Watch Herbie Hancock Rock Out on an Early Synthesizer on Sesame Street (1983)

Reason number 1,834,334 to love the internet: a clip from a 1983 episode of Sesame Street starring Herbie Hancock demonstrating the Fairlight CMI synthesizer to a group of kids, including a very young Tatyana Ali (who grew up to play Ashley Banks on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air). The Fairlight CMI (Computer Music Instrument) was a synthesizer and sampler with 28 megabytes or more of memory, used by a roster of classic electronic artists like Jean-Michel Jarre, Jan Hammer, Art of Noise, and Depeche Mode, to name only a few. And, of course, by Herbie Hancock, one of the first jazz pianists to embrace electronic keyboards (and who’s also been known to rock a keytar). The Fairlight, produced in several versions between 1979 and 1985 by an Australian (!) company, was state-of-the-art for its time. In this clip, its operation appears to be a two man job, since Hancock is backed by an engineer, Clive.

In another demonstration of the Fairlight’s capabilities, however–from hard-to-find documentary I Love Quincy–Herbie works alone. Well, almost. He’s joined by Quincy Jones, just kind of hanging out while Hancock does his thing. Jones says the sounds Hancock makes on the synthesizer are like “sculpting… taking a pure electric signal and sculpting it into something of beauty.” Worth noting in the video: this version of the Fairlight incorporated a touchscreen monitor, with a stylus to allow the engineer to highlight and select operations. Watch Herbie demonstrate the Fairlight’s capabilities as a synthesizer, sampler, and sequencer. As fascinating as music nerds will find this, those fans out there who aren’t gearheads should still appreciate these early clips of Hancock, whether horsing around with the Sesame Street kids or geeking out in the studio with Quincy Jones.

Related Content:

All Hail the Beat: How the 1980 Roland TR-808 Drum Machine Changed Pop Music

Herbie Hancock: All That’s Jazz. A Documentary

via Dangerous Minds

Josh Jones is a doctoral candidate in English at Fordham University and a co-founder and former managing editor of Guernica / A Magazine of Arts and Politics.


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  1. mario says . . . | October 22, 2012 / 3:50 pm

    wow… Nice… Really nice… Makes want to grab my keyboard and just start jammin… If I only sounded like him :-P

  2. fontenoy says . . . | April 12, 2013 / 3:57 pm

    ‘Produced… by an Australian (!) company’. Was that necessary? I wonder if anything decent has ever come out of Fordham (!) University.

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