As upsets go, Herbie Hancock’s Album of the Year Grammy for River: The Joni Letters was right up there with the New York Giants’ Super Bowl stunner. The legendary pianist’s smoldering tribute to folk-pop legend Joni Mitchell — featuring Norah Jones, Leonard Cohen, and Corinne Bailey Rae — was only the second jazz entry in 50 years to win that coveted award. But Hancock, whether by accident or design, has always had a knack for keeping pace with pop culture.
The ’60s Prior to recording a series of seminal albums with the Miles Davis Quintet, Hancock wrote ”Watermelon Man,” a slinky bossa nova instrumental that became a top 10 hit when Mongo Santamaria recorded it in 1963. Three years later, Hancock provided the go-go jazz soundtrack for the film Blow-Up, Michelangelo Antonioni’s valentine to swinging London.
The ’70s Hancock jumped on the jazz-rock bandwagon, releasing the genre’s first platinum album, Head Hunters, in 1973.
The ’80s The pianist plugged in his keytar and created a global dance-club smash with 1983’s ”Rockit,” a song with a funked-up synthesizer line that made robots (and the MTV generation) dance when he performed it at the Grammys in 1984.
The ’90s British rap group US3 sampled Hancock’s ”Cantaloupe Island” for their song ”Cantaloop,” and Hancock found himself contributing to one of the best-selling records of that year.