Herbie Hancock in his studio.

This Wednesday, Seattle-based pianist Tim Kennedy returns to the Royal Room as curator/host for the March installment of Piano Starts Here, our bi-monthly series highlighting the work of influential pianists/composers, with A Night of Herbies – showcasing the music of Herbie Nichols and Herbie Hancock with performances by Marc Seales, Dawn Clement, Tim Kennedy and Gus Carns. We caught up briefly with Tim about the series and this month’s performance. We hope to see you there!

RR: How does the Piano Starts Here series work?

TK: Four or Five pianists learn the music of a composer who plays jazz piano and each pianist plays two or three songs per set. We don’t sweat it if people do the same song because it’s cool to hear different people’s interpretations. We have also had lectures about the featured composer in the past. The series suits the Royal Room because it is very much about new interpretations of historically important music.

The series usually features the music of just one pianist – why two this time? Where does the music of Herbie Nichols/Herbie Hancock intersect?

So far we’ve always featured the music of one pianist/composer. In the past we have a done Monk, Duke, Sun Ra, and Bill Evans. We’re doing two this time, mainly because they share they same first name. Their writing is very different, yet both share the spirit of jazz, and harmonically we can see that both of them were trying to push the boundaries. It will be an interesting mix. Herbie Nichols recorded maybe 4-5 records total in the 50’s while Herbie Hancock, who himself started recording at an early age and continues to today, was still a teen.

Herbie Nichols at the piano.

Herbie Nichols is almost as obscure as Herbie Hancock is famous – why do you think Herbie Nichols is such an underground favorite among jazz musicians like John Zorn and Han Bennink, etc?

I think John Zorn etc. can relate to Herbie Nichols because he had a really individual sound and style and was trying to push the music and make new sounds. I think Herbie Hancock did the same, probably even more, but Herbie Hancock has been in the mainstream and you can hear his influence on everyone, while the same is not true for Herbie Nichols.

What’s your relationship to their music? 

I have always enjoyed both pianists – Herbie Hancock at an early age made his mark because I was a big break-dancer and his hit Future Shock was my jam. I then got more into the jazz as I explored more Herbie Hancock, and didn’t hear Herbie Nichols until college when I was looking for new sounds. I was excited to find some in his records.

(Herbie Hancock and the Rockit Band perform Future Shock, Tim’s formative break-dance jam, live in 1984)

“A Night of Herbies” starts at 8 PM this Wednesday, March 27th. Tickets are $7 advance/ $10 at the door. 


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