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.
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.
wow… Nice… Really nice… Makes want to grab my keyboard and just start jammin… If I only sounded like him :-P
‘Produced… by an Australian (!) company’. Was that necessary? I wonder if anything decent has ever come out of Fordham (!) University.
uhm… there’s nothing “early” about a synthesizer made in 1983, they had been around for decades by then. They were in wide use in music since the late 1970’s.
Synthesizer and SAMPLER.