How Herbie Hancock got me into chemistry

This week, WashU will give an honorary degree to jazz great Herbie Hancock.  Gerald Early has a terrific book review of Hancock’s autobiography, ‘Possibilities’, over at the Common Reader.  Certainly, we’re all excited about recognizing Hancock’s contributions to music, and I can’t count how many times I’ve played ‘Maiden Voyage’ in my life, but it’s a lot.

But I have something else to thank Herbie for, and that is for getting me into chemistry.  When I was a junior in high school, I thought I was going to be a jazz guitarist.  My dad was pretty sure I wasn’t going to be one, but he was smart enough to know I needed to figure that out for myself.  So he paid for me to spend the summer at the Berklee School of Music in Boston, which in those days was devoted just to jazz.  (This was how I ended up being in the Boston Rubik’s cube contest, which is the subject of many other posts on the internet.)

When I got there, two things hit me on the first day.  First, there were 300 students and 100 guitar players.  The second was that Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams – possibly the greatest rhythm section in jazz history – were playing a gig a week or so after I got there.  Of course, I spent a big chunk of the spending money I had taken with me on a ticket.

The show was great, and the three giants played even better than I imagined.  But they also had a fourth member of the group – a young trumpeter named Wynton Marsalis.  He and I were the same age.

When I heard how good he was at my age, I started developing a strong interest in chemistry.

By the time I left Berklee, I knew three things.  One was that I wanted to play music the rest of my life, the second was that it was a good idea to be a bass player, and the third was that I probably wasn’t going to play music for a living.  That all worked out well.  The bass is a better instrument for me, and I’ve had a gig of some kind or another ever since then.

Thanks, Herbie for all you have done for music and beyond!

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