When I heard Herbie Hancock did an autobiography, I had to read it. I’ve been listening to his music for over 30 years and have enjoyed exploring his catalog, going back and forth and enjoying much of what he has shared with the world, but I always wanted to know more about the man behind the music, and Possibilities (Viking) is an excellent way to read about his story from the man himself.
Written along with Lisa Dickey, Hancock goes throughout his life from his childhood in Chicago, the importance of family and friends, and what lead to him playing piano at the age of 7. His mom wanted to be sure he was classically trained and he was, and in time he would learn and embrace other musical styles too, although how he was introduced to jazz is a unique one for him. Once he fell in love with jazz, he wanted to know how much more he could do, where his talents may lead him, and what the world can offer him, which is part of why this book is named after one of his own albums.
The book explores what lead to him getting involved with Miles Davis to become a part of his “second” cherished quintet and while he played along with other musicians, he would gather information along the way that would help him with some tips that would lead to a very strong career, one that has now lasted 55 years. It’s great to read the stories on how playing behind Davis was an education in itself, but also how it made him stronger as a musician and as a person, which would eventually lead to him moving out of the quintet and into creating his own bands. What I enjoyed was reading his experience through the Mwandishi period which covered three albums on Warner Bros., the struggles and satisfaction of performing that music to crowds, and what lead to what ended up being a satisfactory jump to a new label, Columbia Records. It is his Columbia years that lead to at least two of his greatest celebrations, 1973’s Head Hunters album and 1983’s “Rockit” single.
In between he talks about exploring his limitations with his instrument, only to find himself discovering electronic gadgets and instruments that would take his talents a few steps further, if not higher. His girlfriend, who would become his wife, is very much along with his journey, along with their first child Jessica. With success came more challenges, including soundtrack opportunities, which managed to keep him busy. Hancock also covers being introduced to technology that we now taken for granted these days, including digital recording in 1976, a computer modem and computer chatting in 1979, and a compact disc in 1981, along with being told in the early 80’s that it may be possible for anyone to sell music through computers. For gearheads and tech nerds, he gets into how he and Stevie Wonder would occasionally battle over having the first editions of newly made keyboards and synth but for the most part, the book is not deep into the creations of his compositions and recordings. He touches on all of it throughout but it’s not to where only the diehard music fans will appreciate.
I was aware that he is a Buddhist, which is why I always loved how he once said he is not a musician, but a human first that happens to perform and play music, showing that there is a consciousness first before any sense of talent. What I wasn’t aware of was that he not only had a bit of cocaine throughout his life, but that he also had a bit of a crack problem. I had never looked that deeply into his life so this was new to me and most likely to everyone else, as he states that this dark chapter of his life was something he kept to himself, family, and close friends, only revealing it for the first time in the book. Through strength and determination, he was able to pull himself through.
Despite the ups and downs, Hancock has lead a satisfying life by being able to do the thing he loves along with the people he loves and adores, and explains that no matter what life has thrown him (or whatever he has come across in life), the idea of dealing with possibilities is what keeps him and his mind going. Outside of being a great read for jazz and music fans, Possibilities is very much about a life lived and lessons learned, in the hopes people will go through life while dealing with the differences in our time of existence.