A classically-trained pianist, Hancock began his career with the solo album Takin' Off in 1962, the source of his Signature Song "Watermelon Man". However, his career really took off once he joined Miles Davis' "second great quintet" a year later, where he stayed until 1968. In the quintet, he developed his signature style and started incorporating elements of rock music (especially towards the end).
After being kicked out of the quintetnote , Hancock restarted his solo career. He proved to be just as experimental and wide-ranging as his mentor Davis, incorporating Funk, rock and Soul into his music and becoming the first jazz musician to fully embrace synthesizers and electric keyboards. With his 1973 album Head Hunters, he helped pioneer jazz fusion and obtained another Signature Song, "Chameleon". He continued to mine that particular vein through Thrust, Man-Child, Secrets and Mr. Hands until the 80's, in the meantime still producing acoustic works alongside such giants as Chick Corea.
He moved in a more pop-oriented direction in the late seventies (which is frequently regarded as a Seasonal Rot by fans and critics) first with the not quite commercial but very much vocalized Sunlight (five songs, the three sung ones being respectively 9, 8 and 7 minutes long). He definitely started dabbling the commercial stuff first with Feet Don't Fail Me Now, followed by the Roy Tempterton-autored Lite Me Up surfing the ill-fated disco-pop wave far too late.
After a short desert walk, he found new life in an electronic-industrial style alongside Bill Laswell in The '80s, when he relased Future Shock (1983), which gave him another big hit, "Rockit". This streak lasted for Sound System and then Perfect Machine, with the usual diminishing returns. After trying his hand again at fusion with the acid jazz infused Dis Is Da Drum which went largely unnoticed. Since then, he has returned to his more acoustic roots with success as he won a Grammy in 2007 for his album of Cover Versions River: The Joni Letters as well as several nominations for the similar Gershwin's World.
- And Now For Something Completely Different: His 1977 to 1982-era material. The music he put out during that period was filled with generic Disco (1977 to 1980) and even more generic R&B/Post-Disco (1981 to 1982) Some of them even featured vocals, which did not even exist previously. His 1983 album Future Shock also did this, with a more Hip-Hoppy electro feel, and Dis Is Da Drum in 1994 featured Acid Jazz and a Jazz-Hop song with a rap in it.
- Cover Version: Aside from River: The Joni Letters, he's also done a jazz rearrangement of Nirvana's "All Apologies".
- Dancing Pants: "Rockit".
- Epic Rocking: In his jazz-fusion era especially. The full version of "Chameleon" is over 15 minutes long, and that's not all.
- Gadgeteer Genius: Studied engineering in college and was one of the first jazz musicians to embrace synthesizers. He was also one of the first black musicians to do so, along with Stevie Wonder and Bernie Worrell.
- "Sesame Street" Cred: Appeared in an episode where he showed off the capabilities of electronic synthesizers.
- Shout-Out: The Cowboy Bebop episode "Speak Like a Child" takes its name from one of Hancock's songs.
- Surreal Music Video: "Rockit" and "Autodrive" (both from Future Shock).
- Uncommon Time: "Ostinato (Suite for Angela)" on Mwandishi is in 15/4.