Crimson staff writer
Settled in an armchair and mutely dressed in a grey fleece half-zip and black jeans, Herbert “Herbie” J. Hancock, the 2014 Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry, exuded pure calmness. The legendary jazz pianist, known for leading fearless, searching electric and acoustic projects (Head Hunters, Mwandishi, his Trio) as well as his tenure with Miles Davis’s seminal “Second Great Quintet” in the ’60s, was charmingly low-key but coolly energetic. Hancock, who turns 75 next month, showed absolutely no sign of his age, save for when he stood up and a slight paunch quietly emerged.
These lectures were meticulously designed to be a hit at Harvard: jam-packed with facts and anecdotes; sprinkled with jokes and clever turns of phrase; and interdisciplinary, using musical performance and analysis to teach American cultural history. But staff writer Kevin Sun has his doubts.
I don’t presume to be anything more than a student of the jazz saxophone tradition, but in my few years of study I’ve benefited immensely from drawing my own map of the historical territory. Of course, ignorance and misinformation are par for the course, but it’s been an invaluable exercise to try to orient myself while navigating the unspeakably diverse collection of voices that define the legacy of the jazz saxophone.
Jazz musicians love puns. Here’s an example: “Just You, Just Me” was a song from a 1929 film called “Marianne,” which was adopted by musicians as a jazz standard and reinterpreted over the years. In the 1940s, pianist Thelonious Monk composed a song with harmonies adapted directly from “Just You, Just Me” but with a new melody, which he titled “Justice.”
If you believe Coltrane meant every rhythm and pitch that he played in a technical sense, then he’d be the undisputed master of the music with regards to control: a supreme technician expressive to the microlevels of rhythm and pitch. This is a pretty scary thought.
I was a junior in high school when it started. Every Saturday morning, I would leave my house in suburban New Jersey and take a train into Manhattan, transfer to the subway, and make my way over to the Manhattan School of Music on the Upper West Side. It was there that I became a musical glutton.