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The Jazz Thieves

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“Watermelon Man” (Herbie Hancock, 1962)

Herbie Hancock’s famous “Watermelon Man” composition made its first appearance on his 1962 debut solo album Takin’ Off.

“In reflecting my childhood,” the pianist stated in its liner notes, “I recalled the cry of the watermelon man making his rounds through the back streets and alleys of Chicago’s south side. The wheels of his wagon beat out the rhythm on the cobblestones.”

Hancock recorded another version of the track in 1973 for his landmark album Head Hunters.

Whereas his previous version was more characteristic of the hard-bop style that was popular at its time, this new version was funkier and more fusion-oriented, in tune with the rest of the album.

Since making its recorded debut in 1962, “Watermelon Man” has been recorded by over 200 artists. Mongo Santamaría recorded one of the earliest and most successful cover versions.

Hancock had played him the track in 1962, while filling in for his usual keyboardist Chick Corea on weekends. Santamaría recorded it on December 1962 and, unexpectedly, it became a hit, peaking at number 10 on the Billboard pop charts. In 1998, his recording was also inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

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