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Herbie Hancock

As both a pianist and a composer, HERBIE HANCOCK is a jazz legend.

For the past 40 years he's been one of the biggest innovators in contemporary music.

Described by Quincy Jones as a “360 degree musician”, The South Bank Show looks at the different aspects of Hancock’s career: from his early days playing with late great Miles Davies, to scoring for films such as Blow Up.

He is credited with changing the face of both jazz and pop music with hugely influential records such as Headhunters and Future Shock (which contained the groundbreaking track Rockit).

Throughout his career as a musical innovator Herbie Hancock remained one of jazz’s most celebrated pianists. In this programme he performs Watermelon Man and Maiden Voyage, and improvises with Wayne Shorter, exclusively for The South Bank Show.

Born in Chicago in 1940, Hancock started classical piano lessons at the age of seven. Aged 11, he proved himself to be something of a child prodigy by winning a young musician’s competition.

The prize was to perform a Mozart piano concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Despite this passion for music, he decided to study engineering at college. But his musical urges eventually got the better of him, and he decided to study music.

In the early 60s he moved to New York and was offered a solo contract with Blue Note Records, scoring his first hit with the now classic Watermelon Man and later with Cantaloupe Island.

In 1963, he was asked by Miles Davis to join what was to become arguably his most celebrated jazz quintet, along with Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter and Tony Wiliams.

His fascination with electronics was to have a profound impact on his career in music. After leaving Davis’ band, Hancock turned his hand to the jazz-funk genre with the use of electronic instruments.

In 1973, he released his revolutionary album Headhunters which went platinum and remained the biggest selling jazz album ever for almost twenty years.

Several crossover albums followed and then in 1983 Hancock achieved huge commercial success with the single Rockit (part of the platinum selling album Future Shock).

This was groundbreaking in terms of its influence on dance music and hip-hop all over the world, and helped popularise ‘scratching’.

But since branching out into electronic sounds well over thirty years ago, Herbie Hancock has always remained true to his acoustic jazz roots.

In 1998 he produced Gershwin’s World, which won three Grammy awards and marked a brief return to his classical roots.

Other contributors include Carlos Santana, Quincy Jones and Radio 1 DJ Gilles Peterson.

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