In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Herbie Hancock

  • Introduction
  • Sources: Bibliographies and Discographies
  • Historical Analysis: Issues and Topics Overview
  • Music Technology
  • Afrocentrism/Black Consciousness
  • Philanthropy and Public Projects

Music Herbie Hancock
Steven F. Pond
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 February 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 February 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0174


Herbie Hancock (Herbert Jeffrey Hancock, b. 1940) is one of the key figures in jazz, although his musical importance extends beyond “jazz” as narrowly defined. Born in Chicago, he began classical piano study at age seven; at eleven he won a competition to play onstage with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He attended Grinnell College, majoring first in engineering before switching to music. Moving to New York City as a protégé of trumpeter Donald Byrd in 1961, he gained early notice for his 1962 recording “Watermelon Man,” subsequently turned into a Latin-jazz hit by percussionist Mongo Santamaria. He soon became known as a rising sideman, recording artist, and composer, and, beginning in 1963, he became a key member of what would become known as Miles Davis’s “second great” quintet. Since leaving Davis in 1968, Hancock has embraced a variety of idioms, some of which have incited controversy among critics and fans. His seeming oscillation between “acoustic” and “electric” (interpreted by some as “jazz” and “pop”) can also be understood as pushing beyond stylistic confines associated with either mode; indeed, Hancock’s musical strategies might be described as “eclectic” or “agnostic.” Although the literature on Herbie Hancock is enormous—a casual Internet search yields more than 6 million hits—the scholarly literature is surprisingly limited. As of this writing, Hancock has produced a memoir (Possibilities, co-written with Lisa Dickey; Hancock and Dickey 2014, cited under Historical Analysis: Issues and Topics Overview), but there is no monograph biography. A full understanding of Hancock’s life, music, times, and influence must therefore be pieced together from a variety of sources. This article seeks not to present Hancock in his entirety but to aid the researcher in teasing out issues, sources, and points of view to help build a three-dimensional portrait. Special attention is placed on scholarly sources, but popular press profiles, interviews, and reviews are also included. Finally, discographies are listed, as are anthology reissues, but this entry does not attempt to catalogue Hancock’s recordings as a discography might.

Sources: Bibliographies and Discographies

No bibliography or discography of Herbie Hancock can claim to be complete; the sources listed here are inherently not up-to-date. That said, they can be useful to researchers in their attempts to be selective (Pickering 2000, Newey 1998) and encyclopedic (Herbie Hancock, Schlueter, et al. 2013). Schlueter et al. also includes a glossary of electronic instruments used by Hancock and others and a brief discography of Hancock’s pre- and post-Columbia career.

  • Herbie Hancock. Darmstadt, Germany: Jazzinstitut Darmstadt, 2012.

    An outstanding, fastidiously researched bibliography, with over 600 entries through October 2012. Indexed by type, including books, feature articles, concert reviews, record reviews, transcriptions, and other categories.

  • Newey, Jon. “A Jazz-Rock Fusion Discography.” In Jazz-Rock: A History. Edited by Stuart Nicholson, 339–424. New York: Schirmer, 1998.

    Newey’s discography is tied thematically to each of Nicholson’s chapters, suggesting sonic referents to Nicholson’s points and, at the same time, establishing a canon of jazz-rock recordings. As with Pickering, Newey’s discography is select and limited to information available at time of publication; nevertheless, he presents Hancock’s work in the larger context of fusion (a two-decade history at the time of publication).

  • Pickering, Dan. “Selected Discographies.” In Jazz-Rock Fusion: The People, the Music. Edited by Julie Coryell and Laura Friedman, 264–297. New York: Hal Leonard, 2000.

    Compiled and edited by Pickering (“except where noted,” Coryell writes) from lists supplied by the artists and managers. The resulting list reflects what the artists believe, as of 1978, to be their best and most emblematic work. The discography places Hancock’s work in the context of who, as of 1978, were the most important artists in fusion jazz. Originally published in 1978.

  • Schlueter, Max, with Bob Belden and David Rubinson. “Complete Discography & Individual Album Commentary.” In The Complete Columbia Album Collection 1972–1988. Edited by Herbie Hancock. 34-CD set, 2013.

    From the reissue set of Hancock’s thirty-one albums produced by Richard Seidel and issued by Columbia (888697724082):all albums released in the United States and Japan (including eight albums never before issued in the United States). Schlueter, Hancock’s most extensive collector and discographer, includes information such as musical personnel, release dates, detailed recording, album artwork, chart positions, and commentary on the album’s musical features and context in Hancock’s career. Liner notes: 71–170.

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