Herbie Hancock to promote jazz as UN ambassador

Posted at 07/25/11 9:19 AM

PARIS - Jazz musician Herbie Hancock was appointed a UNESCO goodwill ambassador, pledging to use music to cross cultural boundaries and promote literacy and creativity among youth around the world.

The pianist and composer, who has won 14 Grammy awards and seen many of his songs become standards during a career spanning five decades, threw his support behind a UNESCO project to declare an international jazz day on April 30 each year.

"The idea is to have performances, but not just performances, to have discussions, to have dances to have perhaps even some fun games to do with the history of jazz that young people might be interested in," Hancock said in an interview before his appointment at a ceremony at UNESCO headquarters late on Friday.

The 71-year-old musician, who shot to fame in the 1960s playing with trumpeter Miles Davis, also hopes to use his celebrity to win inclusion for jazz on the list of intangible world cultural heritage of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

The list aims to promote respect for cultural heritage and increase mutual respect for communities worldwide.

Hancock said he would lobby US officials, including Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, for Washington to recognize the UNESCO convention on intangible cultural heritage.

Hancock, who was acclaimed as a child prodigy after he started playing piano in 1947, believes that music can bring a wider educational message to many young people, particularly in developing countries.

"One idea that is interesting to me is jazz as a metaphor for targeting literacy. With jazz, you don't just pick up an instrument and start improvising: it's about discipline. Freedom with discipline is the ethos of jazz," he said.

A devout Buddhist, Hancock's latest musical venture, the Grammy-winning "Imagine Project," featured musicians from around the world and he says he is considering another similar album.

"The theme of that record was about a path to peace through global collaboration," he said, saying the interaction of musicians from different cultures had fired his creativity. "I was amazed at what they brought from their cultures, and I think they were surprised by what I brought from mine."

With a tough schedule of live performance and commitments to other educational projects, such as the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz -- an international institution which he chairs devoted to the development of music education worldwide -- the one thing not on Hancock's agenda is retirement.

"For me there is no limit to what the possibilities are, and so I feel no need to even entertain the idea of retiring," said the composer of hits such as "Watermelon Man," "Chameleon" and "Cantaloupe Island." "There is so much that I haven't done. There are an infinite number of ways of looking at things."