Chicago, November 1970
After a year of performances, the Herbie Hancock Sextet gradually changed personnel in Spring, Summer and Fall, 1970. The times were changing and with it the band’s music. Even after leaving the Miles Davis Quintet, Hancock continued to learn new things through his continued association with Miles, during the pivotal period of 1969-1970, when Miles and others were actively exploring music that was electric, but spacious; simultaneously (seemingly) static and kinetic. The real action bubbled under the surface.
Herbie was assimilating and consolidating what he learned about form, sound, and musical synthesis right at the time when the chemistry of his band was gelling in an exciting new way. By November, everything was in place – except for the 1972 addition of Patrick Gleeson, when the band would take another unexpected, and this time even more electronic turn. The new band’s first gigs were played in Seattle, Vancouver, and in particular, San Francisco. And then it was off to Chicago for a month, where the band was booked at a formal supper club. Let’s just say that things didn’t go as planned and as is so often the case, those of the kinds of moments when the doors fly open and the most interesting things can happen.
Here are a few short passages from my current draft about that month:
“Word spread quickly that an unusual band was playing at London House, one that became increasingly unusual as the month unfolded. The shows at London House were certainly not what the owners said that they expected. Hancock recalls: “We played ‘Maiden Voyage’ and those tunes, but we had some other tunes, too! We didn’t play any of it like what he had heard on the record. We were much further out than that. And he wanted us to play a dinner hour! And I said: “I don’t recommend it!” So, we did a first day and he understood what we were talking about and he said: ‘Ok, you don’t have to play the dinner hour.’” Hancock recalls the owners sounding “kind of disappointed we weren’t playing what he expected. But that was the direction we chose because it was part of our growth, our evolution. We were all determined to somehow break through to that audience…”
“… During the third week, something unexpected took place. Herbie Hancock remembers: “We started playing and I felt totally focused but yet I wasn’t in control. And it almost felt to me that everything was integrated and we were so in synch with each other. It felt like the musicality of all of the guys was coming through me. All of our inner self-wisdom and musicality was expressing itself collectively through every individual…”
… The owners kept the band on for a full month to let this unfold. Clearly something was happening that interested them. Maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t a completely chance occurrence.”
It interests me that the club owners kept the band on, despite the distress of its business guests. Interesting, no? And this being Chicago, founding home of the Association For the Advancement of Creative Music (AACM) – one of the most important Arts organizations in American history and the focus of black musical experimentalism, black identity, and “take charge” business models – is it surprising that London House all of the sudden attracted a new, musically astute audience? By the third week, something mysterious and transcendent began to unfold in the room during the shows, a collective force well beyond any of the individual players. That “something” became known as the Mwandishi band.
Done wondering why I’m writing this book?