April 5, 2018

GADGET MAN:

THE DAY HERBIE HANCOCK MET THE ELECTRIC PIANO (Addison Nugent, APR 03 2018, Ozy)

On the third and final day of recording Miles Davis' transitional album Miles in the Sky, Herbie Hancock walked into Columbia Studio B on East 52nd Street in New York to find his instrument missing. A piano prodigy since age 11, Hancock scanned the room -- no keyboards. Confused, he turned to Davis, his mentor and band leader. "What do you want me to play?"

Davis nodded at a squat, almost frail-looking set of keys that were a far cry from the commanding presence of a Steinway -- instead, they belonged to a Fender Rhodes electric piano. Hancock thought, "You want me to play that toy?" But he'd been working with Davis since May 1963, almost five years to the day prior to the Miles in the Sky sessions, May 15-17, 1968. He trusted the man. And he'd heard other pianists talk about the Rhodes as a different instrument entirely from a standard piano. In fact, in the decades to come, that toy came to form an integral part of Hancock's pioneering blend of jazz, electro, funk and classical music.

It was the experimental jazz band leader Sun Ra who first used the electric piano, in 1954. Davis became aware of the instrument's potential for jazz compositions when Josef Zawinul played the Wurlitzer in 1966 for the Cannonball Adderley Quartet. Previously, the Wurlitzer's soulful electronic sustain was favored by gospel musicians, and later by R&B titans like Ray Charles.

Back in Studio B, Hancock tentatively approached the Fender Rhodes and played a chord. "Much to my surprise, I liked the sound," he said later in an interview with Dutch music writer Paul Tingen. "It sounded beautiful, with a really warm, bell-like sound."

Posted by at April 5, 2018 4:13 AM

  

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