Richard Bona

Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2015: Herbie Hancock & All Who Followed

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 at Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2015

Herbie Hancock

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”.

Herbie Hancock & Chick Corea concert at Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2015

Chick Corea (r)

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.

Herbie Hancock concert at Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2015

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.

Chick Corea live at Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2015

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.

Herbie Hancock & Chick Corea concert at Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2015

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.

Herbie Hancock at Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2015

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

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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 - Head Hunters (1973)

Head Hunters (1973)

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Herbie Hancock in 2014, in collaboration with Flying Lotus…

‘Tesla’ – Flying Lotus (feat. Herbie Hancock) – You’re Dead
Flying Lotus - You're Dead! (2014)

You’re Dead! (2014)

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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.

Eric Harland live at Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2015

Eric Harland

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Eric Harland Voyager live at Federation Square – with Walter Smith III (sax), Julian Lage (guitar), Harish Raghavan (double bass) and Taylor Eigsti (piano)…

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Richard Bona

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.

Richard Bona concert - Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2015

Richard Bona Quintet

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.

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Melbourne International Jazz Festival returns in May 2016 for another 11 days of musical goodness.

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Richard Bona: “Music is The Real School of Life”

If you love the sounds of jazz, blues, funk, West African rhythms, flamenco, salsa, bossa and the other diverse musical flavours of the world and you’re not already well acquainted with the vast body of music of Richard Bona, now is the time.

His very long list of collaborators and fans include Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock, Bobby McFerrin, Chaka Khan, Tito Puente and Lauryn Hill. And he is respected by they and music appreciators all around the world for his prolific songwriting skills, innovative fusion music creations, honey-sweet vocals and phenomenal abilities on bass, guitar, percussion, balafon and every other instrument he plays now, or might ever decide to play.

Beyond all that Richard Bona shared in our interview this week that he is simply a lover of this beautiful life in which we’re all different but equal – a fact that music helps remind us of, to embrace and celebrate.

Folks in Australia get their chance to celebrate with him at Melbourne International Jazz Festival on 28 and 29 May 2015 – and in Sydney on 30 May. And people everywhere can read on for the full interview with Richard Bona talking about current music projects, his take on fusion of the world’s sounds, human connection in music and musicians embracing technology in a digital age.

Richard Bona

These Musical Days

Beaver: Apart from your upcoming Australian tour what’s going on in the musical world of Richard Bona these days?

Richard Bona: I’m working on two separate projects: a flamenco project with gypsy musicians in Spain – and another project called Mandekan Cubano. It’s me with six Cuban musicians. We’re playing and recording that project here in July in the studio of my Paris house.

Summer time is coming so there’s a lot of touring. I’ve got three shows here before I come to Australia. After that I’m going to Holland and will keep playing until August 7.

In terms of putting the record out, I’ve been with Universal with the last five records and I did two before that with Columbia. So right now I don’t have a record company and I’m planning on finally releasing something on my own, to try something different. So that’s the plan right now. When the record will come out, I don’t know yet. I’m shooting for 2016.

Student of Music

Beaver: Many refer to you as a ‘jazz musician’ but your music incorporates so many different styles of music other than jazz. Do you identify yourself with jazz?

Richard Bona: I don’t identify myself as a jazz musician. Jazz is just one part of my thing that I do. I’m a student of music in general. I just love to learn from other music. Like I did when I went to India and recorded with guys in India – and to Brazil to record with guys there. I just love to embrace or approach music that way. I consider music being a school that never ends.

I don’t like routine – it’s just not in my genes. I want to constantly feel like I’m learning something new cause I get bored quickly if I do the same thing. I like to feel with the music that the more I know, the less I know – cause I know, that I don’t know. That’s the beautiful thing about music.

I’m not afraid of difference. I remember last year when I started this flamenco project, a lot of gypsy musicians were like “What? You never played this music” and this and that. But just give me a few months here and I get to learn the basics and all those things. Its just like a language.

That’s what I’m doing lately, and that’s what I’ve been doing for years. Just trying to embrace new things and incorporate them in my music to make up something new.

Fusion Forever

Beaver: The exchange and fusion of cultures (including music) has been happening for all of history. But with rapid advances in technologies during recent decades, that fusion process has rapidly sped up too. With music from all around the world much more accessible, the sounds which artists can and do blend together when creating new music are almost limitless.What do you think we’ve lost and gained in all of that? Some people might say for example it’s been unhelpful in preserving traditional forms of music.

Richard Bona: It’s a very intriguing question. In any situation you gain and lose. We get to gain for example cause as a kid I didn’t even have any idea how Indian musicians sound. I grew up in a tiny rural area in Africa [Cameroon] with no radio or nothing. The chances for me to hear something that a Pakistani or Egyptian guy is doing would be almost impossible – zero. We have access now to things we didn’t even dream of.

In terms of preserving ‘traditional forms of music’ though, the question is preserve what?

What we talk about preserving was also a fusion already. People were doing fusion since people have been traveling and mixing with each other. When the black people were taken from Africa it was already a fusion right there – a lot of music got created then. We’re talking about 400 years ago. So where does the authenticity start and stop? Where’s the line?

They say “that blues is not authentic” but the blues was already a combination of black rhythms and some of the classical European harmonies you hear today, and melodies, that’s what became jazz music too. They were already mixing things.

The moment you put people from different places together, there’s a fusion. It’s been happening for all of time. But in the past 50 years it’s happened more rapidly than 200 years ago because people are traveling faster, moving faster and get their information faster too.

