Herbie Hancock: How I Became Friends with Tony Williams

SKF NOTE: I received a copy of Herbie Hancock’s autobiography, “Possibilities,” for Christmas. It is a great read. Here’s a segment, in Herbie’s own words, on how he first met Tony Williams.

tonywilliams009Herbie Hancock: Tony had just turned seventeen, but…he was the hottest jazz drummer around. I had met him in late 1962, when he was living in Boston and I was gigging there with Eric Dolphy, but I didn’t get to hear him play…. [H]e moved…to New York in early 1963, [and] called me…. Well, what was I supposed to do with a teenage drummer? Hang out? …I just kind of put him off. About a week later I got a call from…Jackie McLean. Jackie was putting together a group for a gig.., and he asked me to play. “Who’s on the gig?” I asked. [H]e said, “Eddie Khan on bass, Woody Shaw on trumpet, and Tony Williams on drums.”

“Look, Jackie, I asked, “can Tony really play? Or does he just sound good for a seventeen-year-old kid?”

Jackie answered. “Just make the gig, and find out for yourself.”

So I did. We didn’t have any kind of rehearsal, but we were doing…stuff we all knew. When Jackie counted off the first tune, I play the opening chord – and then Tony started playing some amazing rhythm I’d never heard before. I took my hands off the piano and turned around to look at him, my mouth just hanging open. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing…! I had no idea how he was conceiving such rhythms, and it took me a couple of choruses before I could actually collect myself and play anything.

Tony had absolutely mind-blowing talent. He could play drums like no one else I’d ever seen, and even at that young age he had complete confidence in his abilities. Some musicians seem as if they were born playing their instrument, and Tony was one of those guys. He was magical to watch and listen to, because energy and creativity just flowed out of him. [T]he day after the gig I called him and said, “Hey, man, what’s happening? You doing anything? Can I come over?” And that’s how I became friends with Tony Williams.

Source: Possibilities, by Herbie Hancock with Lisa Dickey, Penguin Group (USA) LLC, 2014

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