My Point Of View
“Takin’ Off was an impressive debut effort from Herbie Hancock, and his second record, My Point of View, proved that it was no fluke. Hancock took two risks with the album — his five original compositions covered more diverse stylistic ground than his debut, and he assembled a large septet for the sessions; the band features such stellar musicians as trumpeter Donald Byrd, tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley, drummer Tony Williams, guitarist Grant Green, bassist Chuck Israels, and trombonist Grachan Moncur III. It’s a rare occasion that all seven musicians appear on the same track, which speaks well for the pianist’s arranging capabilities.
Hancock knows how to get the best out of his songs and musicians, which is one of the reasons why My Point of View is a captivating listen. The other is the sheer musicality of the record. Hard bop remains the foundation for Hancock’s music, but he explores its limitations, finding its soulful side (the successful “Watermelon Man” rewrite “Blind Man, Blind Man”), its probing, adventurous leanings (the edgy “King Cobra”), and its ballad side. “The Pleasure Is Mine” is a lovely, simple ballad, while “A Tribute to Someone” takes the form to more challenging territory — it’s lyrical, but it takes chances. The closer “And What if I Don’t” finds the band working a relaxed, bluesy groove that gives them opportunities to spin out rich, tasteful solos. It’s a little more relaxed than Takin’ Off, but in its own way My Point of View is nearly as stunning.” – Allmusic
Original Album Liner Notes
This is Herbie Hancock’s second album as a leader for Blue Note. The title of his first, Takin’ Off, really was brought into focus, for in the role of leader, Herbie not only was thrust more into the solo spotlight, but all six compositions were written by him. These ranged in style from an arresting, pretty ballad “Alone And I,” to a number with a section of free improvisation, “The Maze.” In between, there were some blues, among others. One of them, “Watermelon Man,” reached the ears of a public that usually does not buy jazz. When it reached their ears they reached into their pockets. Herbie Hancock had a “hit.”
What has been the result of this sudden good fortune? Has success spoiled “Rock” Hancock? To say, “not at all,” would be a refutation of the exuberance and vitality of youth. After all, Herbie had just turned 23 years old in the midst of everything. By way of celebration, he went out and bought himself a beautiful, snowy, showy sports car. But in discussing his new album, the music within this cover, Herbie made clear that when he is not riding in his car, he has his feet on the ground.
My Point Of View, like its predecessor, Takin Off, demonstrates Hancock’s versatility. Again he has written all the selections and again they do not conform to any one style. This explains the unusual combination of individuals that Hancock assembled to interpret his compositions. Herbie explains: “The tunes are varied so had to get musicians who were flexible.” Not only are they flexible, but all except drummer Anthony Williams are composers in their own right. Hancock believes this was no small aid in helping them to interpret his original material.
Donald Byrd, Hank Mobley and Grant Green are well known to jazz listeners for each is well represented by his own albums in the Blue Note Catalogue.
Grachan Moncur III is the son of the bassist who played with Al Cooper’s Savoy Sultans in the late thirties and early forties. The young trombonist first gained recognition with the Art Farmer-Benny Golson Jazztet during the last year that organization was in existence. Recently he has been playing and recording with Jackie McLean. Moncur, like many contemporary trombonists, stems from J. J. Johnson but in his solo on “King Cobra” indicates highly personal interpretation and extension of this idiom.
Chuck Israels has been the regular bassist with the Bill Evans trio since June 1961. Prior to that he studied at M.I.T. and Brandeis University, and played with Bud Powell in Paris in 1959. His is not an overpowering style but it features strength with sensitivity and reveals a keen ear.
Anthony Williams was Jackie McLean’s drummer when this recording was made but as of this writing, he is about to join Miles Davis’s sextet. That this 17-year-old from Boston has poise and drumming intelligence beyond his age can be explicitly heard in this album. He obviously likes Roy Haynes and Elvin Jones but is already saying things of his own.
“Blind Man, Blind Man” is in the same genre as “Watermelon Man.” in both cases, Herbie wanted to write “something that reflected my Negro background. Since didn’t grow up in the south, I don’t know anything about cotton fields or work songs, but I did see and hear a lot of things in my neighborhood in Chicago.” One of these was the blind man, standing on the corner with his guitar. Although the whole number embodies this feeling, the blind guitarist is specifically portrayed by Green’s guitar breaks which divide the theme statements. Grant continues the groove in his solo before Mobley speaks his piece in an impassioned Usage of tone and space. Hancock uses funky patterns to a point of intensity in his two-handed solo.