[B: check out Richard Bona’s reflections on the diversity and influence of blues music with these sample tracks from his 2009 album The Ten Shades of Blues…]

Richard Bona - The Ten Shades of Blues (2009)

‘Sona Moyo’ – Richard Bona – The Ten Shades of Blues

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‘Good Times’ – Richard Bona – The Ten Shades of Blues

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Learn The Technology

“one foot in the past and one foot in the future”

Richard Bona: We have definitely lost a lot in terms of a sound. When I record analogue and digital – the difference is night and day.

I still have my foot in an analogue world where I still do things like I used to do when we used to play as a kid. I used to play with my folks in a church, and I still record like that, because the real essence of music is there. So in my house in France I have an analogue studio.

I also think there’s way too many informations now. I was actually lucky as a kid to grow up in a place where I didn’t have a radio, tv or Facebook. Cause too much information kills the information.

Musicians today have to do so many things around music. They have to go and update their Facebook page, and do things that have nothing to do with the music. That’s a loss right there cause its really hard to find time to play these days.

But we gotta get versatile and learn the technology these days because that’s where the world is going. As a musician today you can’t ignore that. We should have one foot in the past and one foot in the future. So in New York I have a digital studio too.

I give you another example of a friend who’s still writing music with a pencil. It takes him a month to write a song, the whole arrangement. His handwriting is perfect. I will never have beautiful handwriting like him, I wish I had. But today you could do the same thing on a computer in one hour. Well, if I have a choice, I will do it one hour. I don’t have one month to sit. But those are the people who never embrace the technology. They look at a computer and just go “Please, No”.

When I come to Australia I’m actually giving classes about that – how modern musicians need to be be connected with technology today.

“Don’t worry…we are live to the bone.”

Today everything is digital, everything is formatted – all the radio, all the tunes, all the singers. When they play live, most of our “super stars” are all in playback, not even singing live.

There are a category of musicians today that just want to sound like they sound on radio. The young people who go to see Beyonce want to hear it exactly how it sounds on the radio. If you change anything, they’re like “Why change it? We heard it like this, just do it like this”. They have to satisfy audience in the masses out there.

That’s a loss right there when people can’t even perform live because they’re so scared to make mistakes. Mistakes are part of that interaction of music. We don’t have to be perfect. That’s what makes music what it is – when we just get to improvise on stage.

But don’t worry – we live. I will never change that when it comes to my performances on stage. We are live to the bone.

Richard Bona

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Connection In Music

Beaver: You agree that music is one of the greatest healing forces in this troubled world of ours?

Richard Bona: Definitely.

Beaver: You were born into a musical family and surrounded by music during a lifetime of playing and composing on your own and collaboratively with phenomenal artists all over the world- ie. a lifetime of blessed music experiences. What’s your take on the goodness of music in people’s lives?

Richard Bona: If our world had the reflection of music then we would probably live in a perfect world. Because music actually has that perfect science.

Music is so rationale. I think it’s even more rationale than mathematics and numbers. If I give you 10 and divide it by 3 for example, you’ll never find the exact number right? But with music, it’s so perfect. You move one finger and get exactly the chord you want. You move another finger and it’s not the same chord anymore. It’s perfect.

For example I will go to India and see someone I never ever met before, and the moment we start playing music we create a bond. It seems like we know each other, are family, instantly.

But you put two politicians together to meet up once year all the time at the U.N. and they barely talk to each other. Or, I just travelled on a plane to Paris. People can sit next to each other on a plane for eight hours and not say a word.

That would never happen in music, never. The moment we play that note right there, boom, we are linked.

Immediately when music comes, you see people dancing together, they don’t even know each other. But if you met that person in the subway or wherever, you might not even say ‘hi’ to them.

Music Transcends Difference

Beaver: What experience do you want audiences at your shows to have?

Richard Bona: I just want my audience to remember the good time they spent when they heard me playing. I want them 20 years from now going “Wow. That was a good moment”. Cause that’s what the music is all about. We should celebrate life, cause this life is beautiful. Music is a tool that helps remind us of that.

And also to remind us that we’re all one in the same boat. That’s what we forget with “I’m from here”, I’m from there”, “Im yellow”, “Im black.” When music starts to kick in, it reminds us that we’re all just humans and we should appreciate this beautiful life.

That’s why I love doing what I’m doing because I get to connect people. And I get to connect myself to people. In music we don’t fear the difference like regular people do. Through music I learn to actually embrace the difference. Cause when you embrace the difference, you become taller.

Where I grew up for example, you wash you hands and you go eat with everyone in the same place. If I stay in my village with the same people, we know the same stories, we eat the same food, we eat the same way. But if I meet a Japanese guy he’s going to tell me “I’m gonna teach you how to eat with chopsticks”. “Oh, wait a second, you don’t eat with your hands? You guys eat with chopsticks”. From there I meet a European guy and he says “I’m gonna teach you how to eat with a fork”. So right there you’re expanding your knowledge, and vice versa. Music is exactly the same way.

Music is the real school of life.

Politicians should use music as a tool actually. But maybe they know the power of music so they don’t want it around them 🙂 .

Beaver: I’m sure you’re right 🙂 . Thanks for taking the time to chat with me today.

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Richard Bona gives a free workshop at Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2015 on 28 May and the Richard Bona Quintet performs two live shows on 29 May. The festival kicks off the night before with a performance by Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea– ending on 7 June with Dee Bridgewater & Irvin Mayfield with The New Orleans Jazz Orchestra. In between those opening and closing shows are 100+ live performances, workshops, talks and films by other superb Australian and international artists in various venues throughout Melbourne. Check out the full festival program here.

Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2015

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