Toronto – The great things about the world of jazz is that it’s pretty darn close to being a meritocracy. The cats with the talent and the x-factor are the ones that everyone else in the community looks up to. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, the colour of your skin, or how old you are. If you can dig in and keep up, you’re in. Big names in jazz will not hesitate to cross generational boundaries in search for the right person to complete their sound. Last year Branford Marsalis played the jazz festival and brought in a young, but very talented Justin Falkner. Miles Davis’ second great quintet consisted of a young Herbie Hancock; a jazz legend in his own right now.
Herbie played the Toronto Star Stage at Nathan Phillips Square last Saturday. Keeping with this jazz tradition, he introduced us to Tal Wilkenfeld, a 24-year old bassist who has been chosen to accompany Herbie touring his latest album The Imagine Project. Although she may look a little green, her playing is anything but. Anyone who gets asked by Herbie to come play with them is going to have both serious chops and be covered in a sprinkling of magical fairy dust. Tal has both. I wonder if Tal was having a serious “pinch me is this for real” moment. Her excitement and energy playing on stage and grooving with such a legend seemed palpable.
Herbie Hancock is probably the only musician I can think of that can effortlessly switch from the elegance of a grand piano, to the modern sounds of a synthesizer, and finally to the awesome sounds of a tacky keytar and still not lose an ounce of legitimacy. When the keytar comes out, it’s as if the crowd just nods their collective heads, shrugs, and says “Yep. Ok. Do what you gotta do.” Herbie is the only person in the world that can make playing the keytar cool. If you need proof, then here is some internet proof to prove it.
I mentioned in the jazz festival preview that “grandmasters can turn it on like a switch”. Herbie is one of those cats. As he approaches his 70th birthday, we’re glad he could make it down to share some of his funky and inspired music with us.