Famous Mentor Pairings: The Music Business Part II

MentorlogoVirtually anyone can benefit from having a mentor. And most well-known, accomplished and successful people can identify people in their lives who acted as mentors. The mentor pairings that are described in this post were identified from a variety of sources including autobiographies, biographies, newspaper articles, personal interviews, and diligent historical research.

An extensive list of additional well-known mentor pairings, including those from TV, motion pictures and fiction, can be found on the Peer Resources website at www.mentors.ca/mentorpairs.html. In addition to the list of mentor pairs from the world of entertainment, business, creative arts, sports, politics, history, and science available in the Peer Resources listings, a few historical facts or humorous references to the term mentor are also included.

Herbie Hancock

Jazz trumpeters Donald Byrd and Miles Davis (1926-1991) were both mentors to jazz pianist and composer Herbie Hancock. Herbie’s first musical experiences, however, started with training in classical music. His talent was recognized as early as age seven, and when he was 11 he played with the Chicago Symphony.

As a teenager he started listening to jazz recordings of Canadian Oscar Peterson, and he began to teach himself jazz composition. Surprisingly, when he entered college he began his studies as a physics major; but eventually switched to music.

When Herbie Hancock met Donald Byrd, he complained to him that he was having difficulty composing his own jazz pieces. He didn’t want to just copy the stylings of those great pianists that he admired like George Shearing , Don Goldberg, McCoy Tyner, and Wynton Kelly.

Donald Byrd suggested that Herbie write about the “black experience” urban life, and city rhythms. He said, “Write about what you know.”

Herbie Hancock recalled the advice: “That’s when I wrote Watermelon Man (view on YouTube). That piece was based on the voice of a local watermelon vendor calling out in our neighbourhood. Became a best selling song. Mongo Santamaria, a conga player who found a way to blend Afro-Cuban and Afro-American music recorded Watermelon Man and made it a big hit all over Latin America in 1962.

“Donald Byrd and I were roomates at the time and we were playing in a group together. One day I got a phone call from Miles Davis, who I didn’t know even knew me. He asked me if I was working with anybody. I was so excited I put my hand over the phone and said to Donald, ‘It’s Miles; he wants to know if I’m working with anybody.’ Donald said to me, ‘I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror if I stood in the way of you working with Miles Davis. Tell him you’re not working with anyone.’ I then said to Miles, ‘no I’m not.’ He then said to me, “Why don’t you come over to my place and we’ll play some.’ I said, ‘OK,’ then he hung up. I was so stunned, thrilled and excited that it wasn’t till about an hour later that I realized I had no idea where Miles lived or how to get in touch with him!”

Herbie adds: “Miles could take bad music composed by a band member and make it great. He did the same for us as young musicians. He believed in our development and gave us the encouragement to grow.

Donald Byrd
Miles Davis
Herbie Hancock

Shirley Horn

Shirley Horn (1934-2005) was another jazz pianist and vocalist mentored by Miles Davis. Ms. Horn began her musical life with the dream of becoming a classical pianist. But jazz clubs in her hometown of Washington, DC were the only places she could listen to other pianists eventhough she was underage. Her recognition by Miles Davis catapulted her career, partly because Miles Davis was notorious for hardly ever saying anything positive about anybody.

Eventually she was nominated for nine Grammy Awards, was awarded the Jazz Masters Award from the National Endowment for the Arts, and peformed at The White House for several U.S. presidents.

During Ms. Horn’s career she became a mentor to many women in the music business because of her ability to raise a family and actively perform. One of the people she mentored was singer Kendra Shank. Ms. Shank (www.kendrashank.com) started as a folk singer during her college years and was influenced by the styles of Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell and James Taylor.

She had studied French at university and also started singing French popular songsAlbum cover of Kendra Shank’s Mosaic in Seattle restaurants. When she moved to New York she met her mentor, pianist Shirley Horn, who introduced her to the Village Vanguard stage in 1992. “I’m going to do for you what my mentor Miles Davis did for me,” Ms. Horn told Kendra Shank. Working with Shirley Horn was, in part, an inspiration for her latest album, “Mosaic,” which is her fifth and most personal recording. On it are songs by Irving Berlin, Cedar Walton and Carole King, as well as some of her own original compositions. (Source: Hugo Kugiya, Seattle Times)

Kendra Shank
Kendra Shank
Shirley Horn

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s