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Herbie Hancock's Jazz-Pop 'Possibilities'

ED GORDON, host:

We'll continue to cover and monitor the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, but we thought after such a devastating week, it would be good to close out with some music.

(Soundbite of music)

GORDON: Few artists have transcended genres with the ease of Herbie Hancock. The jazz pianist's latest CD is "Possibilities." It's a collection of songs Hancock produced with musicians from many different corners of the music world. Here's Hancock playing with Sting, performing Sting's composition, "Sister Moon."

(Soundbite of "Sister Moon")

STING: (Singing) I would gaze at your face the whole night through. I'd go out of my mind...

GORDON: On "Possibilities," Hancock mixes it up with a younger generation of singers, artists like Joss Stone, John Mayer and Christina Aguilera. We're pleased to have Herbie Hancock here to share the results.

Herbie Hancock, welcome. Good to have you.

Mr. HERBIE HANCOCK (Musician): Oh, thanks so much, Ed.

GORDON: Listen, let's talk a little bit about the new project. Before I knew that you were coming in, I was in a record store, and I heard "A Song for You," and that's a song that, as you know, has been done many times, a classic Donny Hathaway tune, by many artists, and some people hit it and some people, it's hard to keep up with Donny. And I heard this version and didn't know who it was, and I went over and asked them who it was. They had an advance copy that they were playing. You really took someone like Christina and gave her a different venue and really have done a fine job with a standard.

Mr. HANCOCK: Yeah. She's amazing. I mean, she's so talented, she sings perfectly in tune every time.

(Soundbite of "A Song for You")

Ms. CHRISTINA AGUILERA: (Singing) I've been so many places in my life and time.

Mr. HANCOCK: At the first take, I said, `Christina, I knew you could sing, but I didn't know you could sing like that. I mean, you nailed it. It's done.' And she laughed. She said, `No, I was just trying different things.' And she said, `I want to do several takes and try different things so I can kind of learn how to synchronize with you since we've never worked together before, and then come back and make a final take.' So she's really a hard worker, has great talent and is a real perfectionist.

(Soundbite of "A Song for You")

Ms. AGUILERA: (Singing) I know your image of me is what I hope to be. I've treated you unkindly, but, darlin', can't you see...

GORDON: We've seen something interesting with this project, Herbie, and that is that Starbucks has come on board. We saw them do it with the Christmas CD with BeBe Winans and also the last CD, "Genius Loves Company," the late, great Ray Charles, and they've done so with this, that they are teaming and will be selling the CD in Starbucks across the country.

Mr. HANCOCK: Actually for the first time, they'll be selling this CD, which is "Possibilities," across the world. So it's their first worldwide release in Starbucks stores.

GORDON: Did you like the idea immediately, or did you have hesitation?

Mr. HANCOCK: Oh, the idea of it, like, I gravitated toward that immediately. I said, `You know what? Because they service every age, you know, what a great atmosphere for buying a record, you know? How good can it get?'

GORDON: Let me ask you this, talking about how good can it get: You came up in an era--I think about the great pianists who came along with you, like Ramsey Lewis, Joe Sample, Bob James, and the interesting thing about all of you is that not only are you virtuosos on your instrument, but--and you, perhaps leading this field, have been in the fore of many trends that came after. What is it about this era? I mean, were we just lucky enough to have all you guys together at one time, or was there something in the water?

Mr. HANCOCK: I got a chance to work with Miles Davis, and that changed everything for me, 'cause Miles really encouraged all his musicians to reach beyond what they know, go into unknown territory and explore. It's made a difference to me and the decisions that I've made over the years about how to approach a project in this music.

GORDON: You know, it's interesting you say that. You're a practicing Buddhist. When you look at that, when you look at the idea of--what you just suggested that Miles taught you, to a great degree, shows in, I think, your ability musically to pick up so many genres of music, be accepted in them, play them well and not lose credibility with others who may love one particular genre. Do you think that that part of the balance is all how you've tried to live your life, in a sense?

Mr. HANCOCK: It really is, and thank you for mentioning the Buddhism, because Buddhism has really helped me to see more clearly so that I can make clearer decisions. But the main thing is that I think the strongest a person can be is to act on his own honesty about who he is and what he believes in, and then the actions will result in something that he can really stand up for when the time comes.

GORDON: Is there something special about how you deal with a musician, Herbie, from the production side, what you can get out of someone? We talked about the rendition that Christina does on the new CD, "A Song for You," but I also think about what you've done with Billie Holiday's "Don't Explain" or what you've taken from Paul Simon. I think about what you must bring to the artist. What do you try to do in that arena?

Mr. HANCOCK: Well, first of all, the basic concept had to do with collaboration. Behind that was the idea of giving an answer to the industry that has a tendency to pigeonhole people and to encourage them to stay in that pigeonhole and continue to do something like whatever they did that was successful before. And Miles Davis taught me, you know, that's like end of life, you know? So I was hoping that I bring that kind of influence from my life and my experience as a human being and as a musician, and I knew that the end result would be something that was beyond the pigeonhole. So in a sense it would be outside the box, but at the same time include the box, because I didn't want to exclude the fan base that already exists with these artists. But I wanted--I was hoping to be a part of the creation of an atmosphere where these artists could deliver dimensions beyond what their fan base is accustomed to.

(Soundbite of "I Do It for Your Love")

Mr. PAUL SIMON: (Singing) The rooms were musty and the pipes were cold. All that winter we shared a cold, drank all the orange juice that we could hold. I do it for your love.

GORDON: Well, "Possibilities" is in stores this week. Herbie Hancock, again, we thank you for your time, and it is fun to talk to a true master, and we appreciate your music through the years and the latest venture as well.

Mr. HANCOCK: Thank you for inviting me, Ed. I hope we can talk to each other again.

GORDON: Indeed.

(Soundbite of "I Do It for Your Love")

Mr. SIMON: (Singing) The orange bled the blue.


GORDON: To listen to the show, visit npr.org. NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

I'm Ed Gordon. This is NEWS & NOTES. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ed Gordon
Hard hitting, intelligent, honest, and no-nonsense describe Ed Gordon's style and approach to reporting that have made the Emmy Award-winning broadcaster one of the most respected journalists in the business today. Known for his informative on-air interaction with newsmakers, from world leaders to celebrities, the name Ed Gordon has become synonymous with the "big" interview.