Herbie Hancock: A Notable Night at the Beacon Theatre
By Siobhan Esposito
Herbie Hancock hit the Beacon Theatre in New York City on August 1, 2019 for his ongoing North American summer tour. Opening up for the jazz-fusion legend was the 34-year-old Stephen Bruner: a pink-haired bassist and vocalist better known under the stage moniker Thundercat. Alongside the Grammy-winner were Dennis Hamm on keys and Justin Brown on drums –both of which are in the same age range as Bruner.
The band’s set opened with a virtuosic bass solo that immediately grabbed the audience’s attention and held it until the second they stepped off the stage. Thundercat showcased his fierce energy through brisk sixteenth note bass riffs in “Uh Uh” and an effortless falsetto section in “A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song Suite II)”– a tune which is nothing more than an ode to his pet cat Tron.
Additionally, Thundercat took time out of his set to acknowledge two recent losses that rocked the music industry by shouting out Mac Miller, a former close friend and musical collaborator of his, and Ras G, a Brainfeeder record label producer known for his work with experimental electronic artist Flying Lotus.
Despite being nearly 40 years younger than Hancock, Thundercat and his cohesive trio assured the audience of Hancock fans of all ages that the younger generation of jazz artists is strong, growing and thriving.
During the brief intermission that followed his performance, Thundercat ventured into the audience to snap a few pictures, humbly chat with fans and greet other famous friends including jazz piano icon Robert Glasper.
However, the bustling audience refocused immediately as the long-awaited main event began. One hand holding sheet music and the other blowing kisses to his elated fans, Hancock humbly greeted the audience’s roaring standing ovation before he and his band took their places to start their set. As the applause died down, the musicians dove into a slow development of improvisation – a sound experiment that equated to entering a new dimension. The crowd fell silent, mesmerized by the growth of music being created before them.
When the applause that followed the first tune eventually died down, Hancock introduced his bandmates. Vinnie Colaiuta, a session drummer who has played with Joni Mitchell, Frank Zappa, and nearly everyone in between, was on drums. Terrace Martin, a talented multi-instrumentalist and a producer on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, was on sax, keys, vocals and even vocoder. SNL bass player James Genus and guitarist/vocalist Lionel Loueke completed the band.
“Y’all didn’t come for me, you came for the young people,” joked Hancock in reference to Martin as well as the evening’s opener, Thundercat.
After several songs, Elena Pinderhughes, the flutist on Future’s famous single “Mask Off”, was brought on stage to perform a delicate yet enthralling original of hers and blew over it with a killin’ flute solo.
To cap off the evening, the show closed with an encore of “Chameleon”– the 1973 hit from Hancock’s album Head Hunters that still stands as a crowdpleaser after nearly five decades. As the band came back out to play after taking their bows, Hancock walked out with a keytar (because how can you not break out the keytar for “Chameleon”). The crowd, comprised of fans of all ages and backgrounds, rose to their feet and escalated the energy of the venue to new heights.
Although Hancock resurrected classics, including “Actual Proof” and a hip take on “Watermelon Man,” the evening overall produced a truly nuanced musical sound that paralleled the direction in which the next generation of jazz artists is taking the genre. Although the jazz legend was, without a doubt, the focal point of the live performance, the show clearly displayed how jazz is evolving and adapting with the times and the audience seemed to enthusiastically embrace these musical developments.