ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


Home  ChickenBones Store (Books, DVDs, Music, and more)


 Hancock said he was seeking a more popular and less experimental orientation

 for his music. The Mwandishi recordings, although full of rhythm,

 were not perceived as popular dance music.



Herbie Hancock CDs


Mwandishi / Maiden Voyage  / Headhunters  / Empyrean Isles  / Thrust  / Takin Off  / Sextant  / Flood /


Miles Davis Quintet  /  VSOP The Quintet  /  Crossings / Mr. Hands / Third Plane


*   *   *   *   *

Books by Kalamu ya Salaam


The Magic of JuJu: An Appreciation of the Black Arts Movement  /   360: A Revolution of Black Poets

Everywhere Is Someplace Else: A Literary Anthology  /  From A Bend in the River: 100 New Orleans Poets

Our Music Is No Accident   /  What Is Life: Reclaiming the Black Blues Self

My Story My Song (CD)


*   *   *   *   *


From Mozart to Headhunters

Herbie "Mwandishi" Hancock

A BOL Review by Kalamu ya Salaam


Herbie Hancock is one of the most popular jazz musicians ever, albeit his popularity is based in large part not on his jazz but on his diverse forays into pop music. This brief overview focuses on his early jazz periods as both a performer and composer.

Born April 12, 1940 in Chicago, Herbert Jeffery Hancock was a child prodigy who started studying piano at age five and played Mozart concerts at age eleven. By the early sixties he was working regularly and was well respected as a jazz pianist. His first album, Takin' Off  (1961) produced the now-classic composition “Watermelon Man,” which went on to be a staple of jazz, fusion, and funk bands.

In May of 1963, Miles Davis requested Hancock join a new band Miles was putting—together. That group eventually included Ron Carter on bass, Tony Williams on drums and Wayne Shorter on saxophone along with Hancock and the leader, Miles Davis. The ensemble was critically acclaimed as Miles Davis’ second great quintet. It was in this context that Hancock developed an influential approach to jazz piano, an approach that featured advanced harmonics, often borrowing techniques from classical music, as well as an open and sometimes esoteric rhythm approach that gave a floating feel to the group’s swing.

During Hancock’s tenure in the piano chair with Miles, Herbie was also concentrating on composing, but rather than record most of his compositions with Miles, Herbie offered the fruits of his labor under his own name, producing numerous popular recordings. The highpoint of them was undoubtedly Maiden Voyage (1965), which was essentially the Miles Davis band with Freddie Hubbard replacing Miles.

The composition "Maiden Voyage" is now a jazz standard. When Miles became interested in incorporating rock with jazz to produce his version of fusion, Herbie Hancock was more interested in electronics. By then Herbie had established himself not only as Miles’ pianist but as a composer and bandleader who had produced his own popular and widely-respected albums. If Hancock’s tenure with Miles was the great post-bop period, Herbie’s interest in electronic music has sometimes been dubbed his Mwandishi period because during this time Hancock used the Swahili name.

The Mwandishi period produced three legendary albums, two on Warner Brothers: Mwandishi (1971) and Crossings (1972) and one album on Columbia: Sextant (1973). The Mwandishi group consisted of Jabali Billy Hart on drums, Mchezaji Buster Williams on bass, Mwile Bennie Maupin on reeds, Mganga Eddie Henderson on trumpet, Pepo Julian Priester on trombone, plus Dr. Patrick Gleeson programming and performing on synthesizer. Herbie Hancock was now playing electronic keyboards as well as acoustic piano. (Gleeson is not present on the VSOP recording.)

After switching to Columbia Records, Herbie Hancock made a decision to go in a different direction with his music. In the liner notes to a Warner Brothers compilation that spotlighted the Mwandishi recordings, Hancock said he was seeking a more popular and less experimental orientation for his music. The Mwandishi recordings, although full of rhythm, were not perceived as popular dance music. Hancock’s next period, known as the Headhunters period, would be funk oriented.

It would be an over simplification to say that Mwandishi’s work was suffuse with African rhythms on the bottom and Sun Ra-like electronic experimentation on the top, especially because in some ways that generalization is also true of the Headhunters music. It is accurate to note however that the avant garde tendencies and abstract experimentation were replaced with funk driven, catchy melodies as the foundation for the jazz improvisations.

It is important to understand that The Headhunters were still primarily a jazz band. All of that would change radically when Hancock went into his next creative phase, sometimes called the Future Shock era. Even though Herbie became associated with electronic dance music and had his largest hit with the song "Rockit," Hancock continue to record acoustic jazz with his VSOP group.

