Herbie Hancock Maiden Voyage
Pianist and composer Herbie Hancock was 25 years old when he took his quintet into Rudy Van Gelder's studio in May of 1965 to record this Blue Note album of original compositions, now a classic jazz recording by any standard. Maiden Voyage is the album that many say launched the career of the young Hancock.
A member of Miles Davis’s so-called “second great quintet” at the time of this recording, Hancock brought with him to the studio a number of his Davis bandmates, namely drummer Tony Williams, bassist Ron Carter and tenor man George Coleman. On trumpet, he used Freddie Hubbard, who, as evidenced on the recording, was at the peak of his playing skills. Essentially, this quintet was the same as the Miles Davis Quintet of that time, with Hubbard replacing Miles. The music, however, is another matter. While Hancock was certainly influenced by Miles, he had his own vision, and it was one that reflected the influences of Ravel, Debussy, Clare Fischer and others, through the prism of his own originality.
In addition to being a member of the Miles Davis Quintet in 1965, Herbie had already recorded under his own name, notably the Blue Note album Takin' Off, which produced the hit song “Watermelon Man.” He had also demonstrated his pianistic skills on the classic Wayne Shorter album, Speak No Evil. But Maiden Voyage put Hancock in the driver’s seat, giving display to his combined skills of pianist, composer and leader.
Maiden Voyage has been categorized as post-bop jazz. Fair enough, but there's a uniqueness about this music that accounts for its enduring place in recorded jazz history and defines the recording as a masterpiece. That uniqueness is a product of Hancock’s beautiful compositions, his orchestrations of the music, the thematic quality of it, the pace, the nuances and dynamics.
In the years since the recording of Maiden Voyage, Hancock has increasingly immersed himself in jazz fusion, avant garde jazz and electronically produced music. But a few years ago, when I interviewed on my local radio show, Jazz Straightahead, I asked if he had a favorite among all the genres he’d played. Herbie’s answer: the music he’d made playing acoustic piano. There’s no greater example of that music than Maiden Voyage.