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September 05, 2007

8/29 Herbie Hancock Quartet, Ridgefield Playhouse, CT

Icon. Hero. Innovator. Just a few of the words used to describe the piano virtuoso that is Herbie Hancock. He’s a virtual legend in his own time, performing a Mozart piano concerto with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at only 11 years old, joining the Miles Davis Quintet in his early 20’s and winning numerous Grammy Awards (not to mention an Oscar as well) for his solo work as a jazz pianist and composer. WHEW…did you get all that? I’m exhausted just writing it! To think that my biggest thrill at 11 was New Kids on the Block.

Needless to say, when I heard Mr. Hancock was making a stop at the little Ridgefield Playhouse, I immediately put in a request for the show. It’s not often you get the chance to witness first hand the talents of such a musical genius. I was as awestruck as I thought I’d be (if not more so), despite Herbie’s frequent chatter and interaction with the crowd…case in point, ME!


As many of us bloggers have mentioned in past posts, it can be slightly embarrassing standing in the photo pit amongst professional Nikons and Cannons holding up a flip top camera phone. Many a concert companion has gotten quite a kick out of watching me trying to angle my “screen” just so, in order to get that award-winning shot. Flashing a photo pass and defending your right to be up front to beefy security guards, usually sometime during the second song if they haven’t spotted you sooner, has now become routine. All of that…piece of cake…thing of the past. I’ve moved onto bigger and better…and slightly more mortifying. How’s about the artist in question, in this case only the most influential jazz pianist of our generation, stopping mid sentence to walk over and pose for your pic!

I should mention at this point that there is no “press pit” at the Ridgefield Playhouse. Rather, I was given a photo pass, a seat in a “director’s chair” (fancy term for high foldout chair at the back of the orchestra) and a 5 minute window to take pictures. Obviously I needed to give myself an upgrade, at least for the first few minutes of the show. For some miraculous reason (I’ve learned not to ask questions or exude guilt by looking over my shoulder), the only 2 empty seats in the house just happened to be in the center section front row. Go figure. I snagged the end seat, focused my “lens” and prepared for some speedy picture snapping.

So, the lights go dim and out walks Herbie Hancock. Instead of retreating directly to his piano, Mr. Hancock comes front and center to talk to us for a bit…welcome us, introduce the band and give a brief intro to the highly anticipated show at hand. I guess he caught my camera out of the corner of his eye (damn lights!), because next thing I know I hear him calling to someone “Hi! Hello!” After a second or two, I sense a slight shadow moving over me and it registers that he might be talking to me (oh please let me be wrong). With slight terror I slowly lower my camera (or phone…or whatever you want to call it!) away from my face and there, standing directly in front of me waving, is Mr. Herbie Hancock. In retrospect, I wish I could have eaten up that moment and done a little playful chit-chat with Herbie. In reality, all I could do was try to keep my face from turning a more purple shade of red. “Did you get your picture? Here, I’m standing right here…go ahead.” With shaky hands and embarrassment masked by a cheek hurting laughter, I tried to steady my camera for the shot. I had no idea if I got it until I got home, but I gave Herbie the ok that I did. “Yeah, you got it! How’d it come out? Good?” Seeing my nod he gave the audience a thumbs up and everyone erupted in laughter and applause…and I couldn’t tell if I wanted to crawl under the seat or jump up on top of it waving. I’m such a wuss! Though, I did feel better when Herbie turned to the gentleman to his left and jokingly told him he “wasn’t getting the same treatment.”


Ok, ok…on to the show! What else can I say other than AMAZING. The night was filled with Hancock’s unique, experimental type jazz that fuses together elements of rock, funk, soul and even classical music. Even with the incorporation of a synthesizer, his music is still melodic and accessible. Aside from Hancock’s own immense talent, the thing that impressed me the most (and that I found the most interesting) was how much he was singing the praises of the other 3 men in his quartet…almost like he was the one humbled to be playing with them. Starting with guitarist Lionel Loueke…telling us that Lionel was the only one who could play the tune “17’s” (named after its 17 beats) and as such, “the band’s not gonna play it, because we can’t.” “Not easily defeated,” Hancock set up the number by telling us they were going to start with a groove, ease into “17’s,” retreat back into the groove and then play “17’s” again to prove that they didn’t make a mistake the first time. Finally, they were going to transition into fan favorite “Watermelon.” He often did this…stepped out from behind his piano to set up the next song with a brief explanation of its history or the direction the band was going to take with it at that moment. One of the coolest parts of the night was when Hancock jammed out on his electric piano-guitar, trading licks back and forth with bassist Nathan East.


Hancock then introduced a new arrangement of “Stiched Up” from 2005’s Possibilities, on which Hancock collaborated with everyone from John Mayer and Paul Simon to Christina Aguilera and Trey Anastasio, to name a few. Apparently Mayer was supposed to be there to lend his vocals but missed his plane (damn rock stars!). Instead, we got the “Nathan East touch” which was totally fine with us! And by the looks of Hancock, clapping the beat from his piano bench, East was a more than adequate substitute. “Stitched Up” was more of an R&B infused jazzy tune that had a groovy feel to it. Loueke’s harmonizing with East gave it a really smooth touch.