In 1976 George Wein presented Hancock in a retrospective concert as part of the New York Jazz Festival. The currently out of print, two-LP (now a double CD) recording VSOP was a success both musically and as a retrospective. On one recording you hear each of the three bands playing at full throttle making it easy to compare and contrast the three divergent although not unrelated styles.

I don’t have a favorite. I like all three eras. I do think that the Headhunters band on this live recording is the best of the Headhunters and for that reason, we’re featuring one of the two cuts from them that are included on the VSOP album. This Headhunters line-up was Paul Jackson on electric bass, James Levi on drums, Bennie Maupin on reeds, Kenneth Nash on percussion, Ray Parker Jr. and Wah Wah Watson on guitar, led by Herbie Hancock on keyboards.

It is highly instructive to compare the three drummers and the ways in which Hancock employs rhythms. Feel the power polyrhythms of Tony Williams, who also uses space as a rhythm. Observe the adroit aural paintings of Billy Hart, who uses his drum kit as a canvas almost as if he had been influenced by French Impressionists on the soft side and West African mask makers (who were the seminal influence on French Cubists) on the angular side of rhythm making. Rock back and forth with the bifurcated jazz and funk drumming of James Levi whose right hand plays the ride cymbals with a jazz feel while his left hand provides a heavy back beat on the snare and his feet on the sock cymbal and bass drum bridge the two styles of drumming. It’s all marvelous.

Whether swinging acoustically with VSOP, exploring space with Mwandishi, or funking it up with the Headhunters, for all his experimentation Hancock never ever drops the beat. Numerous critics have commented on Hancock’s classical background and his advanced use of harmony but I believe the most distinctive element of Hancock’s music is his understanding and use of rhythm.  

I don’t know but I hope that the actual concert was longer than what has thus far been released and that at some future date the entire concert will be released. On the evidence of the VSOP recording, it was an inspired concert that featured passionate performances from three different bands at the top of their respective, different and distinctive game.

posted 14 June 2007

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

*   *   *   *   *

Greenback Planet: How the Dollar Conquered

the World and Threatened Civilization as We Know It

By H. W. Brands

In Greenback Planet, acclaimed historian H. W. Brands charts the dollar's astonishing rise to become the world's principal currency. Telling the story with the verve of a novelist, he recounts key episodes in U.S. monetary history, from the Civil War debate over fiat money (greenbacks) to the recent worldwide financial crisis. Brands explores the dollar's changing relations to gold and silver and to other currencies and cogently explains how America's economic might made the dollar the fundamental standard of value in world finance. He vividly describes the 1869 Black Friday attempt to corner the gold market, banker J. P. Morgan's bailout of the U.S. treasury, the creation of the Federal Reserve, and President Franklin Roosevelt's handling of the bank panic of 1933. Brands shows how lessons learned (and not learned) in the Great Depression have influenced subsequent U.S. monetary policy, and how the dollar's dominance helped transform economies in countries ranging from Germany and Japan after World War II to Russia and China today.  The Economy

*   *   *   *   *

Panther Baby

A Life of Rebellion and Reinvention

By Jamal Joseph

In the 1960s he exhorted students at Columbia University to burn their college to the ground. Today he’s chair of their School of the Arts film division. Jamal Joseph’s personal odyssey—from the streets of Harlem to Riker’s Island and Leavenworth to the halls of Columbia—is as gripping as it is inspiring. Eddie Joseph was a high school honor student, slated to graduate early and begin college. But this was the late 1960s in Bronx’s black ghetto, and fifteen-year-old Eddie was introduced to the tenets of the Black Panther Party, which was just gaining a national foothold. By sixteen, his devotion to the cause landed him in prison on the infamous Rikers Island—charged with conspiracy as one of the Panther 21 in one of the most emblematic criminal cases of the sixties. When exonerated, Eddie—now called Jamal—became the youngest spokesperson and leader of the Panthers’ New York chapter. He joined the “revolutionary underground,” later landing back in prison.

*   *   *   *   *

The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

*   *   *   *   *

Ancient African Nations

*   *   *   *   *

If you like this page consider making a donation

online through PayPal

*   *   *   *   *

Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


*   *   *   *   *

The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

*   *   *   *   *

The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

*   *   *   *   *

*   *   *   *   *

ChickenBones Store (Books, DVDs, Music, and more)






update 2 May 2012




Home   Kalamu ya Salaam