2008 Best Music Poll Winners

Jazz Act

Herbie Hancock

Even if only half the people who voted for Herbie Hancock have ever seen him perform live — or listened to one of his records — they all know his name. This, after all, isn’t a jazz poll — it’s a pop music poll with a couple of jazz categories. So even if the closest you’ve come to Herbie Hancock is — oh, who knows, the music on the PA before an Amy Winehouse show — you know that he was the biggest deal on the ballot this year. Enough to gather more votes than the rock-friendly Bad Plus, guitar god Pat Metheny, and ’90s King of Jazz Wynton Marsalis. It didn’t hurt that Herbie grabbed Album of the Year at the 2008 Grammys — an upset by just about any measure. What’s more, it was for a sublime album that could hardly be called crossover. Yes, River: The Joni Letters (Verve) was mostly Joni Mitchell songs, with Norah Jones, Corinne Bailey Rae, Tina Turner, Leonard Cohen, and Joni herself providing vocals. But what made the album a keeper were the extended instrumental improvisations between verses, including a couple of spots for Herbie’s old comrade in arms, Wayne Shorter. A couple of pure instrumentals — Shorter’s “Nefertiti” and Duke Ellington’s “Solitude” — had nothing to do with Joni Mitchell. But they have everything to do with jazz.

— Jon Garelick
1. Bad Plus
2. Wynton Marsalis
3. Pat Metheny

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