“A Tribute To Someone” was written in 1959 when Herbie was a student of the Berklee School of Music in Boston, Mass. It was a collaboration with a fellow student, trumpeter John Scott, and evolved from a session the two had in a practice room. Scott asked Hancock to play some chords that would be good for blowing. The first half of the tune came out of this. Donald Byrd states the melody here with an assist from Mobley. Then both return for highly lyrical solos. Herbie plays a thoughtfully constructed, delicate yet swinging improvisation before Hank reenters to set the stage for Donald’s closing remarks.
Hancock wrote “King Cobra” because he was fired of the same chord progressions. “The chords in most jazz tunes flow in a certain way,” he explains. “I wanted to expand the flow so that it would go in directions beyond the usual.” The harmony builds tension, representing the cobra with its latent striking power. (Cobra is also the type of sports car that Herbie owns.) Notice the way bass and drums do not merely keep time but play accompanying figures. Herbie considers “King Cobra” a hard tune to play but he and Byrd, Mobley and Moncur, the three soloists who precede him, all communicate with invention and emotion. Williams plays some ear-catching patterns throughout, especially at the very close.
“The Pleasure is Mine” is a richly voiced ballad that has Byrd playing the lead. “When I wrote it,” says Herbie, “I felt it slower. I just played it alone, but with horns it had to be faster.” This version is not fast, but a lovely performance by Hancock with sensitive accompaniment from Israels, including adept use of his bow. Herbie here tips his cap to one of his preferred pianists, Bill Evans.
“As a teenager, I went through my rhythm & blues days,” says Herbie, in talking about “And What If I Don’t.” “R&B may have been simple in harmony but it has a feeling that was close to the every day.” This 32-bar theme is a jazz tune, but it does have a strong bluesy feeling. The melody line, which incidentally, would lend itself well to lyrics, leads to some straightforward swinging from Hancock, Green, Byrd and Mobley. The bridge has a silvery gleam.
“Although I’ve studied music for 16 years,” Hancock says, “it is more meaningful to me now.” Since settling in New York, he has really discovered Bud Powell and Charlie Parker through records, and recently he has been listening to a lot of classical music. He feels that experience from all different areas of music has broadened his outlook. For instance, while he was a student at Grinnell College in Iowa, he worked with a guitar player who liked Barney Kessel. “But we played for the farmers – western, rock & roll.”
In playing with many combinations since then, Hancock has continued to stress adaptability. “When I play with a group, I play for that group,” he says. This he has done with Coleman Hawkins, Donald Byrd, Phil Woods and Clark Terry/Bob Brookmeyer. Hancock the pianist does not let down Hancock the leader either. His stated goal is “to have a broad conception about everything,” which in thought and in deed, is a very healthy point of view. – Ira Gitler
1998 Complete Blue Note Sixties Sessions Box Set Liner Notes:
The alternate version of “Blind Man, Blind Man” was done after the master was recorded. Herbie may not have been satisfied with the earlier version, and proceeded to record this take. He informed Alfred of a “new bass note.” It’s hard to say why some takes catch on more than others, but it seems that this tune cannot be played too many times in a row. “Blind Man, Blind Man” was Herbie’s sequel to “Watermelon Man,” the same inference to a street peddler, and a rock Solid groove.
On April 1, 1963, Kenny Dorham recorded an epic album for Blue Note, an album that captured the essence of Alfred Lion’s ideal sound. Una Mas (BN-4127) featured the title track, a 15:17 groove treat that has become a staple of jazz musicians, and hooked up Kenny with Joe Henderson. With the rhythm section of Herbie, Butch Warren and Tony Williams, this record is a must have for any serious jazz fan.
A few days later, on the other side of the U.S., Miles Davis took a quintet into Shelly’s Manne-Hole for two weeks. At the end of the engagement, he entered Columbia’s Hollywood Studio and recorded for two days (April 14 and 15, 1963). This quintet was made up of Miles, George Coleman on tenor sax, Victor Feldman on piano, Ron Carter on bass and Frank Butler on drums. The sessions were difficult, and Miles seemed to be bothered by the whole thing. He had been having problems keeping a band on the road and out of trouble. Since Coltrane left in 1960, he enjoyed about a year and a half of stable personnel, but by the middle of 1962, things began to happen. Paul Chambers had legal problems, Hank Mobley quit, and Wynton Kelly wanted to go on his own, with both Chambers and Jimmy Cobb.
