A Jazz Artist Sets Sail With a New Sound

March 13, 2015 7:22 PM

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A Jazz Artist Sets Sail With a New Sound

In January 1965, jazz pianist Herbie Hancock received a call from a Hollywood jingle agency. Its client, Yardley, needed background music for a TV commercial and wanted a trio playing something jazzy, since the men’s fragrance ad took place in a sophisticated club. But instead of writing straight-ahead jazz, Mr. Hancock arranged a catchy rhythmic line that was closer to rock.

In the weeks ahead, Mr. Hancock completed the assignment and then used the rhythmic chords as the bones for “Maiden Voyage”—the title song of what would become his most iconic and majestic album. The recording combined the freer, modal jazz popular at the time with a fresh romantic lyricism and vuln...

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