Hancock Ethics


Herbie-Hancock--006 The Harvard Norton Lecturer introduced himself as Herbert Jeffrey Hancock. He began his session by discussing the framework we create in our minds to develop wisdom and foster creativity in every aspect of life by bringing up three main points. First, it is essential to be open to possibilities; second, to explore how you perceive yourself; and third, to explore and investigate opportunities that lie outside our comfort zone. 

He touched on the idea of multidimensional thinking or uncovering your ultimate potential, and how individuals restrict themselves from entering this way of thinking, learning and embracing the world. He said that we put ourselves in a box, and until we can step out of that, we cannot learn everything that we are intended to learn. Hancock then explained that there is a much broader framework to him and his life than just being a musician.

He then tied his ideals of discovering ones’ potential into the question: What are ethics? And described them as a system of morals, right and wrong; good and bad, along with how we use our power and behave in society. These values: curiosity, compassion, and righteousness, are all shared among human beings. Hancock talked about Jazz and Buddhism being very similar in that what he discovered through jazz he was able to rediscover and relate to his religious practices.

His next anecdote recalled the time he met and began working with Miles Davis in 1962. After playing his first piece for Davis, the only feedback he received was a husky and growled “nice touch.” He discussed how often as a musician and a creative individual, in general, one can sometimes feel a blockage and become stuck in a rut. He describes a time when this occurred in his own playing, while sharing the stage with Davis, and how “The Wisdom of Miles Davis” came into play. He played the piece and felt off sounding, so he turned to Davis with a blank stare and after seeing the look on his face, Davis instructed him to leave out the “butter.” Hancock took this as meaning to not play the third and seventh of the chord, or the “go to” chords. He described this moment as a major change in his playing and the gain of a life lesson; Davis taught him to always have courage, play with conviction and confidence, and to have trust in his action. He gave him a lesson in ethics.

Hancock felt very influenced by Miles Davis, not just as a musician but as a human being as well. He translated much of the guidance received from Davis to his future band-mates and students, and expressed to the audience that jazz and life are about growing while helping others grow. He emphasized the idea that while moving forward one must bring others with them to better themselves and their communities; and in turn the world. He said, “… that’s the wisdom of Miles Davis,” who described the history of Jazz in four words as Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker.

To identify, Hancock ventured into the subject of happiness, and how exactly that happiness is identified and achieved. Happiness from material items and a life of ease, fail to constitute the essence of the term itself. The kind of happiness he refers to can be that of a transformation in our hearts that we must fight for; that which turns our own demons into allies, and allows us to feel invincible.

Hancock believes that listening challenges us. Miles Davis said he always listened to what he could leave out. Hancock furthered this thought by exhorting his audience to always be a student; a student of life; and to learn to listen and not seek to be center of attention. Taking a step back and perceiving a situation before taking action can lead to a more positive outcome.

Hancock’s primary lesson urged that life events have the potential for being learning experiences. He encouraged us to seek silence and clarity in cumbersome situations in order to ultimately help us learn from them. “The loudest noise in the world is silence. It is a vital component of music, its as powerful as surrounding notes,” he explained. Leaving us with the final thought that silence works as an influential tool, Hancock closed the afternoon by humbling himself to silence, in hopes to learn something from his audience during the Q&A session following the lecture.

Click to see the lecture – Herbie Hancock: The Ethics of Jazz

xo, Mal.