– Watermelon Man –
There is a listening section towards the end of the page where you can hear the song. There is also a short quiz at the end, so pay attention carefully-
In today’s Listen-Along we are going to learn about Herbie Hancock and his hit song from 1962, Watermelon Man. Herbie is a piano player and a composer of Jazz and Popular Music. He also performs using electronic instruments. Electronic instruments use technology to make musical sounds. Most excitingly, Herbie Hancock is still performing and composing today at the age of 76!
When and Where?
Herbert Jeffrey Hancock (known as Herbie) was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1940.
2. Downtown in Chicago, Illinois
3. Chicago theater
His mother, Winnie Belle, was a secretary, and his father, Wayman Hancock, was a government meat inspector. Herbie first began taking classical piano lessons at the age of seven just like many of you at Willan Academy. He really liked to play the piano and was even called a child prodigy. This interest in piano resulted in him performing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra when he was only 11 years old!
Herbie liked technology and music so much that he decided to study them both in college. While he was in college, Herbie also started playing jazz music in Chicago. He also met some good friends there like the trumpet player Donald Byrd. With Donald’s help, Herbie moved to New York and studied at the Manhattan School of Music, a school that still exists today! After living in New York for a little while, Herbie got an exciting offer to record his first album for Blue Note Records. His most successful song from that album is our featured song today: Watermelon Man.
5. Manhattan School of Music in NYC
What instruments are used in Watermelon Man?
Watermelon Man combines the sounds of soul, gospel, and jazz music. Herbie once said, “You make new colors by combining those colors that already exist.” On this original recording there are five different instruments.
7. Tenor Saxophone
8. Double Bass
9. Drum set
Hancock said that he wrote the song when “remembering the cry of the watermelon man making the rounds through the back streets and alleys of Chicago. The wheels of his wagon beat out the rhythm on the cobblestones.” The song was so successful that it fully covered Herbie’s living expenses for about five years! This song shows how Herbie combines different types of music to create something new.
Now, let’s listen to Watermelon Man. The video on the left side is the original version of Watermelon Man, a performance by Hancock. The video on the right side is a performance by the Louisville Leopard Percussionists (2nd and 3rd graders).
More reading: How Watermelon Man (original ver.) is performed
After the melody is played twice, the trumpet player starts improvising new melodies and rhythms. He is composing as he is playing, not reading music or deciding before the song what notes and rhythms to play. He relies on the piano, bass, and drums to support him while he is improvising. When the trumpet player finishes, the saxophonist and then the pianist (Herbie) also take turns improvising. Once the piano player has finished improvising, the band then plays the melody together again twice and the song ends with the same piano riff that it started with. Jazz almost always has the melody played at the beginning and at the ending of the song. The middle of the song is where most of the improvisation takes place.
See if you can follow along to this list of events while you listen to the song:
Introduction / Melody 2x / Trumpet Improvisation / Saxophone Improvisation / Piano Improvisation / Melody 2x / Ending
This is what Herbie Hancock’s Watermelon Man looks like on paper: Here
Hancock’s late life
Herbie Hancock has since released more than 50 Albums and won 14 Grammy Awards. He often writes songs by combining different types of music, especially classical, jazz, and popular music. Herbie also combined his interests in technology and music by playing electronic instruments. Today, computers and even phones can be used to make music! In his recent career, Herbie has been a professor at Harvard University and been given a Kennedy Center Honors Award.
12. Herbie Hancock
In 1983, Herbie Hancock was a guest on the TV show Sesame Street. On Sesame Street, Herbie and the children there used a keyboard and a computer to play some fun electronic sounds.
Study Questions – answers are at the bottom
1. Can you think of a sound that you hear around the city that has a rhythm, a note, or sounds like music?
2. Where was Herbie Hancock born?
3. What is the name of the instrument that Herbie Hancock Plays?
4. Can you name these two instruments that were played in the song Watermelon Man?
- By Guillaume Laurent. Herbie Hancock in concert at the Nice Jazz Festival 2010: https://www.flickr.com/photos/glaurent/5273560849/
- English: Chicago Theater. Famous theater in Chicago’s Loop district, Chicago: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chicago_theater.jpg
- Herbie Hancock 1976: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Herbie_Hancock_1976.JPG
- By DannyDaWriter (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
- Piano: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Piano#/media/File:Steinway_%26_Sons_concert_grand_piano,_model_D-274,_manufactured_at_Steinway%27s_factory_in_Hamburg,_Germany.png
- Tenor Saxophone: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Saxophone#/media/File:Tenorsax.jpg
- By User:AndrewKepert [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons
- b2bMusic.biz [CC BY-SA 2.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/de/deed.en)], from Wikimedia Commons
- Roy Benson Bb school trumpet, gold colored – Picture created by PJ – October 16 2006 – Derivative works of this file: Trumpet 1
- Watermelon: https://www.bing.com/images/search?view=detailV2&ccid=lNxOxgLB&id=3A4DD81BF0B7C965EF1B5F0ADAEE65DDAFEB066A&q=watermelon+&simid=607998320599240665&selectedIndex=6&qft=+filterui%3alicense-L1&ajaxhist=0
- Herbie Hancock: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Herbie_Hancock#/media/File:Herbie_Hancock_(Playboy_2008).jpg