BOOK REVIEW: Herbie Hancock’s “Possibilities” (with Lisa Dickey)

Herbie Hancock photo HancockPBook_cover_zpsdbd6bb7c-1.jpg When I heard Herbie Hancock did an autobiography, I had to read it. I’ve been listening to his music for over 30 years and have enjoyed exploring his catalog, going back and forth and enjoying much of what he has shared with the world, but I always wanted to know more about the man behind the music, and Possibilities (Viking) is an excellent way to read about his story from the man himself.

Written along with Lisa Dickey, Hancock goes throughout his life from his childhood in Chicago, the importance of family and friends, and what lead to him playing piano at the age of 7. His mom wanted to be sure he was classically trained and he was, and in time he would learn and embrace other musical styles too, although how he was introduced to jazz is a unique one for him. Once he fell in love with jazz, he wanted to know how much more he could do, where his talents may lead him, and what the world can offer him, which is part of why this book is named after one of his own albums.

The book explores what lead to him getting involved with Miles Davis to become a part of his “second” cherished quintet and while he played along with other musicians, he would gather information along the way that would help him with some tips that would lead to a very strong career, one that has now lasted 55 years. It’s great to read the stories on how playing behind Davis was an education in itself, but also how it made him stronger as a musician and as a person, which would eventually lead to him moving out of the quintet and into creating his own bands. What I enjoyed was reading his experience through the Mwandishi period which covered three albums on Warner Bros., the struggles and satisfaction of performing that music to crowds, and what lead to what ended up being a satisfactory jump to a new label, Columbia Records. It is his Columbia years that lead to at least two of his greatest celebrations, 1973’s Head Hunters album and 1983’s “Rockit” single.

In between he talks about exploring his limitations with his instrument, only to find himself discovering electronic gadgets and instruments that would take his talents a few steps further, if not higher. His girlfriend, who would become his wife, is very much along with his journey, along with their first child Jessica. With success came more challenges, including soundtrack opportunities, which managed to keep him busy. Hancock also covers being introduced to technology that we now taken for granted these days, including digital recording in 1976, a computer modem and computer chatting in 1979, and a compact disc in 1981, along with being told in the early 80’s that it may be possible for anyone to sell music through computers. For gearheads and tech nerds, he gets into how he and Stevie Wonder would occasionally battle over having the first editions of newly made keyboards and synth but for the most part, the book is not deep into the creations of his compositions and recordings. He touches on all of it throughout but it’s not to where only the diehard music fans will appreciate.

I was aware that he is a Buddhist, which is why I always loved how he once said he is not a musician, but a human first that happens to perform and play music, showing that there is a consciousness first before any sense of talent. What I wasn’t aware of was that he not only had a bit of cocaine throughout his life, but that he also had a bit of a crack problem. I had never looked that deeply into his life so this was new to me and most likely to everyone else, as he states that this dark chapter of his life was something he kept to himself, family, and close friends, only revealing it for the first time in the book. Through strength and determination, he was able to pull himself through.

Despite the ups and downs, Hancock has lead a satisfying life by being able to do the thing he loves along with the people he loves and adores, and explains that no matter what life has thrown him (or whatever he has come across in life), the idea of dealing with possibilities is what keeps him and his mind going. Outside of being a great read for jazz and music fans, Possibilities is very much about a life lived and lessons learned, in the hopes people will go through life while dealing with the differences in our time of existence.

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RECORD CRACK: Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew” gets the MFSL/MOFI treatment

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Considered one of the best, adventurous, and controversial albums in Miles Davis’ discography, Bitches Brew stood out for many reasons when it hit the streets in 1970. 44 years later, it’s getting the audiophile treatment with a newly remastered 180g limited edition pressing on Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab, to be shipped to customers on June 16th. To pre-order a copy, head to MusicDirect.com.

DUST IT OFF: 40th anniversary of the close of the Fillmore East

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June 27, 1971.

105 Second Avenue, New York City.

For people of an older generation (that is, one that is older than I), that address will bring back a lot of fond memories. This was the address of a venue known as the Fillmore East. It may have been a mere concert hall like any other, but in the late 60’s and early 70’s, it was the place to be to not only go to a show, but to play and have a good time. Anyone who was anyone from that era played there, and for a young kid like myself who admired many of the records and artists my parents, uncles, and aunties had, this was like a holy grail.

According to the Wikipedia entry, the building that turned the Fillmore East into a home was a Yiddish theater built in 1926, as it’s located in an area that used to be called the “Jewish Rialto”. It became a movie theater, and eventually it was owned by concert promoter Bill Graham. The theater was not in good condition, but Graham and his people spruced it up and it became a mecca for great music, be it rock, jazz, country, or soul. Just as many artists looked to perform at Carnegie Hall, it seemed that it became a bigger honor if you played at the Fillmore East.

