Music & Entertainment

Jam Session: Two Approaches to “Watermelon Man”

Herbie Hancock

Lesson time 10:37 min

Herbie brings in a rhythm section to break down two versions of his classic tune. They also accompany a synthesizer solo steeped in the sounds of funk and the blues.

Herbie Hancock
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This is going to be the original 1962 version, which was not the big hit that another version, by Mongo Santamaria, made in 1963. But this is the original way it was written. And then we're going to move from that to a rearrangement of it that happened 11 years later, in 1973. And I recorded this with a group called The Headhunters, and the record was called, Headhunters. So here is Watermelon Man. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. Thank you. So play the-- play the first-- the first baseline, again. Right. Now son, that's just simple. Now, the other version. Right. So you see there's a big difference, in a way, with the baseline, different tempo, different feel to it. Anthony, what's the beat that you actually played for Watermelon Man? The first one or the second one? The second one, second one. It's kind of like, uh-- Right. And, what did you do for the first one? I played something a little bit, I guess more straighter, I guess I played-- --more straight ahead, huh? Ha, ha, yeah. Is that what you did? Yeah. Kind of like a-- Great, great. So, I hope you can hear, in this, that there are more rhythms than a lot of what you hear on the radio today. There are a lot of things that you can play with, have fun with, surprise yourself, and kind of, surprise other musicians that you're working with. So, it's like variety is the spice of life, so enjoy it.

Find Your Sound

Herbie Hancock's jazz career started in his family's living room, listening to his favorite records and trying to play along. Now, he's one of the most celebrated musicians in the world. Join Herbie at the piano as he shares his approach to improvisation, composition, and harmony. Gain access to 10+ original piano transcriptions, including 5 exclusive solo performances.


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These classes alone cannot make me a great piano player, but they do make me a more interesting piano player. The sounds I make at the keyboard have been changed forever. Thank you, Master Hancock.

I felt inspired to open myself up and think more like a human rather than a particular "thing". I admit I wanted to do some playing.

It's nice to hear the experience of one with such an intimate knowledge and relationship with music. I want to know the evolution from the beginning.

Where do i begin?! I am soooo inspired by Herbie's gentle, evolved and childlike spirit. I laughed, I cried and I heard so many things I needed to hear. This course was truly transformative for me. Thank you!!!


A fellow student

Is it just me or am I the only one who feels like they've learnt nothing about Jazz Harmony, modes or anything like that And I'm 14 episodes in - someone please explain!

Kenneth S.

My GOD that's great! Both Watermelon Man, and Cantaloupe Island are core fav's of mine... and Herbie with Pat Metheny live really show how these tradition well to improvisation. Yep, another night in the music room!

Janice H.

I love how Herbie Hancock uses the various instrumental sounds on the Korg to bring a fresh take on an old classic "The Watermelon Man". Thanks for sharing.

Jonathan S.

I'm inspired. I mostly do a 1-man show. Now I want to jam more often with a couple of friends I get together with three times a year. It has to be more often.

Margaret E.

Chapter 13 set Chapter 14 up to be far more enjoyable. All three were sooooo Talented.

Carlos S.

Love the way things flow. Its not about perfection, but a communion. Cheers!

Jonny S.

With all the disparaging comments about the Rhythm Section here, I'm looking at them and thinking - "Man, if I were their age and jamming with Herbie I would A. be shitting a brick, and B. no matter how good I was at that age, be intimidated as hell..." So, until I've walked a mile in their shoes, I don't think I'll make any judgments.

John B.

I was blown away by how effertlessly he switched between three distinct keyboard tones during the funk part? Clavinet, horns and lead synth. All three were on the Record, but I'm pretty sure he multi-tracked it. He put three parts together without missing a beat. I would have needed another keyboardist/guitarist in my band to make it sound that full. He just HANDLED it. He mastered the functions of his keyboard just as much as the music itself

Claudio V.

From 87 to 109 there is real improv, I loved that! I tend to agree the duo didn't help that much in making it a magic moment. You can see HH calling a couple of time for the bass solo, eye contact is very important. Sometimes you play with people who look to the instrument all the times and miss connections. Great lesson, I'm going to upgrade to the all master classes, this is way better than watching any Netflix season.

Alex P.

That synthesizer sound does not fit this song that well; Herbie used an electric piano on the 2nd version of Watermelon Man on the Headhunters album. It would have been better to solo over the original acoustic version #1 IMO.