Herbie Hancock, legendary virtuoso keyboardist, composer and producer, has always had his eyes fixed firmly on what’s next. From his apprenticeships with legends like Miles Davis, to cutting edge work in jazz/funk fusion with his Headhunters band, to his hip-hop experiments when the genre was in its infancy, Hancock has almost always been a step or two ahead of his contemporaries. With his new album, Future 2 Future, on his own independent Transparent Music label, he reunites with longtime cohort Bill Laswell to push popular music into the next century.
Let’s start off by talking about your label, Transparent Music. Does this mean that your contract with Verve Records is finished?
No. My contract with Verve was modified to allow me to do special projects for Transparent Music, special projects that don¹t fit into the normal direction of Verve Records. And to do the projects that fit more into the normal scheme of things with Verve for Verve. That’s why my new record, Future 2 Future, is an appropriate one for Transparent Music rather than Verve.
My assessment would be that being because Verve tends to specialize in more traditional styles of jazz than more expansive and progressive directions.
Is this a label through which you’ll be putting out other artists or is this really a home for your projects outside of Verve?
We have been in existence for more than a year and we already have about six, seven, maybe eight records that are already out by other artists. And we’re continuing to look for new artists and new material and new ways of promoting it.
This project paired you up again with Bill Laswell. What attracts you to working with him and what sort of things do you get out of your collaborations with him?
Bill is a very aware person, aware not just of music and musicians, but he’s aware of social issues, other art forms, literature, dance, the graphic arts. He’s aware of what’s going on in the world. And he has a very open and colorful palette from which to draw upon for his musical sources and inspiration. This is one of the things that attracts me to Bill, that kind of openness and that kind of awareness. It also means that he is much more up on literature and paintings than I am, and in this particular case, what he brings to the table was his sense of awareness of this area called “electronica.” I wasn’t even aware of its existence. Electronica, drum ‘n bass, he kinda keeps abreast of all those things and electronica is kind of a new cutting edge direction that’s happening in music now. He was able to bring his suggestions as to artists to collaborate with and bring some of their material to me to work on for this project.
When you started working on this project did you have any set objectives? Did you have a thumbnail sketch, blueprint or concept or did things just fall together organically?
Actually, that was the process. The blueprint, if anything, was that. We wanted to utilize spontaneity and immediate response rather than analytical processes to put this record together. We wanted to work off of the senses, instinct rather than the intellect.
There’s a lot of new energy coming from the direction you seem to be headed and from emerging talents featured here.
Yeah, like we already mentioned, we utilized the strengths of the different generations that were part of this collaboration. The strengths of the experience of the musicians‹the more seasoned musicians, like Wayne Shorter, Jack DeJohnette, Chaka Kahn and myself‹was part of what into this collaboration, because this is what the younger musicians who are really carving out this area of electronica don’t have. What they do bring to the table is their fervor of youth, their openness, their sense of adventure, their energy. There’s a freshness to these young people. All in all, I think we have an advantage to getting the best of both worlds. There’s an overview that the older musicians might have that the younger musicians might not have that might put a more balanced perspective on the flow of energy on the project. The older musicians could not have done it without the younger ones, nor could the younger ones have done it without the older ones.
A record is made, a record is put out, a record is marketed in hopes that people will check the music out. Did you have any particular thoughts about how to present this music to a general audience or did you just do the work looking to put it out and hope for the best?
I created this record because I had to create the work. Listen to what I said and how I said it. That tells you a lot. Of course, I want people to be able make their own choices. In order for people to choose whether they like it or not, they’ve have to hear it. I didn¹t have a blind eye to the reality that we can’t expect a whole lot of airplay for this kind of music. What that requires is for the marketing people to figure out some creative ways to get this kind of music to the people so that they can make their own choices. But that’s what they do. What I do is make the music. I’ve been around for a while and I’ve got a pretty good reputation with the public, so I don¹t feel I have to prove anything to anybody. That puts me in a pretty advantageous position of feeling a certain amount of freedom of choice in what I want to record. I’m more interested in what do I want to promote to the public. What I was more conscious of, more than demographics, was the fact that, here we are in the year 2000, a new millennium, a new century, but where is the new music for the new age. I think it’s time to make some statements that promote a wider vision of possibilities for music. And that’s what I want to promote.
You’ve had the opportunity to work with a great number of visionary individuals. In many respects, you’re a visionary in your own right-
Oh, thank you-
At this particular moment, given the musical landscape, what sort of perspective do you have on it?
My perspective on music coming from here, and I think it ties in with the question that Future 2 Futures really asks, is “where is the music for the new millennium?” One thing that seems to be certain at this point in time is that radio as a vehicle for the exposure of music doesn’t live up to the name of being “broadcast.” It’s very, very “narrowcast.” And there really aren’t enough avenues for the exposure of the variety or musical possibilities, some which are capable of being created from here. And as a result, because this is has been going on for so long, I’m finding that a lot of artists are becoming real jaded into those specific areas where they can get airplay. So a lot of the music is being created for radio at the present time, which makes it fit into these narrow confines. Consequently, there isn’t a lot of material of great variety to draw from, because people aren’t writing. People aren’t encouraged to produce a broad variety of music. There’s just some crazy people out there who would just do it anyway. (Laughs).