NEW YORK — Grammy-winning jazz legend, Herbie Hancock released “The Imagine Project” in June. It was an unprecedented international recording and video project featuring collaborations between music pioneer Hancock and more than dozen superstars from every region of the planet, including Dave Matthews, Anoushka Shankar, Jeff Beck, The Chieftains, John Legend, India.Arie, Seal, Pink, Juanes, Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi, Chaka Khan, K’Naan, Wayne Shorter, James Morrison, Lisa Hannigan and Céu.
He just finished his U.S. “Imagine Project” tour in September. What is this huge project all about? Right before he is about to go on an international tour, Blast had a chance to chat with him. He openly shared with Blast about his view of the world, life, and success.
BLAST: “The Imagine Project” was released from your own label, Hancock Records, and it was a largely self-financed project. What was your main purpose for the record?
HERBIE HANCOCK: Oh, the record is about “peace to global collaboration” so I wanted to make a global record. I demonstrated that by being open and opening yourself to other cultures and working with other cultures to mutual respect and understanding. And, the result can be the creation of new ideas and new approaches. In this case, “in this case,” in music.
BLAST: It was a self-financed record, so obviously it is not something like you want to sell it to make money. Correct?
HH: Yeah, it wasn’t about putting some thoughts altogether to make a record that I was to sell. No.
BLAST: What inspired you the most when you decided to create the album?
HH: Well, the purpose inspired me the most. And that is what I just described. It is “peace,” which is the goal but through collaborating with another culture and working with other cultures so that new ideas can be formed through that collaboration. And, new combinations can be discovered that way. That was basically what inspired me but the other thing is that I wanted to do a record that was connected with some issue of today, and I was thinking about globalization. It is the idea of today, important issue, and controversial issue too of today.
BLAST: As a listener, it took me so long to listen to the album, digest it, and get your message out of it. How long did it take for you to complete it?
HH: Took 2 years.
BLAST: Many musicians participated in the album, such as Seal, John Legend, India.Arie, Juanes, Dave Matthews, Jeff Beck, and P!nk. How did you choose who you wanted to work with for the project?
HH: The record producer Larry Klein, he did a lot of research to discover what to find out about artists from other countries. You know, for example, India, Senegal, and different African countries to find groups that might be interesting to work with. There was another suggestion of a Brazilian artist named Céu and that idea came from the executive producer of the Imagine Project. So there were different suggestions as to what artist we would like to be looking at and also what songs to choose.
BLAST: What about American musicians John Legend, P!nk, and British musician Jeff Beck? Did you research them as well?
HH: Oh no, I knew who John Legend was and I had met him a few times. I had never met P!nk before. I had not met….I had not met Seal…? Maybe I had met Seal once before? Los Lobos, I knew them. I had met India.Arie maybe once before. Jeff Beck, I knew. Dave Matthews, I knew. Anoushka Shankar, who played the sitar, from India, I knew her. I had met her once before and we actually had played music once before. So, [there were] some of the artists I knew and some of them I didn’t. I knew Lisa Hannigan, an Irish singer, but I didn’t know the group the Chieftains. And, I didn’t know…..Well, there were some groups, like I mentioned before, I didn’t know the groups were from African countries like Congo. A group called Konono No. l is from Congo, a group called Tinariwen is from northern Mali, and Oumou Sangare is from Mali. I didn’t know that.
BLAST: So, you knew some of them and didn’t know others but you got to know!
HH: Yeah, so Larry did some research to find, you know, the singers and instrumentalists that we might like to work with.
BLAST: How was working with them?
HH: (It) was fun. All of them? Or one of them, or what?
HH: Well it was great working with all of them because I told everybody what the purpose was. Because, really, the record was driven by the purpose of making the record, which is “peace to global collaboration.” And I wanted everybody to really understand the point even before we’d recorded any music. Because, you know, it’s like the agent to drive this music wasn’t the music itself. It was this grand purpose of “peace to global collaboration.”
BLAST: So, it sounds like you guys were really united to do this project.
HH: Yeah, right!
BLAST: That’s amazing!
HH: Yeah and everybody was really happy to be a part of this grand purpose.
BLAST: My favorite track is “Don’t Give Up.” And,
HH: Oh, great!
BLAST: Yes, and after the John Legend’s 1st verse, P!nk’s voice comes in, which is soft, emotional, and strong. That’s my favorite moment of the song and I even get goose bumps.
HH: Oh, yeah yeah.
BLAST: So, was the song turned out the way you’d expected?
HH: [It] came out better than I had expected. (Laughs)
BLAST: Wow. (Laughs)
HH: Most of the things came out better than I had expected. And the whole record came out better than I had expected.
BLAST: Yes, “Don’t Give Up” is my personal favorite song.
HH: Oh, I am glad.
BLAST: I really love P!nk’s voice.
HH: Yeah, P!nk sounds beautiful on that.
BLAST: The album was recorded in 6 countries with 7 languages and musicians from 11 nations. Did you learn something new while doing the project? You must have?
HH: Oh, absolutely. The whole idea for my records in recent years and into the future is, from my personal standpoint, for me to learn and to grow. So, I learned a lot of things like something about other cultures but I had been to many of those countries before so I had understood and I had some experiences working with other cultures. But still, there were a lot of things I learned about putting together artists that may come from 2 different cultures and making it sound unified.
