Watch Herbie Hancock Demo a Fairlight CMI 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 (below), 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:

Her­bie Han­cock Is Now Teach­ing His First Online Course on Jazz

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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