With a career spanning more than four decades, it would be easy for Herbie Hancock to coast on his reputation and not push the boundaries of his music.
But as he demonstrates in "Possibilities," the documentary opening today in Los Angeles and New York that follows the making of his Grammy-nominated CD bearing the same title, coasting is not Hancock's style.
Throughout his career -- and in his life -- he has loved exploring possibilities and had a chance to share a musical journey in seemingly unlikely collaborations with artists such as Christina Aguilera, John Mayer, Joss Stone and others.
"The film really captured the humanity of what went on," Hancock told ABCNEWS.com. "I wanted to seek out artists who may have gotten locked in, that once they had a hit record, studios may have pressured them to keep producing the same thing, to stay in that comfort zone. I tried to encourage these talented people to step outside that comfort zone."
Life -- and Professional -- Lessons From Miles
Stepping outside a comfort zone has been a predominant theme in Hancock's career. He first learned the value of collaborations and being open-minded to individual music styles when, as a piano prodigy, he was invited to join Miles Davis' quintet in 1963. Hancock's five-year stint with Davis was not just a launching pad and foundation for his career, he learned lessons from Davis that he has applied to both his professional and personal life.
"The one thing I learned from Miles is that he never judged anything," Hancock said. "He never judged anything -- he just played with what he had. He worked with the cards that he was dealt. And that's something you can apply to life. Now, as a member of a band, you get to choose the people you play with, but in life, you don't always get a chance to choose the circumstances you have to deal with. Sometimes you have to work with what you've been dealt and make the best out of your given situation."
After leaving Davis' quintet, Hancock transitioned from jazz to R&B and new-age funk, producing several hits with his group The Headhunters in the 1970s. He was one of the first artists to recognize the creative potential of hip-hop, collaborating with Grandmaster DST on his 1983 album "Future Shock," which produced the Grammy and MTV Video Award-winning hit "Rock It." His song "Cantaloupe Island" was the basis of the jazz/hip-hop fusion group US3's 1993 hit "Cantaloop."
No Collaborative Formula for Success
On "Possibilities," Hancock collaborated with legends such as Paul Simon, Carlos Santana, Annie Lennox, Wayne Shorter and Sting, and younger artists such as Mayer, Aguilera, Jonny Lang, Damien Rice, Lisa Hannigan and Raul Midon to breathe new life into old songs. Hancock said he enjoyed all of his sessions. But he was particularly impressed with Aguilera and her critically acclaimed rendition of musician-songwriter Leon Russell's "A Song for You."
"I knew she would do a good job," Hancock said. "I just didn't now how good of a job she would do. She just blew me away."
It is easy to draw comparisons between Hancock's "Possibilities" and other past Grammy-winning collaboration CDs such as Santana's "Supernatural" and the late Ray Charles' "Genius Loves Company." But Hancock insists he was not trying to mimic a proven formula for success. He said his next CD will not be a "Possibilities 2."
"I already have some ideas for the next CD, and it will be completely different from 'Possibilities,'" Hancock said. "Don't expect 'Possibilities 2.'"
No Signs of Settling in the Comfort Zone
Hancock is scheduled to continue touring to support the "Possibilities" CD nationwide and in Europe.
"Possibilities" the documentary followed Hancock, Santana and Shorter when they toured Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 2005 for the 60th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bomb attack on Japan. Hancock said then that he tried to use his music to spread a message of peace and help humanity. He will continue his efforts when he appears at the annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in Hurricane Katrina-ravaged New Orleans at the end of this month.
"I'm looking forward to it," he said. "I'm looking forward to doing my part to help bring some businesses back in that region because that's what they need."
There were many artists Hancock unsuccessfully sought for "Possibilities" that he would like to work with on future projects, he said. Though he just turned 66 on Wednesday, he shows no signs of slowing down -- or settling into a dreaded comfort zone.
"It's great to have that same sense of wonder that a child has," Hancock said. "You haven't become jaded yet. The older you get, the more fearful you get, the more unlikely you are to leave your comfort zone. You become more settled in your ways. You become more fearful of the unknown. When you're a child, everything is unknown, so the possibilities are endless."