Jazz legend Herbie Hancock on his career and future

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This Sunday, Americans will get the chance to see some of our nation's great entertainers at the Kennedy Center Honors. The ceremony honors actress Shirley MacLaine and four music legends, including Herbie Hancock.


 For Hancock, it's the acknowledgment of a career that began when he was a little boy and the Grammy Hall-of-Famer is now working on fine-tuning his life story.

He recently talked with “CBS This Morning” co-host Norah O’Donnell about the award, his influence on rap music and his catalog of over 100 albums.

Hancock’s six decade career knows no barriers. The artist has recorded blues, funk, pop and of course classical music, which is where it all began. He told O’Donnell that he started playing the piano at age seven.

“When I was six, my best friend's parents bought him a piano,” said Hancock. “My mother noticed that every time I would go to his house, the first thing I would say to him was ‘Levester’  - His name was Levester - I said, ‘Levester, can I go play your piano?’ So, on my 7th birthday, my parents bought me a piano.”

By 11-years-old, Hancock was so skilled he played with the Chicago Symphony and at 22-years-old, Blue Note Records in Chicago released his first album and on it, his first hit, “Watermelon Man.” The next year, Miles Davis asked him to join his quintet.

Hancock told O’Donnell that for the first few months he played with Miles he was “nervous every time,” yet it was a “wonderful experience.”  

“He was so nurturing,” he said. “He would always find a way to say something that would cause us to have to figure out what he meant. That's what a master teacher does.”

Hancock spent five years as Davis' master student and ended up changing the game for jazz bands. No one had ever used the keyboard like he did and does.

“I've been curious ever since I was a little kid.  You know, I used to-- tear apart clocks and things 'cause I was always wondering how things worked, you know,” he said. “So, that curiosity spills over into music and out of my curiosity, I wondered, what would happen if you put this with that?" 

What happened was a musical career full of surprises and a catalog of more than 100 albums. On the record "Future Shock," there was a single called “Rockit” which is often credited for influencing rap music and rise of the D.J. Hancock told O’Donnell that “evidently it did.”

“It was the first record from the hip-hop generation that really emerged on the popular scene and from that point on, it wasn't underground anymore,” he said. “It was a huge record.”

The 73-year-old Buddhist, who is also a professor and a good will ambassador for UNESCO, says that's what life and music are about now -- the human connection.

O’Donnell asked the musician about playing a wrong note when performing with Davis.

“I hit a wrong chord. It was amazing.  And-- Miles is playing his solo, getting to the peak of his solo and then, I played this chord that was so wrong. It was so wrong,” he said. “I thought I had just, like … a house of cards and I just destroyed them all, you know?  And Miles just took a breath and he played some notes that made my chord right.”

Hancock told O’Donnell that he couldn’t figure out how Davis did that to his sour note.

“It took me years to realize Miles didn't judge my chord, I did,” he said.  

For Hancock, that early lesson wasn't just about jazz, it was about life and now, it's his turn to be the master teacher.