Herbie Hancock Brings Family, Joy and Exuberance To The Hollywood Bowl REVIEW+PHOTOS: Herbie Hancock at Hollywood Bowl 9/28/22
LOS ANGELES, CA- September 2022 was a rough month for jazz enthusiasts. In the span of a couple of weeks, Ramsey Lewis passed away on September 12th, the Pharoah Sanders passed away on September 24th. Legendary players who helped shape and mold various genres of jazz over time.
After Pharoah’s passing, as a tribute, I decided to sift through my record collection and spin a few of the records I owned. As Pharoah’s Karma played, I had a sudden realization that I never got to experience a full performance from either of them. I never saw Ramsey Lewis play, and I only caught the end of his set at Arroyo Seco Festival in 2018. I’ve had several chances to see them perform headlining sets on other occasions, but for some reason, I never took the initiative to actually make it out to any of the shows to do so.
In an instant I can only deem as fate, on September 22nd I received a reminder about Herbie Hancock’s upcoming performance at the Hollywood Bowl. Had I ever seen Herbie Hancock perform? Ironically, no. Blurred Culture has covered several Herbie Hancock performances, but I always deferred to my contributors who showed a keen interest. After all, I wasn’t going to hog all of the good stuff for myself, right? Not this time.
The Free Nationals were the opening act for Herbie Hancock. They are a Los Angeles-based R&B consisting of Jose Rios (lead guitar, backing vocals), Ron “T.Nava” Avant (keyboard, rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Kelsey Gonzales (bass guitar, bass synth), and Callum Connor (drums, percussion, backing vocals). If their name sounds familiar, when they aren’t performing on their own, they serve as Anderson .Paak’s his backing band.
As I was instructed to photograph the last three songs of their performance, I wasn’t able to catch most of Free National’s performance. But from outside of the venue where I was told to wait, I could hear them perform various tracks from their self-titled debut album, including “Obituaries”, “On Sight”, “Beauty & Essex” among others. I was also able to hear them pay tribute to the late Mac Miller with a passage from their collaboration with him, “Time”.
Apparently, I missed hearing them perform Mac Demarco’s “On The Level” with Mac, but I supposed I should have anticipated an appearance by Mac as he has collaborated with Anderson .Paak in the past and was also supposed to tour with Anderson .Paak and the Free Nationals in 2020 before Covid shut things down.
For their finale, for a bit of fun, members of Free Nationals started chatting with a somewhat distinguished gentleman with flowing golden locks and a tailored blue suit sitting in the front row. In what appeared to be a heated exchange, the gentleman in the front row got up out of the seat and jumped onto the stage. When the blue-suited man turned around, we could all see the wide smile of Anderson .Paak himself. He jumped onto the stage, settled behind the drum kit, and banged out “Gidget” with Free Nationals leaving all in attendance hooting and hollering with joy.
Before Herbie Hancock and his band started their performance, the Hollywood Bowl got a little bonus performance from another in the Hancock lineage. Escorting his grandfather to his instrument, not quite 2-year-old Dru, with a little help from his grandad, played the first few notes of Herbie’s performance. The look of joy on Herbie’s face as the little one attempted to make sense of the sounds was indescribable. The family seemed to be on Herbie’s mind throughout the night. He even took a moment to endorse his cousin Holly Hancock for a Judge seat on the Los Angeles Superior Court.
His family on stage was magnificent. His longtime guitarist and bassist Lionel Loueke and James Genus, respectively seamlessly moved through each passage of melody and rhythm throughout the night. Elena Pinderhughes, someone who I have been following for quite a while, seemed at home among geniuses playing the flute. Elena would later surprise me when I heard her sing for the first time. Her voice was velvety smooth. Justin Tyson played the drums with precision.
Legendary trumpeter Terence Blanchard literally blew me away. The effects that he added to his masterful play had me gobsmacked. During the performance of Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints”, it sounded like there was a whole brass section playing, and I spent time during the performance trying to determine how he made the music that he made.
As much as each member of the ensemble had their individual moments to shine, it was Herbie who captured our attention. At 82 years of age, he still plays with a youthful bounce. Like jazz, Herbie seemed ageless.
I thought he tried to bring that youthful exuberance into his music. For his performance of “Actual Proof”, I recall that that recording featured Herbie playing a Fender Rhodes. For this performance, however, I noticed that he played the baby grand instead. Perhaps he wanted to add a more percussive element to the piece, giving the piece more of a bounce.
In what was perhaps my favorite part of the performance, he performed his lesser-known composition “Come Running To Me”. He prefaced the performance by explaining to the crowd that he was about to perform using a vocoder, a technology that he described- with a wink- as something that all of the kids were doing these days. “Come Running To Me” was released in 1978, and I think it was a subtle reminder to everybody, especially the kids, who the real OG was.
Another moment seared into my mind was when he strapped on a keytar for his performance of “Secret Sauce”. Just the image of Herbie smiling away as he jammed away at his solo was something I wish I could have captured on film. Honestly, if he had decided to throw in a little “Rockit” while strapped into the keytar, I probably would have lost my mind.
He concluded his performance, catering to his fans with a performance of his seminal hits “Cantaloupe Island” and “Chameleon”. By this time, fans were up out of their seats shaking their hips to the music, invigorated by the youth that Herbie imparted to them on this delightful summer night.
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