Herbie Hancock won the coveted album of the year Grammy on Sunday, becoming the first jazz instrumentalist to win the honor in more than 40 years and causing Hancock to remark “it’s a new day” at the Grammys. Hancock’s “River: The Joni Letters,” an all-star tribute to Canadian singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell was a surprise victory at the 50th annual Grammys, beating out other nominees Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black,” Kanye West’s “Graduation,” rock band the Foo Fighters’ “Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace” and country singer Vince Gill’s “These Days.”
“Joni Mitchell, Joni Mitchell, Joni Mitchell, thank you so much,” said Hancock, in accepting the trophy. He also thanked the Grammy voters for “courageously breaking the mold.”
“It’s been 43 years since the first and only time that a jazz artist got an album of the year award,” he said, referring to 1964’s “Getz/Gilberto,” an album released by the American saxophonist Stan Getz and Brazilian guitarist Joao Gilberto.
That album, featuring composer and musician Antonio Carlos Jobim, helped create a bossa nova craze. It not only became one of the best-selling jazz albums of all times, but it also transformed singer Astrud Gilberto, who sang on the track of “The Girl from Ipanema” and “Corcovado,” into an international sensation.
“I know in the past, there have been several jazz musicians who unquestionably deserved to win or be nominated for album of the year, but that was then and this is now. It’s a new day,” said Hancock, who also won best contemporary jazz album.
Jazz pianist and composer Hancock, 67, is credited with blending elements of rock, funk, and soul into jazz.
Hailed as an architect of the “post-bop” sound, Hancock’s music has often crossed over to success with pop audiences, although “River: The Joni Letters” has sold only 50,000 units in the United States, according to his representative.
Hancock’s best-known solo works include “Cantaloupe Island,” “Watermelon Man,” “Maiden Voyage” and “Chameleon.”
Backstage, Hancock said he hadn’t yet had a chance to speak with Mitchell.