie Hancock – Seven Decades: The Birthday Celebrationand other CareFusion Jazz Festival New York concerts scheduled at Carnegie Hall are available at the Carnegie Hall web site or at CarnegieCharge at (212) 247-7800. For tickets ($15) and more information about the Late Night Jam Session at City Winery, call (212) 608-0555 or go to City Winery’s site.

Originally Published