It’s not a surprise that a lot of artists would end up recording their concerts and releasing it as live albums. The most famous would have to be The Allman Brothers At Fillmore East, but you also had Derek & The DominosIn Concert, Humble Pie‘s Performance: Rockin’ the Fillmore, Miles Davis at Fillmore: Live at the Fillmore East, and Frank Zappa‘s Fillmore East: June 1971. Maybe its mystique come from the myths that artists and critics have developed over the years, and yet there was that something, that essence, that “vibe” that made it possible for these artists to get there, feel comfortable, and let it all hang out. Oaktown 3.5.7 once spoke about getting wild and loose, and this is what the artists did. Whether it was Graham’s awareness of the right bands to perform during a night, or simply knowing how to please audiences, or knowing how to use his money wisely to make it feel like a musical homecoming for everyone involved: as a kid I wanted to be in the crowd so I could sense what it was like to be a part of that moment, what has become a document on wax, a piece of sonic history.

So why was the Fillmore East closed? The music industry was changing in early 1970. Michael Wadleigh‘s Woodstock documentary film is credited in saving not only Warner Bros. as a movie studio, but Hollywood as a whole. Box office ticket sales were said to be at an all time low, but people attended Woodstock as if it was the actual festival. Keep in mind the original movie was 3 hours and 15 minutes, which means less showings a day at a theater, but people loved the music so much, they kept going. This was a moneymaking venture never experienced in music and entertainment, and at the same time, record labels were consolidating, making bigger business movies, wanting to be bigger and more elaborate, if not more corporate. There were a lot of other elements too, but the nature of how things were in entertainment made Graham realize it was time to close shop, as that intimate, familial feel of the Fillmore East seemed to be getting a bit more stuffy. Another reason cited was that Graham felt a need to “find himself”, to get away from a business that was becoming very profitable for him. When it came to booking and creating the best concerts, Graham’s name was often brought up.

The final concert on June 27, 1971 was invitation only, which did not stop music fans from standing outside just to “feel” a sense of history. The entire concert was broadcast live on WNEW-FM, a rock station known for its progressive stance. It was different times, and FM for many meant freeform radio, something that was less corporate than their AM counterparts. What you’d hear in a concert hall, you would hear on WNEW. There’s a term in radio called “left of the dial”, to suggested radio stations that would play non-hit/non-mainstream music, or talk radio, public radio, and religious programming. The college/university stations would be in positions like 89.1, 90.3, 91.5 on the dial. Once you got to the 94.9’s, 95.7, 96.1, 102.3 etc, radio stations were more mainstream in sound. Yet there was a time on FM radio when there was no sense of the “left of” anything: the entire FM frequency was about quality and freedom, just like the Fillmore East.

The closure of the Fillmore East was not only devastating to music fans in New York City and the Tri-State area, but Graham also closed the Fillmore West in San Francisco a few days later. In the city that for many was the place the hippie movement began, it was like a death in the family. To have two Graham theaters close was too much, and there are fans who still remember the Fillmore East and West and fondness. It’s not just old hippies, rockers, and jazzbos taking out old concert flyers, but digitizing ticket stubs and old photos. But you don’t have to read any of these entries to get a sense of what it may have been like. Go to the music, it’s there. There was a time when freedom in music not only meant something, but was celebrated. Just as sports fans will celebrate Wrigley Field, rock’n’roll fans celebrate the Fillmore East like a loved one, even someone like myself who wasn’t even around when the building was bringing in the grooves and the doobs.

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SOME STUFFS: Miles Davis enters the “bloop”

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So what if Miles Davis grew up in the late 70’s or early 80’s and felt a need to make some incredible music with friends by using the same technology that made old table-top video games, Atari 2600, Nintendo NES, and Game Boys? If you’ve made it this far, then you know that there’s already a genre of music that caters to this called chiptunes. What would happen if you combined Davis with 8-bit music? Blasphemous, or pure lo-fi genius?

This project was released a few months ago but I was not made aware of it until this week, but it’s a song-for-song recreation of Davis’ Kind Of Blue album, but done in chiptune form and called Kind Of Bloop. It was created by Andy Baio, the man behind Waxy.org, and Kickstarter.com, and as Ast0r, Baio has made a number of chiptunes so for Kind Of Bloop he collaborated with fellow 8-bit music enthusiasts to create a note-for-note revision of one of the most well known jazz albums. It’s really cool, but will probably upset jazz purists. Show some support.