Before giving the stage to Loueke for some solo time, Hancock warned us that with Loueke “every night is different” and after playing all over the world, he was “of course going to do crazy things in Ridgefield.” Um, you can say that! He wasn’t even strumming his guitar strings. Rather, he was tapping on the face and edge of his instrument, palm open and fingers dancing, as if it was a conga…banging out a beat that quickly escalated into an African inspired chant that got the whole audience clapping and singing along to what I think were nonsensical vocal noises. Re-joined by the rest of the band, Loueke’s spotlight was immediately followed by a crazy  mid-song drum solo that got a standing O mid set.


Finally taking center stage, Hancock “took us on a voyage” via a piano solo that highlighted his more sedate, classical side. I could have sat there for hours! But as important and influential of a musician he is, Hancock definitely doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously. After serenading us with a solid 10+ minutes on the piano, Hancock looked at us and asked “Who do I think I am? This isn’t Spain! It’s Ridgefield…but we’ll turn it into Spain for a little bit.” The journey continued with a new age-y rendition of Stevie Wonder’s classic “I Just Called To Say I Love You,” that apparently Stevie doesn’t mind too much because he hasn’t said anything to Herbie about it since it was recorded. Though even Hancock questioned who in their right mind would go ahead and change up the chords on a Stevie song. The show neared it’s end with a continuation of jazzy, groovy jams that had fans dancing in their chairs, bopping their heads back and forth, clapping and hooting in their seats…or merely just taking it all in and watching in awe as this architect of modern jazz entertained.

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Reid E.

Another great review!! Nothing like getting called out in the front row too!

Celeste Armstrong

Hahahahaha I LOVE that he totally called you out!!!! That is great! I am sorry that your summer blog fun will be coming to an end soon...but at least you will go out with a BANG! Cant wait to read and see pics of Farm Aid! Love ya Leslie!


Once again you dazzle me with your review. You bring it all center stage and so alive. So impressed and fingers crossed!!!

Georgia Reid

WOW that is so cool. How do you have the energy to do all this? You definitely have a talent for writing and a real "ear" for the good stuff. I hope I get to read more blogs before "summer" is officially over!!

Lauren Ainsworth

Better you than me... I would have died. Sounds like a great show - thanks for another great review.

susan phillips

GREAT writing. I love Herbie Hancock-he is more than an icon-and you seemed to have gotten the entire "vibe", not to mention the pic. Your writing is aok-get a better camera and you'llbe the press writer and photographer of choice!!


Wow! What a throwback!


Awesome music reviews--will keep reading, look forward to MORE!!!!

Jack L.

Great story about the photo op. And congratulations on making it to a genre of music that's actually older than you. Enjoyed the review.


A true icon. Wish i could've been there to see him.


Leslie, you are awesome!!!!! What a review...you certainly have a way with words. I almost wish I was there. I think you ought to write a book....on just about anything..perhaps your summer experience writing a Billboard Blog. You go girl.


Fantastic....Ugh - wish i had been there

Megan Ross

That's awesome that he talked to you, though I would have probably frozen up as well. At least you got some great pictures!! Sounds like it was another amazing concert. I can't believe you're almost done :-(


wow...I feel enlightened now...and all along I thought this great musical prodigy was the robot guy who busted out "Rock It" in the 80s...thanks Leslie, for expanding my horizons and opening my eyes (and ears)...


Well you definitely always take the time to write up a solid review. It's been years since I've seen him play, good to see he still is out there.



Sounds like a great show!


Sounds like a great show!


Sounds like a great show!


Nice review. I'm glad to see that the hugeness of Herbie made such an impression on you. I thought the show was great too, but I would have thought the people who weren't familiar with all of his styles and work over the last 45 years might not have appreciated it as much. When he was playing in his strap on keyboard (as he has done for years), it sounded like vintage Herbie from the 70's, very different from his more recent material and of course his piano solo on Maiden Voyage. And while the group was also fantastic, I was way less taken with the guitarist. You can't pick two higher end players on bass and drums (Nate East and Vinnie C. are as top call as you get) and they were incredible. Lionel was, in my view, the weakest player in the group and compared to his playing partners, to me, it showed. Nonetheless, Herbie's deference to his band was well noted and just another example of why he is the absolute classiest, coolest cat on the jazz planet. Beyond his incredible talent, also notable was that he was really having fun up there. Given who he is, he could just kick back and play at Lincoln Center a few times a year. Us locals really appreciate his showing up in little Ridgefield Playhouse for a personal gig. Herbie Rules!


hysterical that you got called out. I can see your face ;-) sad that it is almost coming to an end.


hysterical that you got called out. I can see your face ;-) sad that it is almost coming to an end.


Thank my lucky stars. You have finally reviewed someone I know and have actually seen perform. It does not get any better. Great review. You brought me right up front with you. I could see your cheeks getting red. Can not wait to see the next review.


Great review--Herbie Hancock is amazing!!


I didn't know this guy was still around. Great review.Another great job!


Thanks for a great write up. Sounds like you had a great time.

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