Hancock Honored At Jazz Benefit Concert At Apollo

Herbie Hancock enjoyed “A Great Night in Harlem” with a look to the past and the future as the legendary jazz pianist received a lifetime achievement award from the Jazz Foundation of America at a benefit concert at the historic Apollo Theater.

Actor Bruce Willis, introducing Hancock at Friday night’s concert, offered a glance at “the future of jazz” as he brought out 11-year-old Indonesian piano prodigy Joey Alexander to play a solo rendition of Thelonious Monk’s “‘Round Midnight.”

Photo: Mark Von Holden/Invision/AP
“A Great Night in Harlem,” at The Apollo Theater in New York.

“When I was eight years old you heard me playing. You told me that you believed in me and that was the day I decided to dedicate my childhood to jazz,” Alexander told Hancock who was standing alongside him.

After Alexander got a standing ovation, Hancock enthused, “Wasn’t it amazing. … He’s taken my job away from me.” Alexander will be releasing his debut recording for the Harlem-based indie Motema label next year.

The tribute also featured a historic reunion for the first time in decades of Hancock’s groundbreaking jazz-fusion Mwandishi band from the early ‘7Os – with the pianist joining multi-reed player Bennie Maupin, trombonist Julian Priester, trumpeter Eddie Henderson, drummer Billy Hart, and bassist Buster Williams to play his composition “Toys.”

“This band was so aggressively in pursuit of discovering the unknown and working in territory many were afraid to explore – a really forward-looking, untethered kind of band that depended so much on the empathy between the musicians,” Hancock said in a pre-concert interview.

Hancock took the stage earlier to join an all-star combo that paid tribute to 93-year-old trumpeter Clark Terry, with a performance of his tune “Gingerbread Boy.”

Quincy Jones, in a pre-concert interview, called Terry his “guru,” recalling how as a 12-year-old he summoned up the courage to go down to the Seattle theater where the trumpeter was playing with Count Basie and ask him for some lessons.

Jones is co-producer of “Keep On Keepin’ On,” a documentary that is generating Oscar-buzz. The film focuses on the relationship between Terry, whose health is failing, and his young protege, blind pianist Justin Kauflin.

“During the course of that mentorship, Clark had both legs amputated with diabetes and his spirit is higher than ever,” said Jones. “It’s so powerful it makes you cry every time you see it.”

Director Alan Hicks, an Australian drummer who played in Terry’s band, told the audience the film wouldn’t have been possible without the Jazz Foundation of America which enabled Terry to receive round-the-clock care so he could stay home and teach rather than go to a nursing home.

The “Great Night In Harlem” concert raised funds for the JFA which provides emergency financial assistance and free medical care to musicians facing illness, hunger or eviction.

Questlove, whose band The Roots is the house band on “The Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon, took the stage to honor Earth, Wind & Fire founder, Maurice White, saying the band “changed the shape of R&B to come.”

Chaka Khan, backed up by singer Angelique Kidjo, EW&F bassist Verdine White, and “Late Night” bandleader Paul Shaffer on piano, belted out two of the r & b band’s biggest hits, “Shining Star” and “That’s the Way of the World.”

Photo: Mark Von Holden/Invision/AP
Vernice White, Chaka Khan, and Ray Parker Jr. at The Apollo Theater in New York.

Verdine White, accepting the honorary award on his ailing brother’s behalf, said “Maurice developed Earth, Wind & Fire out of the clay of his soul.”

Willis also showed his musical chops when he sang and played harmonica teaming with singer-guitarist Susan Tedeschi on the blues “Got Love If You Want It.”