THE ROAD TO MONTEREY: Setting Course with Herbie Hancock
It may be hard to believe 60 years has passed since the legendary and iconic pianist Herbie Hancock made his debut appearance at the sixth Monterey Jazz Festival on September 20, 1963 with the Miles Davis Quintet. At the time, his star was just beginning to rise–Herbie had only released his second solo album, My Pont of View earlier that same month. “I felt like the impossible had happened,” Herbie said in 2022 to The Guardian. “Joining Miles and having “Watermelon Man” become a hit at the same time, I felt as if I was on top of the world.” By the time of the show at MJF6, Herbie had only been in Miles’ new band for four months. The band would eventually be known as Miles’ “Second Great Quintet” with the addition of tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter in September of 1964.
The September 20, 1963 show was recorded and has been frequently bootlegged. It officially came out on Monterey Jazz Festival Records in 2007 but it has since gone out of print.
When Herbie returned with Miles to MJF7 in 1964, Wayne was now in the Quintet, and the rest is history. That lineup is considered one the of the greatest groups in jazz.
Herbie would return for the first time as a leader in 1972, this time with his Septet, which was right in the middle of its sonically groundbreaking Afro-futurist Mwandishi period. The avant-garde set went beyond its allotted performance time and the 20-foot tall Arena curtain pulled closed as Herbie and the band played on. Critics at the time, perhaps expecting Herbie’s influential 1960s piano style and put off by the electronics and percussion, dismissed the evening’s adventurous music. But in the years since, these Hancock recordings have been hailed as visionary. It would be another 20 years before Herbie returned to the festival in 1992 for a reunion of the Second Great Quintet to honor Miles Davis, who had died less than a year before.
Herbie Hancock has performed at Monterey Jazz Festival 13 times in the last 60 years. Hancock has presented many different groups and musicians at the festival – including Joshua Redman, Roy Hargrove, Michael Brecker, Bobby Hutcherson, Terri Lyne Carrington, Lionel Loueke, and a very special duo performance with Chick Corea in 2017. MJF is excited to see what his vision will be for MJF66! And yes, he still plays “Watermelon Man.”