Jazz great awes students

Alan Bjerga

Jazz legend Herbie Hancock gave several demonstrations Friday of the importance of timing to a University student audience at the Ted Mann Concert Hall.
Hancock, who many critics consider the most prominent figure in jazz today, was in Minneapolis for an evening concert. The show was part of an international tour supporting his current album “The New Standard.” Hancock and his band held an open sound check for about 120 University music majors.
The opportunity to see Hancock prepare for a performance was a rare one, according to University jazz instructor Ron McCurdy, who helped coordinate the event. “Many artists don’t allow people to see their sound checks. It’s not something you’re normally allowed to do. It’s kind of like putting your clothes on in public.”
Many music students who arrived for the sound check never saw it. The sound check was scheduled for 5 p.m.; however, Hancock did not step on the concert hall stage until 5:58. By then, about one-quarter of the audience had left.
The actual sound check did not begin until 6:12. The audience received no explanation for Hancock’s late arrival, although McCurdy said that “When you’ve got the record that Herbie has, you can be fashionably late.”
The sound check, anticipated to be 20 minutes, lasted more than one hour. Though Hancock stressed afterward that “a sound check is not a concert,” audience members who heard Hancock play said they were well aware of the presence of jazz greatness.
“Hancock’s been doing (jazz) with the same soul he’s had for years. You have to respect that,” said Corey Needleman, a junior music education major.
Hancock’s concert was part of the Discover Grammy Festival, a series of concert performances sponsored by the credit card company Discover to bring music education into communities and schools across the country. Giving the school’s music students the opportunity to see Hancock perform and discuss music with him is an appropriate continuation of jazz tradition, McCurdy said.
“The tradition of jazz education has become formalized,” McCurdy said. “You listened and learned. This is a throwback, getting a bird’s-eye view of putting things together.”
After completing the sound check, Hancock fielded questions from the audience for about 15 minutes, showing the music majors finger strength-building exercises for piano and discussing the creative forces behind “The New Standard.” Hancock’s latest album is a re-working of contemporary tunes by composers ranging from Don Henley to Prince.
“Back when I started in the business” about 35 years ago, Hancock said, “We were playing tunes from the ’30s and ’40s and calling them standards. We still play the same songs.
“I wanted to take contemporary songs and make them jazz … so we’d have something for the 21st century.”
Hancock stressed the importance of hard work behind creativity. Referring to his early work with famed jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, Hancock said “When I started I couldn’t play fast. So I wrote down some lines of playing what I wanted to play. In a couple days I could play fast. It wasn’t great or anything, but I learned … and I learned faster when I was younger.”
The question-and-answer session ended at 7:45, shortly before the audience began arriving for Hancock’s 8:30 performance. With the evening already well behind schedule, the concert began 25 minutes late. Hancock and his band played a mix of “new standards” and old favorites from his career, which has been highlighted by pop hits like “Watermelon Man” and “Rockit” and the 1973 album “Headhunters,” the best-selling jazz album of all time.
Though sounding tired and uninspired at moments, the band often played with the technical and emotional brilliance for which Hancock is famous. And the band’s onstage timing was impeccable — even if the schedule was not.