Herbie Hancock on popularity of "Watermelon Man"

Now, A Jazz Moment...

MUSIC: "Watermelon Man" (Herbie Hancock version), CD: Takin Off, Blue Note CDP 7243 8 37643 2 7 (cut 1)

The tune "Watermelon Man" became an instant classic in the jazz community when NEA Jazz Master Herbie Hancock released it in 1962. But it was the version by Cuban percussionist Mongo Santamaria that turned "Watermelon Man" into a Top Ten American sensation.

MUSIC: "Watermelon Man" (Mongo Santamaria version), CD: Mongo Santamaria's Greatest Hits Columbia CK 1016

Herbie recalls the song's transformation at a gig attended by his early mentor, trumpeter Donald Byrd.

Herbie Hancock: Donald Byrd came to one of the gigs and Donald had a conversation with Mongo about the link between African American music and Afro-Cuban music since the roots from Africa were pretty much the same. And Donald asked me to play the song Watermelon Man. So I started playing it and Mongo said, keep playing it. So then he got up on the conga drums. Soon as he started playing, that Afro-Cuban sound fit like a hand in a glove. And one by one, the people in the supper club who had been sitting at the tables talking, one by one, they got up. Pretty soon they were all dancing and screaming.

MUSIC: up and fades

..."Watermelon Man" written by pianist Herbie Hancock. This Jazz Moment was created by the National Endowment for the Arts. I'm Delfayo Marsalis.

Herbie Hancock on popularity of "Watermelon Man"