Herbie Hancock: What I know about women
Mom was always supportive of her three children – of whom I am the eldest – particularly when it came to us getting a good education. She didn’t push us to be anything we didn’t want to be.
My dad thought Mum was highly strung but she was actually bipolar. When I would ask Dad certain things, he would say, “Go ask your mother.” He put her at the centre of the decision-making because it was like putting oil on a wheel to keep the family running smoothly. It was wise on his part, but Mom also gave good advice.
My sister, Jean, was a genius. When she was three years old, she would ask my brother, Wayman jnr, and me what we had learnt in school. So we told her and she got it. When she started school she already knew how to add, subtract and divide.
We came from a poor family but when Mom got a job as a secretary at the University of Chicago, she was able to get my sister a discount to attend the highly regarded Lab Schools in Hyde Park. She became a computer analyst.
Jean taught herself how to play the guitar and wrote lyrics. Her songs were recorded by artists such as Booker T and the MGs, Dianne Reeves, and Earth, Wind and Fire. She was killed in a plane crash in 1985 at 41.
I noticed girls in elementary school but I didn’t have a girlfriend. I was a little too nerdy. Fortunately I could play the piano and the girls liked that. It was only once I hit my later teenage years that the switch clicked.
I had a summer job working at a post office in Chicago after I graduated from college. I got a weekend gig out of town and was noticed by a band who asked me to be their piano player. But I had to move to New York. I told them I loved the idea but they had to ask my mother.
Mom reluctantly said yes after a call from trumpeter Donald Byrd. I wanted to be a jazz musician even though I had already done two years of engineering. I moved to New York just before my 21st birthday. That’s how my career started and two years later I was hired by Miles Davis.
I met my wife, Gigi, when I was 24, at a bar in New York on Halloween. She was working for the American Academy of Art. She has a German background, studied in England and was living in New York when we met. She was sitting at a table with some other girls and I was there with my friend Larry. We got talking to them and I had a debate with her about something or other.
What I liked was that she wasn’t just saying yes to me; she was putting up a fight. Four years later we got married and last year we celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary.
Gigi is very compassionate. She really cares about other people. She spends most of her time helping her friends. She has a big heart. At the same time she won’t let you get away with anything. If you try to sneak something past her, she’ll call you on it in a second. She got me into the pop art scene in New York in the 1960s and I introduced her to my jazz world.
My daughter, Jessica Hancock, who is 50, was never a problem growing up. She now works for me. She is a very kind person, strong-willed like her mother but got her interest in technology from her father.
Herbie Hancock plays at Hamer Hall, Melbourne, on June 8 and 9, and at the Sydney Opera House on June 10.
This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale May 19.
Jane lives in Melbourne, spends her time collecting vinyl records, shops at Victoria Market and spends too much on shoes. She’s big on leopard print accessories, has been writing about fashion, music and lifestyle over two decades.