Hancock’s New Video A Group Effort

Herbie Hancock was a music video trailblazer: In 1984, he garnered five trophies at the first MTV Video Music Awards for his “Rockit” video, which featured robot-like sculptures moving in sync with the song’s turntable scratching.

Photo: AP Photo
In this photo provided by Canon U.S.A. Inc., Herbie Hancock performs at the launch of Canon Pixma Pro-1 printer in New York.

Now more than 25 years later, he’s experimenting with a new technique for making a music video.

On Wednesday night, cameras were handed out to 25 photographers – professionals and hobbyists alike – who shot continuously as Hancock performed his funky “Chameleon” on the keytar, a synthesizer keyboard that he straps over his shoulder like a guitar.

“We’re doing something really special,” said Hancock in an interview before performing a brief set with his quartet before invited guests. “What they’re going to do is make a flip book (of photographs) that’s going to sync to the music.”

“It’s like the audience is going to make the music video. That’s why it’s crowd-sourced.”

The 71-year-old Hancock made the video, due to be released in early December as part of a Canon promotional campaign, during a break from his first U.S. solo tour without any other musicians accompanying him on stage. Hancock did a brief European tour in the ‘80s playing solo acoustic piano, but this time he’s reinventing the solo concept with all kinds of high-tech gadgetry.

Photo: AP Photo / Keystone
44th Montreux Jazz Festival, Stravinski Hall, Montreux, Switzerland

“I’m able to have both the acoustic piano and a synthesizer and my iMac computer,” said Hancock, who studied electrical engineering in college. “I’m actually using some devices that right now are really on the cutting edge. I have a controller board with buttons, knobs, faders and sliders in order to manipulate some sound clips.”

“It’s been working out really well because it has freed me up to be my own drummer and bass player. … I’m not bound by keeping a particular rhythm or a particular time sequence,” he said. “I have the capability of being much more cinematic with a live performance.”

Hancock is closing out his fall tour next month with three concerts in Calgary, Alberta; Portland, Ore., and Seattle, at which he will be performing “Rhapsody In Blue” on acoustic piano with a symphony orchestra. The inspiration came after he performed a portion of the George Gershwin masterpiece with classical pianist Lang Lang at the 2008 Grammy Awards, where he also surprisingly won album of the year honors for River: The Joni Letters.

“I determined that it’s time for me to go back to my roots of classical music and to explore that now in my adult life as a professional musician,” said Hancock, a child prodigy who performed a Mozart piano concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at age 11. “I listened a lot to classical music … and used elements that I stole from Ravel or Stravinsky in my style of piano playing and compositions.”

Photo: Cole Thompson
Monterey Jazz Festival, Monterey County Fairgrounds, Monterey, Calif.

Hancock says “Rhapsody” has jazz overtones and he may improvise a little in some places. That he says is part of the classical tradition.

“Bach, Beethoven and Mozart … were improvisers, but the art of improvisation in classical music got lost along the way,” he said.