A Late Bloomer Finds Himself on Time Is Color
Technically, Time Is Color, the new jazz album from Cédric Hanriot B.M. ’08, isn’t his first record, as BBC Magazine wrote when giving the release a rare five-star review: it’s the second or seventh album, depending on how you count them. But in a sense, Hanriot, a self-taught pianist who attended Berklee on a Fulbright scholarship, says, Time Is Color is his debut, because it’s the first album that sounds fully and unselfconsciously like him.
That sound is jazz, yes, but it’s also rap and hip-hop. It’s acoustic and electronic. Cinematic and intimate. “The music material and the approach are groundbreaking,” says Herbie Hancock ’86H, a legend who’s had an outsized influence on Hanriot’s artistry, both as a source of inspiration and as a mentor.
Though French Stories was Hanriot’s first solo album, it was made 11 years ago, when he was still feeling around for his artistic identity. “I was still not really knowing what I really want to do…it was more a portfolio album, there’s some Latin here, there’s some acoustic jazz, some hip-hop things, but it wasn't really a thread,” Hanriot says.
This experimental phase of his career came about in part, because he came to music relatively late, at least for someone who would become a high-level professional musician. He was 16 when he first started playing keys for a local band in northeastern France. His bandmates were his age, but, unlike him, they knew how to play their instruments. Though Hanriot didn’t exactly know how to play the keyboard, he would make up sounds that went along with the band’s songs.
“I guess I had good ears, probably. And hopefully good taste,” he says. The band was popular, playing more than 200 gigs around France over the course of three years. During that time, Hanriot got better at his instrument, and got serious about teaching himself how to play. Eventually, he wanted to learn to play “more with my five fingers, and maybe be better at solos.” He left the band and started his own musical journey, collaborating with salsa artists and other musicians. At the same time, he earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering.
“I didn’t feel legit. You know, [I] started late, the Paris Conservatory just said ‘no.’ You say, 'Okay, maybe I’m not a real musician.'”
Cédric Hanriot B.M. '08
After graduating, he decided to pursue music full-time and applied to the prestigious Paris Conservatory. He was refused. At 31, he was considered “too old,” he says. The rejection was an uppercut to his confidence, and Hanriot questioned his validity as a musician.
“I didn’t feel legit. You know, [I] started late, the Paris Conservatory just said ‘no.’ You say, 'Okay, maybe I’m not a real musician,'" he says. But around this time, he got a bona fide seal of legitimacy: a Fulbright scholarship to go to Berklee. “It was like, ‘Wow, at least these people can understand my case’,” Hanriot remembers.
“To me it was an [opportunity], not to be accepted in Paris and to go to the States, for the people, for the musicians, for the language, for everything. And for the network, obviously. It's just magical. I'm very grateful for this experience,” he says.
It was at Berklee that he was able to study with Hal Crook, an experience he calls “the best thing that ever happened to me” in terms of pedagogy and education. It was also at Berklee that he met Terri Lyne Carrington, who gave him invaluable help in the business. It was through her and her network that he ended up with an almost unheard-of opportunity to work with Herbie Hancock.
“My dream was to be able to spend time with him,” Hanriot says, describing himself as being “at the top of the list of [Hancock’s] fans.” Hanriot had recorded an album with Carrington and John Patitucci with the Hancock’s engineer, Bill Winn, and these connections led to an introduction during a concert in Europe. Hanriot and Hancock stayed in touch and after a while Hancock invited Hanriot to Los Angeles for a month to help with a piano tour.
“I don’t know what to call that, if it’s an internship, assistantship, but to me it’s a month being with Herbie,” he says. “It was game-changing for me, because I understood many other things…how he thinks…his philosophy.”
And it’s Hancock’s approval that’s meant everything to Hanriot. Though Time Is Color has received effusive praise—the French press has lauded it and Mojo magazine selected it as one of the 10 best jazz albums of 2022—it’s the comment from Hancock that Hanriot goes back to.
“Herbie loved the album, so as long as he loved the album, I’m happy. I don’t care about my path anymore,” he says, laughing. “I feel more legit.”