A King Crimson connection
An interesting connection, largely unknown, formed between Herbie Hancock and British art rock group King Crimson (led by guitarist Robert Fripp) during the early days of the Headhunters’ band. This is noted by Sid Smith in his book about King Crimson. I thank guitarist James Keepnews for pointing me to it. In his book, Smith quotes bassist John Wetton about how Wetton and drummer Bill Bruford (best known for being the original drummer in Yes, followed by King Crimson, and then his more jazz oriented Earthworks) used to warm up playing vamps from ‘Crossings’. I decided to ask Bill Bruford about it, and found that he had rich and warm memories.
It turns out that Bruford had long followed Herbie’s work during the Miles period, and he attended an Mwandishi show in 1972, probably in Kansas City. This was shortly after the release of ‘Crossings’, a recording that Bruford says “to this day sends hairs up the back of my neck.” Herbie himself visited the Crimson band backstage, showing particular interest in their use of the Mellotron, long a staple in British rock of the period. Bruford had felt that American jazz was far ahead of British jazz, but he also had the impression that some British musicians (like King Crimson of the ‘Islands’ period) may have provided musical stimulus to Americans like Herbie Hancock, providing “some of our ideas on form and arrangement and texture” that furthered the move “out of the old head-solo-solo-solo-head cul-de-sac that jazz had got itself in to.” Of course, that shift emerges from a longer American history (Coltrane, Colemen, Art Ensemble of Chicago, and even Miles’s second Quintet), but my recollection of hearing King Crimson band several times during that period reminds me that something very musically significant and unusual was happening there, and the more I think about it, the greater seem the possibilities of cross fertilization between musical worlds – particularly textural – than we assume. Like Miles before him, Herbie Hancock was listening to a tremendous array of forms and styles of music, and had done so for much of his life.
On a slight side note, the current musical success of Cindy Blackman’s Another Lifetime band (with Vernon Reid and others) brings to mind the broader cross fertilization taking place. Another Lifetime captures the sensibility and renews the repertoire of Tony Williams Lifetime, the pioneering band that engaged elements of rock and jazz in the late 60s and early 70s. The guitarists that Williams recruited, first John McLaughlin, emerged from the British blues and jazz scene, as was the case for Dave Holland, who joined Miles around the same time. There were indeed interesting musical synergies brewing between musicians like King Crimson, Soft Machine, pianist Keith Tippet, and the more blues-rock scene that included McLaughlin and Jack Bruce, formerly band mates. But that’s really a side story, one worth telling on another occasion.