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Herbie Hancock at the Kennedy Center

The keys legend brings an electric hit parade to D.C.

Herbie Hancock

Keyboardist, composer and bandleader Herbie Hancock, 71, has one of the best and rarest predicaments a jazz musician-or, for that matter, any musician-can have. He has a half-century’s worth of indelible material to try to represent within the span of a two-hour live show. Many jazz greats have a signature sound, a trademark instrumental voice that they’re required to deliver in concert. Hancock has that too, but he also harbors the stuff of pop eminence: melodies that a mainstream audience knows by heart; electronic textures that recall distinct eras in commercial music; even a groundbreaking music video that saw heavy rotation on MTV.

Stereotypes dictate that such popular triumphs would be a serious jazz artist’s affliction, but pretension and contrarianism aren’t what made Hancock successful in the first place. He is one of jazz’s most accessible innovators: much of his most important work, whether acoustic or electric, has succeeded equally by critical and commercial standards.

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