Herbie Hancock at Sea: Blue Note Jazz on Queen Mary 2
Photo by Jason Leppert
Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2 has hosted some big names in entertainment over the years – even including film director Francis Ford Coppola and his wife last month – and on our sailing that followed, my wife and I enjoyed the jazz music of Herbie Hancock.
As a special Blue Note Records sailing, Hancock performed three sets and also sat in for a fascinating Q&A session, and as a jazz fan myself, I ate it all up. The transatlantic crossing was in many ways a theme cruise, uniquely offering specialty entertainment to everyone onboard for free.
To follow the traditional format of one show per dinner seating, Hancock played an early evening set and a late-night set one day and an additional set the following evening to accommodate every passenger. His first was about 50 minutes as it ended right as we lined up for the second, and we were most pleased that the latter went on for about 20 minutes longer.
READ MORE: The Queen Mary 2 Remastering Shines Bright
He was an effortless performer who shared the stage with his equally talented band comprised of Lionel Loueke on guitar and vocals; James Genus on bass; Terrace Martin on keyboard, saxophone and vocals and Trevor Lawrence Jr. on drums. In fact, we were pleasantly surprised to discover that Genus is one of the familiar televised faces of the Saturday Night Live Band.
The entire performance was high energy and featured Hancock’s self-described “funky jazz tunes” that really transcend genres with experimental electronic sounds that are very space age-inspired. It was not uncommon for Hancock’s keyboard and keytar playing to emulate guitar sounds or for Loueke's guitar to sound like keys in return. While there was no theremin on stage, such sci-fi sonic character still managed to magically emerge.
Hancock performed hits like “Cantaloupe Island,” “Chameleon” and “Watermelon Man,” which he described as having gotten more involved as the song has evolved over time. Indeed the current iteration of the composition rocked. He even gave us a bit of an overture or sampler of the album he is currently working on that highlights playful working titles such as “Bottled Water” and “Vegan Grease,” the musical effect of which is extraordinary, ranging from distinct bass licks to tribal vocals.
As indication of how special the arrangement was to have Herbie and his band aboard, the ship had to be ballasted just right to embark his acoustic Fazioli piano from shore for the single week. It was well worth it though because one of the highlights from the show was him playing a beautiful solo piece on the instrument.
At the Q&A, Hancock shared the story behind his music which, as for jazz, began in high school where he saw a trio play, recalling, “It looked like they were having fun, and the girls liked it too.” So, he went on to learn how to improvise, eventually playing with the likes of masters Donald Byrd and Miles Davis, who early on complimented his “nice touch.”
Hancock even told the tale of how once when Davis was at the height of one of his trumpet solos, he mistakenly played such a wrong chord and felt so bad for it. However, the master trumpeter just continued to play a series of notes that made his chord right. The lesson he eventually learned: “Miles didn’t judge my chord. I did. Miles just heard it as something new, and his attitude was ‘oh.’ And he found something that kind of weaved it into the rest of the music.”
Now, Hancock teaches an ethics in jazz class and recognizes that, “We freely share ideas.” He expresses that a person can learn from an idea and play it themselves without it being stolen because the individual person and their unique expression cannot be stolen. What a wise thought from a great talent.
The Blue Note Jazz at Sea cruises will continue on Cunard with Grammy Award-winning artists Gregory Porter and Dee Dee Bridgewater set to perform on Queen Mary 2’s October 25, 2016 eastbound transatlantic crossing.
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