National Geographic : 2017 Mar
Herbie Hancock on piano and Wayne Shorter on saxophone. They first paired up in the ’60s, playing with the Miles Davis Quintet. Their pioneering musicianship endures, spanning two centuries. During a syncopated chat with Neil deGrasse Tyson, they drew connections between music and other matters: science, education, inspiration. The Science of Jazz in physics and math and the universe. I started taking them, and this became an outlet for my energy, a way of harnessing curiosity completely. Herbie, at age 11 you won a piano competition? HH: Right. It was a young people’s con- cert series in Chicago, and if you win the contest, you get to play the concerto that you used for the audition, with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. There were a couple of reasons I got into music. One of them is that my mother saw that every time I would go to my best friend’s apartment, the first thing I’d say is, “Hey, can I play your piano?” So she told my father, “We got to get this boy a piano.” My brother and sister and I started lessons. After about three years they got interested in sports and dropped piano, but I continued because I was too little, my hands were too small—I wasn’t as good at sports as others. But on the piano I was as good as anybody. NT: When I bring my expertise to the public, I figure out a way to package it and what words to use. Then I stand up in front of an audience and deliver my astrophysics lecture. And if I succeed, people will hear it, they’ll learn—and ideally they’ll be enlightened by it and make it part of themselves. So that’s my conduit of communication. Your conduit of communication is music. HH: The conduit is being human and manifesting that humanity in every- thing that you do. Not just the thing that Neil deGrasse Tyson: I’ve got to start by saying that between the two of you there’s almost 160 years of life. Wayne, you’re... Wayne Shorter: I’m 82. NT: And Herbie? Herbie Hancock: I’m 76. NT: I don’t know what’s going on with the two of you. You look the same as when I bought your albums in the 1970s. Both of you have been at this since you were young, right? WS: I started playing the clarinet when I was 15, taking lessons every Saturday, and then I went to the saxophone at 16. In the old days we had record gramophone players, and I would play alongside, like, Dvořák’s New World Symphony and try to jump in where it was conducive, try to add something. I also was listening to Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk—and playing hooky from my high school classes. When they caught me, the vice-principal had my mother and father come in and asked where I had been go- ing. I told them, to the theater around the corner where they showed musical films with Gillespie, Parker, Lionel Hampton. So the vice-principal called the music director and put me in music class. NT: Something like that happened to me in sixth grade. I was a little bit disruptive in class—occasionally, a lot disruptive— and all of my book reports were on astronomy. The teacher saw that and told me that the Hayden Planetarium in New York offered advanced classes | STARTALK | WITH NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON Neil deGrasse Tyson is the host of the StarTalk television series on National Geographic. His new book is StarTalk: Everything You Ever Need to Know About Space Travel, Sci-Fi, the Human Race, the Universe, and Beyond. It’s available wherever books are sold and at shopng.com/startalk. PHOTO: WILLIAM CALLAN, CONTOUR BY GETTY IMAGES DOUBLE EXPOSURE PORTRAIT (HANCOCK IN FRONT, SHORTER IN BACK): ETHAN LEVITAS THIS INTERVIEW, DRAWN FROM A MAY 2016 STARTALK TAPING, WAS EDITED FOR LENGTH AND CLARITY.