Tag Archives: Herbie Hancock

bitches brew

(Post by John Allan from Bridgetown, Western Australia – July 2022.)

Bitches Brew

I know jazz is not to everyone’s taste but bare with me. Two words.

Bitches Brew. No it’s not a lethal concoction of special lager and fortified wine. It’s the Miles Davis seminal album of 1970 that paved the way for the music form known as jazz fusion or jazz rock. (Or jizz ruck as bassist Brian fae Gala would say when I made a brief attempt to play this style of music in a Glasgow based quartet in the early 80s.)

Miles Davis

Trumpeter/band leader/composer Davis having been in the forefront of such jazz styles as bebop, cool jazz and post bop decided to change direction at the dawn of the 70s. Having admired the likes of Jimi Hendrix, The Byrds and Sly and the Family Stone and the power of amplification and electronic effects, he thought I’ll have some of that !

In 1969 he augmented his regular quintet with keyboardists Chick Corea and Josef Zawinul and guitarist John McLaughlin for the album In A Silent Way. Critics saw it as selling out to a Rock ‘n Roll audience. Undeterred he persevered with the double album Bitches Brew in 1970, opened for rock acts such as Neil Young and Crazy Horse and the Steve Miller Band and attended the Isle of Wight festival in 1970 in front of 600,000 people. Unheard of for a jazz artist at the time. And still the (black) critics claimed he was genuflecting to white culture.

Now, I had another listen to Bitches Brew on Spotify the other day and even for me it was hard going. It’s basically a jam session recorded over a few days and spliced together to form tracks some 20 minutes long. It’s what it spawned that I think is important. All 3 keyboardists became pioneers in the use of synthesizers and electric keyboards in jazz fusion/modern music.

The New Standard

Herbie Hancock combined jazz with funk and disco to gave us the hit Rockit. Later he would produce an album of  jazz standards with the music of  Don Henley, Peter Gabriel, Prince, Steely Dan and Nirvana.

Chic Corea

Chick Corea along side drummer Lenny White went on to form Return To Forever and produced such albums as Light as a Feather and Hymn of the 7th Galaxy. (Corea was into Scientology hence the wanky names !)

Josef Zawinul

Josef Zawinul along side Davis‘ sidekick saxophonist Wayne Shorter plus a young wunderkind fretless bassist called Jaco Pastorius formed Weather Report whose best selling album Heavy Weather produced the jazz standard Birdland.

John McLaughlin

Guitarist John McLaughlin with drummer Billy Cobham formed The Mahavishnu Orchestra and had releases Inner Mounting Flame and Between Nothingness and Eternity. (McLaughlin was into guru Sri Chinmoy hence the wanky names !) Also greatly influenced by Miles, a young Missouri guitarist named Pat Metheny was  putting his debut album Bright Size Life (1976) together with the aforementioned Jaco Pastorius. Sixty albums later (which I have 20+)  he is still my favourite recording artist. You may remember his collaboration with David Bowie, This Is Not America

As an aside, Messrs. Hancock, Shorter, Pastorius and Metheny had a great influence on the music of Joni Mitchell. (Hejira, Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter, Shadows and Light)

So if you ever find yourself with a spare hour or two, I encourage you do give this often maligned art form a listen.

As a seasoned Jazzer once replied to the statement But I don’t like jazz !

You do. You just don’t know it yet !


look who’s talking.

(Post by John Allan from Bridgetown, Western Australia – June 2022.)

On many a suburban sixties afternoon mother and I would retire to the dining room. Let’s face it, the library was too stuffy, the conservatory too draughty and the billiards room reeked of cigar smoke and brandy. Well maybe not quite. The dining room was where mother could set up her sewing machine or the ironing board.


While Papa toiled away tirelessly on the golf course, Mama would spend her time on such frivolous activities as clothes alterations and laundry. The dining room was also where the wireless lived. Not one of those newfangled transistor thingummies it was a proper hard plastic lime green radio with a circular dial and glowing valves at the back. Sometimes we would listen to plays which were a bit boring and would put me off my colouring in, other times it would be just music.


One such afternoon mother stopped her ironing/sewing and turned up the radio.

“You’ll enjoy this”. On came the tale of Sparky’s Magic Piano, the story of a reluctant piano student and his magical piano. After a couple of minutes of annoyingly whining  child’s dialogue the piano spoke.


It was the freakiest thing I’d ever heard in my entire 6 years ! I thought Mum had slipped some hallucinogenics into my cordial or I’d accidentally supped on her early afternoon gin and orange (Mummy’s little secret !) I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It was quite a wonderful sonic surprise but a bit disconcerting. Mickey Mouse on acid !

Sparky’s Magic Piano was first released back in October, 1947. The effect used for the talking piano was a Sonovox invented by Gilbert Wright in 1939. It was a microphone attached to the throat probably similar to the devices used by people who have undergone laryngectomies.

It was a precursor to the talk box highlighted in Peter Frampton’s Show Me The Way back in 1975. I remember we had one in the music shop where I worked and had hours of fun with it. It’s basically a gizmo that channels the sound of your guitar/keyboard back into your mouth via plastic tubing. I think we ran out of tubing as everyone and their dog was chewing on that thing and we had to continuously chop bits off it.

Talk Box

Some people said your teeth would fall out but Frampton still seems to have all his pearly whites.

A better example of the magic piano sound is ELO’s 1978 hit Mr Blue Sky. In among the Bee Gees like vocals and the Beatlesque arrangement you’ll hear the title through a vocoder – a category of speech coding that analyses and synthesises the human voice signal for audio data compression, multiplexing, voice encryption or voice transformation – but you knew all that !

My personal favourite though is Herbie Hancock’s I Thought It Was You released in late 1978 reaching number 15 and spending 9 weeks in the charts. He ‘sings’ using a Sennheiser VSM-201 (what else) vocoder.

Great tune from a highly innovative performer from his very underrated album Sunlight. The only problem is, I have these Pavlovian sensations of the whirring of the Singer and the fragrance of freshly ironed laundry.

Singer Sewing Machine