Herbert Jeffrey “Herbie” Hancock (born April 12, 1940) is an American pianist, keyboardist, bandleader and composer. Starting his career with jazz legend Clark Terry, he shortly thereafter joined Miles Davis’s Second Great Quintet where Hancock helped to redefine the role of a jazz rhythm section and was one of the primary architects of the “post-bop” sound. He was one of the first jazz musicians to embrace synthesizers and funk music (characterized by syncopated drum beats). Hancock’s music is often melodic and accessible; he has had many songs “cross over” and achieved success among pop audiences. His music embraces elements of funk and soul while adopting freer stylistic elements from jazz. In his jazz improvisation, he possesses a unique creative blend of jazz, blues, and modern classical music, with harmonic stylings much like the styles of Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel.
Hancock’s best-known solo works include “Cantaloupe Island“, “Watermelon Man” (later performed by dozens of musicians, including bandleader Mongo Santamaría), “Maiden Voyage“, “Chameleon“, and the singles “I Thought It Was You” and “Rockit“. His 2007 tribute album River: The Joni Letters won the 2008Grammy Award for Album of the Year, only the second jazz album ever to win the award, after Getz/Gilberto in 1965.
Hancock practices Nichiren Buddhism and is a member of the Buddhist association Sōka Gakkai International. As part of Hancock’s spiritual practice, he recites the Buddhist chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo each day. In 2013, Hancock’s dialogue with Wayne Shorter and Daisaku Ikeda on jazz, Buddhism and life was published in Japanese.
On July 22, 2011, at a ceremony in Paris, Hancock was named UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for the promotion of Intercultural Dialogue. In 2013 Hancock joined the University of California, Los Angeles faculty as a professor in the UCLA music department where he will teach jazz music.
Hancock is the 2014 Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard University. Holders of the chair deliver a series of six lectures on poetry, “The Norton Lectures”, poetry being “interpreted in the broadest sense, including all poetic expression in language, music, or fine arts.” Previous Norton lecturers include musicians Leonard Bernstein, Igor Stravinsky and John Cage. Hancock’s theme is “The Ethics of Jazz.”