If Fat Albert Rotunda sounds like the most fun Herbie Hancock had in his early years as a band leader, it should. He composed the music for the pilot of the children’s television show Fat Albert, redirecting the post-bop jazz he honed in a five-year stint with the Miles Davis Quintet towards the R&B and funk styles with which he was becoming enamored. The result was a playful, joyous album in which Hancock clearly had a great time.
The same goes for the rest of his Sextet, which by the time of recording in late 1969 was both razor sharp and confidently loose from rehearsing and touring. Flying high with three horn players—Joe Henderson on sax and flute, Garnett Brown on trombone and Johnny Coles on trumpet and flugelhorn—alongside Hancock’s soaring Fender Rhodes electric piano, the group could swing freely on a track like the rousing “Fat Mama” and emote precisely on the subtle “Tell Me A Bedtime Story.”
Their versatility won over Warner Bros. who signed Hancock after hearing these infectious compositions and watched Fat Albert Rotunda climb the Billboard Jazz Charts. In subsequent years, Hancock would expand and experiment with the Sextet’s sound, creating two more albums for Warner Bros. Regardless of where he went next, Fat Albert Rotunda is still, 50 years later, about as fun as music gets.