Herbie Hancock first released “Watermelon Man” for the 1962 album Takin’ Off. This was his debut album as a band leader. The original recording band featured Butch Warren, Billy Higgins, Freddie Hubbard and Dexter Gordon.
Tune in today as we celebrate Jazz Appreciation Month with some of this compositions most notable covers!
In 1963, Mongo Santamaria recorded a version of the tune, which helped popularize him as well as the composition. Hancock played the tune for him one evening when he was filling in on the piano for Santamaria’s band in the Blue Morocco jazz club in the Bronx. The band joined in, drawing a positive reaction from the crowd. After this, Santamaria asked Hancock for permission to record song.
Santamaria’s recording of “Watermelon Man” was a hit, reaching #10 on the pop charts. It was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998.
For his 1973 album Head Hunters, Hancock updated the composition, integrating synthesizers and elements of funk. This recording has been sampled often in pop music, by artists like LL Cool J and Madonna.
Jon Hendricks added lyrics to the tune, which he recorded on his 1963 album Jon Hendricks Recorded in Person at the Trident. Manfred Mann also recorded the song with Hendricks’ lyrics. Gloria Lynn wrote alternate lyrics for the popular song.
There have been hundreds of recordings of “Watermelon Man,” including versions by Quincy Jones, Buddy Guy, Stevie Wonder and many others.
The composition is also well-known in the ska genre, with popular versions by artists like Baba Brooks and Byron Lee. This Watermelon Man song is not to be confused with Oscar Brown Jr’s Watermelon Man.
There are more than 300 recordings of Watermelon Man. Tune in today as we celebrate Jazz Appreciation Month with some of this compositions most notable covers!
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