BLAST: Here is kind of a serious question. We are currently having all bad phenomena, such as bad economy, strange climate change, global warming, mental illness, fight, or murder, to name a few. If music could do something to relieve those things and promote world peace, how would you think it could help?
HH: Because the first thing that needs to be affected is the minds of the people and the perception that people have of cultures outside of their own. And a lot of Americans have forgotten that, especially today, they have forgotten that we are the immigrants. All of our ancestors, for most part, do not come from American soil. They come from all corners of the earth. So if American wants to see an immigrant, all you have to do is to look at a mirror. This is an immigrant country but a lot of Americans have forgotten about that.
HH: Right, exactly, exactly! But I mean, even people who were born here, their ancestors were not born here. The Native Americans come from here but the Europeans did not come from here, you know, so, but when we look at in the newspaper and see people, you know, complaining about immigrants and making, doing these ridiculous things about people from the Islamic culture, you know, the issue about the mosques. And all these things are like “what’s going on here?” This is going to be a land of the free. And, so many Americans have forgotten where their roots really are. Their roots are from everywhere. So, in that way, there is the message in this record for Americans. But the record is a global record and that’s why it has 7 different languages.
BLAST: How did your Imagine Project tour go?
HH: Oh, it went very well. We toured Europe first for a month. And then, we toured the United States for a month. And we are going back to Europe in the middle of October. And, we will be in Europe for 2 months.
BLAST: So, are you currently doing the rehearsal?
HH: Ah, no, because many of the people are from the last tour. I am taking [them] on this tour too. And there will be some rehearsals because I have a different drummer and a different bass player. But the singer will be the same, the keyboarder will be the same, the guitarist will be the same, and I will be the same. (Laughs)
BLAST: That’s your tour so you should be there. (Laughs)
HH: Yeah, right. Exactly right. (Laughs)
BLAST: Let’s move on to your personal aspect. You’ve won 12 Grammy Awards and most people definitely see you as a very successful musician. But what does “success” mean to you? How would you define “success in one’s life”?
HH: Success is when you overcome obstacles in life and you grow and learn, and expand your perception of life around you, when you learn to respect other people, when you have….when you develop wisdom from learning! And, when you, umm, respect, I think I just said, but, respect other people. And also, when you have the courage to trust yourself and trust others. Those are some of the characteristics that, I think, lead you to a successful life.
BLAST: So, to you, success is…
HH: To me, success is….in terms of having a successful life, that leads me to have a safe life where everything is just comfortable for you. Or you create the comfort for yourself by winning mini-battles against yourself! And, develop yourself to become someone to have progressed throughout your life to be a better person.
BLAST: So, to you, success is to keep moving forward for yourself and others.
BLAST: I see. So, we all want to do something great in our lives. We all have that kind of desires inside ourselves, whatever they are. How would you recommend those people to make a difference in our lives? How could we be really awakened?
HH: You start with a present moment and you have to have a desire to improve and to learn….and to grow….what was your question again?
BLAST: From the beginning? Or the last part?
HH: You said, “How do you…”
BLAST: Oh, How would you recommend those people to make a difference in our lives? How could we be really awakened?
HH: Oh, I see. Yeah, I was right, you know. Well, the other thing is to learn to recognize that you have the power to shape your destiny. And, the destiny is that which makes you rise above other people but the destiny is that includes helping other people. It’s not just yourself but help others too, so you know, which is pretty much related to the question you’ve asked before. And, to take the power that you have as a human being, to exercise that power, in order to do good, to develop and use your creative ability as a human being because every human being is creative. Use that creativity to conceive of ways to make a contribution towards moving life forward. And it takes a lot of work and I also believe, it takes having a strong, correct, true, splash, spiritual foundation.
BLAST: So, spiritual philosophy?
HH: Yeah, and I have been practicing Nichiren Buddhism for like 38 years. So I have a very strong, you know, religious foundation. And, it has helped my life and helped me to see things more clearly and therefore, to make better decisions. And, it’s also helped me to respect other people too…to see them not as what they think they are because most people don’t think they are important. And I believe everybody is important, you know. We need everybody.
BLAST: It is the last question. What’s the next thing on your agenda?
HH: Oh, one more thing that I have to say! About your last question.
BLAST: Yes, please!
HH: It’s also important to have a correct mentor, or someone who helps [to] deport you in the right direction, or someone who has the same dream that you have. And I also have that—a man named Daisaku Ikeda.
BLAST: So, what’s the next thing on your agenda?
HH: Actually, I’m gonna, as I said before, I’m gonna tour Europe for 2 months. It’s about in the middle of October and gone to….the middle of December in order to play the music from the Imagine Project record. Also, next year, I have some classical concerts to do. Um, some of them are with Lang Lang, a Chinese classical pianist. And also some of them are my own classical concerts with orchestras in the late fall of next year like October, November.
BLAST: Are you coming to the East Coast?
HH: I was already gone to the East Coast to play at Carnegie Hall….umm, June 24th.
BLAST: This past June?
BLAST: I missed it.
HH: Yeah, you missed it. (Laughs) We did “Don’t Give Up.”