First, there is the premise, which Herbie lays on the line straightaway: that to grow as a musician, he must walk outside the lines of his comfort zone, meeting other artists halfway or more than halfway. In the first few segments, he explains this idea of sharing, give-and-take, and you can see the chosen artists saying “yes” but acting as if “OH MY GOD! IT’S HERBIE HANCOCK!! WHAT DO I DO?!?!?” It takes Herbie a few times to really get the message “just be yourself” through through to them.
Second, there’s the generous and accepting spirit that Herbie displays. He expresses what Miles Davis taught him, which is that labels (as in Jazz or Rock or Fusion, not as in Columbia, Warner Brothers, or Starbucks) are harmful, not helpful, to the musician exploring their art. The actual quote, appearing in Milestones: The Music and Times of Miles Davis, was “jazz is a white man’s word”. With Possibilities, Herbie seeks collaborations that liberate him from the label of “Jazz Musician” and simultaneously bring his music to a broad audience of people who see the label “jazz” and immediately begin looking for a label that’s familiar to them.
Third, there is the insight into the actual collaborative process. Sometimes it works so brilliantly you want to laugh and cry and yell out loud. Sometimes it leads to a point where you have to say “OK, we’re lost, let’s ask for directions.” My favorites, which I cannot explain as anything other than personal taste, were the sessions with John Mayer (who seems amazingly talented/intuitive, and who, with the educated experience of Herbie, creates an amazingly groovy song with just a few dashes of inspiration), Annie Lennox (who forces Herbie to call the songwriter to understand which of the eight possible ways they’ve imagined to interpret just what the title “Hush, hush, hush” is supposed to really mean), and Sting (who, along with guitarist Lionel Loueke, rewrite “Sister Moon” to an even more hauntingly beautiful form). But the DVD would not be what it was without seeing all the artists, first because my tastes are not absolute, and second because it is the inbetween stuff that makes the highlights all the more dazzling.
Fourth, there is the more profound truth that Herbie lays out in the context of his Buddhist beliefs, which is that he is not a musician. He explains “I am a human being”, not something defined by what he does. He explains this in the context of his trip to Hiroshima and Nagasaki with Wayne Shorter and Chick Corea to lay wreaths at the sites where the United States detonated nuclear weapons in 1945. Herbie explains, and I agree, that music is a gift we can give each other as human beings. This, I believe, is what the music industry has forgotten. By focusing on music without care or concern for the human context, the industry harms both music and humanity.
Finally, it is obvious that Herbie had a commercial intent when he made this DVD, and I’m not saying that people shouldn’t make money with music. But Herbie has demonstrated a remarkable range of possibilities not yet destroyed by the music industry, and that give me hope that when my studio opens in 2009. He has demonstrated that he can bring singers, songwriters, composers, and players into open collaboration and produce something that is not yet illegal. How he did this, how many lawyers he needed to do this, I do not know. I do know, because Ken Burns told me, was that his epic documentary The War had 14 research staff members, who, for six years, traveled to towns meeting with veterans and their families, scoured hundreds of archives and looked at tens of thousands of documents and photographs and drew on material, both still and moving, from around the world, and he needed three times and many laywers to get all the clearances. Does copyright deserve to subordinate history? Does it deserve to subordinate the realization of human potential? Should it place “the musician” on a higher ground than “the human being”? Herbie demonstrates from start to finish that the answer is no, even if, from begining to end, it is a commercial product that carries that message.And Herbie, if you are reading this, I can say this: you and your friends are going to dig the space–it’s being design for projects like this!