Courtesy of Sony Music Archives

On April 17, the lights at the Arlington Theatre slowly dimmed, the audience’s excited chatter shut down and a sense of quivering anticipation filled the room. Bright white light flooded the stage as  Terence Blanchard (trumpet), Devin Daniels (saxophone), James Genus (bass), Chris Potter (saxophone) and Trevor Lawrence Jr. (drums) walked on stage to uproarious applause from the audience. The sustained applause died down a touch only to rise by several pitches as the jazz master emerged from the darkness at the end of the stage. Herbie Hancock waved his hand at the audience and sent them into overdrive as he picked up the microphone and shouted “How are you doing Santa Barbara?” It set the tone for the rest of the night. 

Starting off with an overture covering his hits from over the years, Hancock and crew kept the audience on their toes during what seemed like the shortest 95 minutes ever. Filled with futuristic sounds and effects from Hancock’s trusty keyboard, the musicians unraveled a beautiful mosaic of innovative jazz improvisation that blended seamlessly with elements that could not have been more quintessentially jazz. Potter, who had until then laid low in the background, came forward and belted out an intricate saxophone solo filled with the essential eccentricities of Hancock’s funk. Lawrence Jr. was in the back pushing the overture with flawless beats while ensuring that he never overpowered the instrumentalists or stole the center stage. Potter was quickly joined by Blanchard and Daniels to bring the overture to a rousing end.  

Hancock grabbed the microphone and introduced the members of the band, each one with an anecdote of their own. The crew then launched into a series of Hancock’s hits as well as an arrangement by Blanchard, all featuring the legends’ very unique jazz DNA while showcasing a rare level of audio creativity through Hancock’s skillful use of the piano sound paired with his keyboard. The crowd cheered along, with some of the more inebriated audience members suggesting that Hancock play his whole discography. A surprised Hancock jokingly replied, “Has someone had a bit too much to drink?” 

Hancock brought the concert to a close using his synthesizer to ad lib to the audience. Hancock was having fun, playing  around with the audience and telling stories of what he learned from the COVID-19 pandemic while casually synthesizing his voice. “We are all one family” he crooned as the audience chuckled in agreement. Genus followed this with a gentle bass solo, with subtle harmonics and a lilting style that was similar to Mark Knopfler’s style in the classic “Sultans of Swing”. It was one of those rare solos that showcased immense talent without needing to be loud about it. The band came together to end on a sustained high as the audience leapt up to their feet in a spontaneous sea of applause. 

The seemingly unending applause became deafening as Hancock said, “There is one more thing we want to do,” and nonchalantly walked over to the keytar on the side of the stage. The 84-year-old Hancock picked up the keytar, swung it over his shoulder in true rockstar fashion and played the intro to “Chameleon.” The audience members who were slowly leaving the auditorium quickly took back their seats. For the next nine minutes, Hancock and the crew enjoyed a jazz extravaganza on stage as each one of them ad-libbed and soloed on one of Hancock’s essential hits. 

Being at the Arlington Theatre on Thursday was an experience that was truly transformative. Jazz tends to be so, given that it is a creative medium that is so deeply rooted in improvisation. To see Hancock, the pioneer of a sound that is so uniquely his, continue to explore musical avenues 50 years into his prolific career is a testament to the youthful nature of music and the endless possibilities to explore. The audience was filled with people young and old, some of whom were possibly not even half as old as Hancock’s career. The fact that Hancock’s music and creativity still draws audiences separated from him by generations only goes to show the timelessness of his creations. One is left wondering where the inspiration to remain relentlessly creative comes from, but as Hancock cheerily waved  to the audience members as they walked out, it became a touch more evident that it stems from his ability to remain vivacious and evergreen. And, of course, the fact that the legend is full of heart, every note stemmed from his soul.