“Happy birthday, Herbie!” – a dance tribute to Herbie Hancock

Carte Blanche "Happy birthday, Herbie". Christine Kjellberg and Jonas Órkner in action. Photo: Øystein Rise.

Carte Blanche "Happy birthday, Herbie". Christine Kjellberg and Jonas Órkner in action. Photo: Øystein Rise

For the spring term, one our assignments were to give a concert where we apply ICT as a musical tool. In addition we will produce an accompanying text with reflections on the creative process seen in relation to relevant theories on aesthetics, creativity and rhethorics.

At work, Carte Blanche scheduled a workshop performance “Try in house II”, which is an artistic concept allowing the dancers to create their own dance performances. I applied and got acceptance from our artistic director Bruno Heynderickx to make my assignment become part of Try in house.

The artistic idea is to bring Herbie Hancock’s music on stage and to present it live in a dance setting. The reason for doing so is partly to celebrate Hancock’s 70 birthday, which took place on April 12th, and partly to explore the artistic outcome of making the world of contemporary jazz merge with contemporary dance. Will there two fields benefit mutually from being fused together?

By using Ableton Live and Propellerhead reason, a keyboard and the Launch pad, I had a flexible control system for launching loops, clips, and scenes as I progressed in putting together a collage of Hancock’s music. The Elecromagnetic refill proved to be a sufficient source for retro Fender Rhodes sound which I played live along with the prerecorded music launched via Ableton.

The latest recording I made, was done a week before the premiere, so the latest adjustments are missing: Latest draft Happy Birthday, Herbie (The percussion is too present in this version)

The introduction is a transcription I made of Hancock’s piano intro to Maiden Voyage on the album VSOP, a live recording from the Newport festival in 1976. Excerpt of the original is here: intro on which I based my rendition here: intro_

The main part of the sound track is a bass / Rhodes riff which I have picked from Hancock’s tune Nobu from the album Dedication. This is a riff in the key of F minor which allows for some modal improvisation and also for superimposing other known themes, such as Rock it, Hang up your hanh ups. I picked a groove from the Ableton library and a percussion loop from Reason in my version, whereas Hancock uses a step sequencer in the original. The original: Excerpt from Nobu and my version: Nobu Groove / Rockit theme

As a structural element, I sampled Herbie’s comment to the intro of his tune “Call it ’95” fom Diz is da drum. Here he says “this is something we have just been working on”. I copy that, and let 4 different musical structures follow to which our dancers Christine Kjellberg and Jones Orkner have prepared some hefty moves:

Stikk1_ – this is a sample of Herbie conversating in an interview from 1985. He refers to his first encouners with the piano.
stikk2_full – this is a transcription I made of an interesting lick off Nobu which represents Hancock’s method of outside playing 
stikk3_ – a reference to Cantaloupe island
stikk4_ – just a seires of samples of Hancock saying Boogie woogie.

Also a simple chord change helps structuring the piece. On this part I play versions of the Happy birthday theme.

For a Coda part, I have picked the main riffs of the tune Hang up your hangups. This follows after a “breakdown” part where the dancers sing an excerpt of a birthday tune. The tight groove of hang up immediately pushes the arrangement forward towards its end. Excerpt 1 (hang up) Coda

To finish off the arrangement, I have selected a quotation from an interview Hancock gave after his participation in the inaugrigation concert of Obama. His commet “and that is the human spirit which is the core from which everything springs, you know”.  This is a suitable comment which makes the music transcend that of being mere organised sound, it is of essential importance for mankind. Listen: Finale

Ø. Kvinge

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