By late 1962, J.J. Johnson, Sonny Rollins and Red Garland had made brief stops in the band, and by the winter of 1962, his quintet settled into George Coleman on tenor, Harold Mabern on piano, Ron Carter on bass and Jimmy Cobb on drums. Frank Strozier’s alto was added to make it a sextet. During the Christmas holidays in New York, Miles began looking for a new drummer. “Philly Joe” Jones took Miles to see this young wizard playing with Jackie McLean, a 17-year-old wiz kid of the drums. As soon as Miles heard Tony Williams, he knew he was moving forward. Upon accepting the gig with Miles, Tony joined Ron Carter and George Coleman. Miles wanted a permanent pianist, and Victor Feldman had turned him down. Tony then recommended Herbie.
“I was playing for a singer named Judy something. She was a very, big girl and her thing was that she sang bawdy songs and risque songs…stuff like that.” Herbie recalled. It was at the Village Gate, and Clark Terry and Seldon Powell were also in the band. So one night Miles comes in, and Tony had called to tell me that Miles was gonna check me out. I never thought he’d come to the Gate, but he did. I think he had some gigs, and he couldn’t wait for me to get a gig in an optimum environment to check me out.” The famous story is that Herbie was called by Miles to make rehearsals. At the end of the last rehearsal, Miles announced that they would be going into the studio, and that there was a gig a few days later. Herbie, not being certain of his status, asked Miles, “Am I in the band?” “You making the gig ain’t you’ was Miles’s gruff response. At 11:OO pm on May 14, 1963, the new Miles Davis Quintet, featuring George Coleman, Ron Carter, Tony Williams and Herbie Hancock went into the Columbia Studios to finish what was to become the Miles Davis Seven Steps To Heaven album. (Columbia CL-2O51).
With Miles Davis as his new employer, Herbie was now at the top of the heap for a young jazz musician. Working with Miles meant acceptance at a level that musicians rarely achieve. After a few gigs with Miles, Herbie was called for a Donald Byrd session on Blue Note on May 20, 1963. This session, which featured Jimmy Heath, Sonny Red and Tootie Heath was unissued until 1997, and then only one track was released (“All Members”). Herbie then went on the road with Miles Davis for a couple of months of touring. The Miles Davis Quintet was captured in St. Louis (June of 1963) on a verité recording, and issued as an LP in the 70s and as a CD in the 90s (Miles In St. Louis VGM-OOO3). The quintet made a smash debut at the Sutherland Lounge in Chicago (June) and ended their European adventure with a triumphant appearance at the Antibes Jazz Festival (released as Miles In Europe Columbia CL-2183). But it wasn’t until October 1963 when Seven Steps To Heaven was released that the record buying public got a chance to hear the new Miles Davis Quintet.
After a long summer, Miles relaxed in New York, and soon Herbie got a call to go into the studio for a Blue Mitchell session. Not released until 1980, Step Lightly (BN-LT-1082) featured Mitchell on trumpet, Joe Henderson on tenor, Leo Wright on alto and Blue’s rhythm section Gene Taylor and Roy Brooks (who were, coincidently, the rhythm section for Horace Silver). The recording is subtle and filled with the elegance of the blues. Herbie fits right in, maintaining that balance of art and skill.
1999 Remastered Edition Liner Notes: “A New Look At My Point Of View”
My Point of View was not Herbie Hancock’s most popular Blue Note album, and next to such future triumphs as Empyrean Isles and Maiden Voyage it was hardly his most profound; but it may have been his most prophetic. Jazz had reached a crossroads in 1963, and the options available to its best players pointed them in multiple directions. Hancock was poised, perhaps more completely than any of his generation, to succeed in a variety of roles – preserver of the music’s best traditions, explorer of bold and challenging vistas, communicator in the larger public arena where jazz skills could inform a more basic and popular music. On this album, Hancock acknowledged an intent to excel in all of these areas.
