There’s a modification of an old joke that came to mind on Wednesday night. “What does a 70-year-old jazz legend get to play on his birthday at the Hollywood Bowl?” The answer for the great Herbie Hancock is, of course, anything he wants.
Not that this would be anything new for Hancock, who has always gone his own way. Starting his career at only 21, the pianist has zigzagged through an array of musical high points that have included eye-opening bandleader, sideman to Miles Davis in a historic jazz combo and innovative cross-pollinator, first with the raucous jazz-funk fusion of the Headhunters and later helping launch both the hip-hop and music-video eras with 1983’s “Rockit.” And that doesn’t even cover an album of the year Grammy in 2008 for “River.”
Billed as “Seven Decades — The Birthday Celebration,” the L.A. Philharmonic realistically needed two or three nights to adequately capture Hancock, who is in his first year as its Creative Chair for Jazz. In a lineup full of high-wattage guests, the program was split into two parts, the first consisting of Hancock’s groundbreaking, mostly acoustic ’60s work and the latter dedicated to Hancock’s equally influential electric period and his new album, “The Imagine Project.”Though most of the near-capacity crowd knew to arrive early, it was easy to pity the few stragglers hustling to their seats through Hancock’s first set. Opening with a weaving, breezy take on Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage,” the wealth of experience onstage was awe-inspiring as the pianist was joined by longtime collaborator Wayne Shorter on saxophone, Jack DeJohnette on drums, trumpeter Terence Blanchard and, briefly, electric bassist Nathan East.