Ever so perfectly, this year’s Melbourne International Jazz Festival opened its eleven-day program with a performance at Hamer Hall by two of jazz history’s most influential and pioneering artists: Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea. One of them, Herbie Hancock, is a musical hero in the life of Chick Corea, me and millions of other people around the world living, passed and yet born.
Herbie Hancock: “My friend and inspiration”
Chick Corea introduced Herbie Hancock to the Melbourne audience as “his friend and inspiration”. Two days earlier at their Brisbane show, Chick told a story of the epiphany he’d had when first hearing Herbie Hancock play live after Chick moved to New York in the 60s. “Sure, he was playing jazz and blues and stuff” Chick reminisced, “but way over there” (gesturing to a distant place). “This guy opened my imagination to all that’s possible”.
I imagine if you asked the hundreds of diverse international and Australian festival artists who performed in the ten days after opening night, they’d have their own stories to tell about the profound inspiration and influence of Herbie Hancock and his music in their world. And judging from the multi-generational audience’s response to the pair’s arrival on stage and to each part of the flawlessly-played 90 minute performance that followed, I’d bet too that all those audience members could add many more stories of Herbie Goodness.
This current world tour is Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea’s first together since 1978. This time around they bought electronic keyboards/synthesisers to sit alongside their pianos – utilised most at the start of the show with an improvised piece which made us feel like we were hearing the score to a weird and wonderful sci-fi movie being created live right before our eyes.
From there they moved into revamped renditions of well-known seminal classics from each of their long musical histories including Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage and the greatest grooving blessing of the night, Cantaloupe Island. The show finished with a version of Chick Corea’s Spain where they enlisted the audience in five-part vocal harmonies and a piano call-and-vocal response exercise which if nothing else, highlighted the distinctive playing styles of these two artists: Chick’s the straighter, more percussive and confined (easier for the audience to mimic) – Herbie’s the looser swinging melodic phrases full of slurs, chords and metric modulations challenging for even the highly-musical Melbourne audience to replicate.
Both in their mid-70’s, the chops of Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea remain impeccable, superb to hear. Just to be in the audience and ponder the vast wealth of their combined musical experiences in our jazz history (well over a century), was awe-inspiring. Their long-standing connectivity in music and friendship evident in their banter, their playing and the looks and smiles exchanged between them, was a pleasure to witness.
Before this show Herbie Hancock was one of only a few living artists left on my Live Music Bucket List. Hearing the sounds of his hands creating music right before my eyes was an experience for which I will definitely die much happier.
If you didn’t make it to Herbie and Chick’s sell-out Melbourne shows, get a glimpse of the experience with footage here from their Brisbane show two days earlier- the first utilising synths- the second a snippet from Cantaloupe Island…
Then remind yourself here of just two of so many reasons Herbie Hancock deserves so much praise from Chick Corea, Beaver and everyone else…
Herbie Hancock in 1973…
‘Watermelon Man’ – Herbie Hancock – Head Hunters (1973)
Herbie Hancock in 2014, in collaboration with Flying Lotus…
‘Tesla’ – Flying Lotus (feat. Herbie Hancock) – You’re Dead
Melbourne International Jazz Festival Artists Who Followed
During ten festival days after opening night venues throughout Melbourne, including historical jazz club Bennetts Lane in its final days, hosted performances by hundreds of diverse, genre-bending jazz artists.
Eric Harland Voyager
Day two began with a free concert in Federation Square which gave folks in Melbourne a teeny taste of festival performances to come including The Bad Plus (U.S.A) – The Hoodangers (Melbourne) – and Eric Harland Voyager (U.S.A) whose musical skills and group cohesiveness seemed unaffected by their arrival to the gig fresh off the plane from the other side of the world.
The final Melbourne International Jazz Festival performance I can share the goodness of was the Richard Bona Quintet show at Coopers Malthouse Theatre.
I’d enjoyed Richard Bona’s recorded music on cd, seen online videos of his phenomenal virtuoso skills on bass, and recently spoken with him about the long-lasting memorable experience he hopes audiences will have at his shows. The actual live Richard Bona experience was another thing all together though – a reflection of all that and so much more.
As you’d expect from this world fusion artist, Richard Bona’s set was made up of diverse musical flavours from jazz through to funk, salsa and classical Indian. Many songs were performed by the full band, including Shiva Mantra (video below) and a tribute to his inspiration Jaco Pastorius in the form of Teen Town. Others were performed by Richard Bona solo – a cappella or with a loop pedal – perfectly highlighting his phenomenal musicality as well as his angelic voice. Threading all those songs together were the very funny stories and anecdotes shared by Richard Bona – and all of it combined left the audience with wide smiles, gratitude and joy.
Melbourne International Jazz Festival returns in May 2016 for another 11 days of musical goodness.