He was given the latitude to do so, in part, because of the unexpected success that greeted “Watermelon Man,” the hit that crowned his prophetically named debut album as a leader, Takin’ Off. That Blue Note and Hancock hoped to repeat that success is no surprise, just as the sense that artist and label are trying with “Blind Man, Blind Man” dooms the track to pale alongside its less calculated predecessor. The more important message that this session delivers regards Hancock’s inability to be typecast, which is reinforced by the unusual cast of supporting players that amplify the pianist’s points of view.
Donald Byrd and Hank Mobley had been teamed in front lines since the 1955 Jazz Messengers; Grachan Moncur and Tony Williams were busy taking hard bop One Step Beyond in Jackie McLean’s band; Chuck Israels had stepped into the seat where exploration and lyricism were most implicitly bonded, as Scott LaFaro’s replacement in the Bill Evans trio; and Grant Green was the new voice of deep blue guitar, and a paragon of uptown soul. There are enough quality ingredients here for several gourmet meals, and Hancock took great care in how they were mixed.
The Byrd/Hancock connection might be considered the cornerstone of the pianist’s career, for the trumpeter had brought Hancock to Blue Note as a sideman in 1961. The most famous of Byrd’s sessions featuring Hancock, A New Perspective, was recorded two months before this date and also included Mobley, who proceeded to use both Hancock and Byrd on a session of his own that took place on March 7. (This overlooked date, which produced such excellent performances as “Old World, New Imports,” “Up A Step” and “East Of The Village,” was initially spread over several Mobley albums and finally brought together on the 1989 Mobley CD Straight, No Filter.) The finest moments of those earlier encounters with Byrd and Mobley are matched on “A Tribute To Someone,” where the strong melody and inspiring changes are set over a perfect medium tempo; and the lineage of these Blue Note veterans is also honored in the shuffle beat of the Horace Silver-ish “And What if Don’t.”
Things get even funkier on “Blind Man, Blind Man,” where Grant Green makes his primary contribution to the session. As a new member of the Blue Note repertory company, Hancock had already established his compatibility with the equally ubiquitous Green on the guitarist’s Goin’ West session (though the album went unreleased for several years) and the gospel laden Feelin’ The Spirit. The use of guitar (as well as trombone in the ensemble) helps set the track apart from “Watermelon Man,” and Mobley also makes a strong contribution (and an effectively dramatic entrance). What really stands out is the way Hancock pushes the vamp into new shapes. Like the others, he is in beter voice on the master take.
If “The Pleasure Is Mine” draws him closer to the harmonic language that Israels spoke in the Evans trio, both the affecting theme and the piano solo reveal a musician with his own touch and diction. Hancock also avails himself of the bassist’s keen sense of the modal idiom on “King Cobra,” where the Israels/Williams rhythm section makes the time pop and Moncur gets his opportunity to apply the necessary attitude to another memorable piece in yet another mood.
Of all the relationships that shape this album, the conjunction of Hancock and Williams is the one that would resonate most boldly in the future, and “King Cobra” is the clearest example of the inspiration these future Miles Davis bandmembers could provide for each other. Williams is spectacular at the fade of this track, though his comfort and imagination on each of the other compositions is also worth noting. He and Hancock were joining forces in Rudy Van Gelder’s Studio for the second time – the first, a February 11 Jackie McLean session that also included Byrd, was not released until 1980 on the LP Vertigo. They would go on to make all kinds of magical music at Van Gelder’s, including the fantastic Kenny Dorham date Una Mas less than two weeks after these performances. – Bob Blumenthal
Recorded on March 19, 1963 at the Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.
Original recording and 1999 remastering by Rudy Van Gelder.
All transfers from analog to digital were made at 24-bit resolution.
Tracks #1-5 originally issued as Blue Note BLP 4126 and BST 84126.
- 1. Blind Man, Blind Man 8:19
- 2. A Tribute To Someone 8:45
- 3. King Cobra 6:55
- 4. The Pleasure Is Mine 4:03
- 5. And What If I Don't 6:35
- 6. Blind Man, Blind Man (Alt. Take) 8:24
- Herbie Hancock (Piano, Composer)
- Donald Byrd (Trumpet)
- Grachan Moncur III (Trombone)
- Hank Mobley (Tenor Saxophone)
- Grant Green (Guitar)
- Chuck Israels (Bass)
- Tony Williams (Drums)
- Rudy Van Gelder (Engineer)
- Alfred Lion (Producer)
- Reid Miles (Photography, Cover Design)