Herbie Hancock has been more influential in my development than any other single artist. I was introduced to his album “Head Hunters” by my cousin when I was about 8, and my mind was immediately blown. I had heard jazz and I had heard funk, but I had never been subject to such a completely homogeneous mixture of the two. Huge, delicious synthesizers are everywhere on that album, supporting a top-notch band of musicians and often even taking center stage.
Herbie was a huge part of a musical revolution. Synthesizers had become acceptable in mainstream music, and jazz and funk were going through many changes. “Head Hunters” was one of the earliest popular examples of “jazz fusion,” taking the chords and instrumentation from jazz and imbuing them with the ferocity and attitude of funk and rock and roll, and adding synths of course. I would imagine that most of the people listening to that album for the first time had never heard sounds anything like it. The opening track literally blew my mind as a child.
Just the first half, the song is 15 minutes of pure funk. That bass synth is so deep and squishy and hilarious, and I feel like it perfectly embodies the soft yet screaming boogie mindset that Herbie’s and other’s funk defined.
Hip hop is entirely based on samples from this era. Contemporary producers looking back to their roots find this music and see it as the godfather of future-funk. It directly influences myself and countless other musicians and really opened my world to the beauty of electronic sounds. He says here (about 5:30 in, but the rest is SO sick you have to watch) that synthesizers are just tools, and it’s up the musician to make a thing of beauty out of it, which he certainly does.
This video also demonstrates his forward thinking. He’s hangin out with Quincy Jones, jamming on one of this many synths with the Fairlight (one of the first digital samplers) provided a groovy swangin sampled drum beat. Sound familiar? Yes, it’s exactly what every digital production studio is based on today. And he was there on the forefront, working out the kinks so that we could all someday make beats on our laptops. He could never have known what the technology would lead to, but his funky fresh style (and all the money he made with it!) enabled him to bring the light and love of synthesis to the ears of millions.