Appointments / Auditions & Appointments / Los Angeles Philharmonic / Music News & Info: Classical

LA Phil extends contracts of Herbie Hancock and Thomas Wilkins

Two important artistic leaders at the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association will be around for a few more years. Herbie Hancock and Thomas Wilkins both signed contract extensions with the organization.

Legendary jazz keyboardist Herbie Hancock will continue as Creative Chair for Jazz until at least 2023. His tenure had been set to expire at the end of this summer season. He first programmed concerts for 2010 after taking over the role the previous year. Since then, he has continued to curate diverse and interesting performances at both Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Hollywood Bowl. Guests have ranged from established lions such as Wayne Shorter, Wynton Marsalis, and Christian McBride, to next-generation talent including Kamasi Washington, Esperanza Spalding, Ambrose Akinmusire, Snarky Puppy, and Cecile McLorin Salvant. Just as importantly, his own performances remain compelling and vibrant, belying his 81 years of age.

He is the fourth person to hold a jazz chair with the organization and third person to hold the specific title with responsibilities at both LA Phil venues. Previously:

  • John Clayton was named “Artistic Director for Jazz” at the Hollywood Bowl in 1998 by former LA Phil Executive Director Willem Wijnbergen. The bassist held the post until 2001, with his Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra serving as a resident ensemble.
  • Vocalist Dianne Reeves become the first official “Creative Chair for Jazz” in 2002. Deborah Borda took over as head of the LA Phil and decided to go in a different direction. Whereas Mr. Clayton’s responsibilities were limited to programming at the Bowl, Ms. Reeves was to program concerts at the soon-to-be built Disney Hall as well. She became the first-ever performer at the now-iconic venue when she sang The Star-Spangled Banner a cappella at the hall’s inaugural concert in October 2003.
  • Bassist and band-leader Christian McBride took over from Ms. Reeves in 2006. He held the reigns for a distinguished and entertaining four years.

Conductor Thomas Wilkins will remain as Principal Conductor of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra through 2025. He started as Principal Guest Conductor of the orchestra since 2008. In the Spring of 2014, he was promoted to his current position.

In recent years, he has also appeared with the LA Phil at Walt Disney Concert Hall. The upcoming 2021/22 season has him leading an intriguing set of concerts featuring music by Duke Ellington.

Bravo to them both. I’m thrilled and grateful to have them around for years to come.

The full press release from the LA Phil is below


LOS ANGELES (July 1, 2021) – The Los Angeles Philharmonic Association announced today contract extensions for Herbie Hancock as the Creative Chair for Jazz and Thomas Wilkins as Principal Conductor of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. Hancock’s tenure began June 1, 2009, and his two-year extension, which runs to May 31, 2023, covers programming the Hollywood Bowl’s 2022 and 2023 seasons as well as the Walt Disney Concert Hall 2021/22 and 2022/23 seasons. Wilkins, whose extension goes through 2025, has held a titled position with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra (HBO) since 2008, when he was named Principal Guest Conductor, and in the spring of 2014, he became Principal Conductor.

Under Hancock’s guidance the Los Angeles Philharmonic has offered jazz programming from around the world with artists such as Christian McBride, Wayne Shorter, Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, Marcus Miller, Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club, Quincy Jones, Esperanza Spalding, Bobby McFerrin and more. The upcoming seasons present a diverse blend of new jazz stars and beloved greats such as Ledisi, Dave Koz and Tower of Power, Sergio Mendes and Hancock himself as part of the Hollywood Bowl’s Jazz Plus series. For the LA Phil’s 2021/22 season at Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Jazz series, curated by Hancock, features Robert Glasper, as part of a week focused on the music of Duke Ellington; a Wayne Shorter Celebration featuring Brian Blade, John Patitucci, Danilo Pérez and special guests Terence Blanchard, Kenny Garrett and Joe Lovano, as well as trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire’s Origami Harvest; and the Maria Schneider Orchestra, with Soul on Soul: A Tribute to Mary Lou Williams also on the bill; and of course, Hancock himself.

“I’m thrilled to continue collaborating with the LA Phil on jazz programming at the Hollywood Bowl and Walt Disney Concert Hall,” says Hancock. “This partnership has allowed all involved to continue to flourish in our approach to jazz programming and to constantly strive to surpass where we’ve been. I look forward to continuing that growth.”

The Creative Chair for Jazz works directly with the programming department of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, crafting the jazz series and related learning initiatives presented annually by the LA Phil. The position was first held by Dianne Reeves in 2002; she was succeeded by Christian McBride in 2006. Herbie Hancock, the third incumbent, began his tenure in 2009 with programming the Hollywood Bowl’s 2010 jazz series.

Wilkins’ appointment as Principal Conductor or the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra in 2008 made him the ensemble’s first titled leader since Founding Director John Mauceri retired in 2006. Since he began, Wilkins has conducted the HBO at more than 110 concerts, including in performances with Diana Ross, John Legend, Pentatonix, Sergio Mendes, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Michael McDonald, Kenny Loggins, Christopher Cross, Jewel, Seu Jorge, Pink Martini, Bryan Ferry, Seal, Kristin Chenoweth, Jeff Lynne’s ELO, and Gloria Estefan, as well as in first-time appearances with orchestra by Earth, Wind & Fire, Journey, Jennifer Hudson, Steely Dan, Chris Isaak, Juanes, Sarah McLaughlin, Cyndi Lauper, Weird Al Yankovic, Chrissie Hynde, and the Brian Setzer Orchestra. He also led the HBO in a world-premiere collaborations with DreamWorks, the Muppets, the Simpsons, and many others, displaying additional talents, which ranged from braving a 170-foot “jump” from a crane suspended above the Bowl to engaging in “dueling batons” with Pepé the King Prawn. This year, he leads the HBO in the first public concerts at the Hollywood Bowl since the venue closed in 2020 due to the global pandemic. The reopening concerts, on July 3 & 4, feature Kool & the Gang and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra led by Wilkins in the Bowl’s annual “July 4 Fireworks Spectacular.” Later this summer, Wilkins will conduct the HBO in a concert with James Blake. Other Wilkins-led performances at the Hollywood Bowl this season include actress, singer and songwriter Cynthia Erivo; Ledisi singing the music of Nina Simone; and an all-American program with pianist Aaron Diehl and soprano Julia Bullock in works by Margaret Bonds & George Gershwin, all with the LA Phil. Wilkins will also lead the LA Phil in four concerts celebrating the orchestral music of Duke Ellington during its 2021/22 season at Walt Disney Concert Hall.

“The Hollywood Bowl, the HBO and the LA Phil hold a special place in my heart and bring me a great deal of joy,” said Wilkins. “Continuing this relationship is a thrill, and I anticipate more of this fulfilling work and collaboration.”

“To be able to work with both Herbie Hancock and Thomas Wilkins is such an extraordinary privilege,” said Chad Smith, Chief Executive Officer and David C. Bohnett Chief Executive Officer Chair. “Herbie’s passion and creative vision for jazz has had a profound impact on the LA Phil’s jazz series year after year. And Thomas’ special connection with the orchestra and the audience was apparent to us from the first time he conducted the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra; we’re beyond thrilled to continue our relationship with a musician of his immense talent and dedication. We are incredibly fortunate to have them both as members of the LA Phil family.”

About the LA Phil 
Under the leadership of Music & Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel, the LA Phil offers live performances, media initiatives and learning programs that inspire and strengthen communities in Los Angeles and beyond. The Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra is the foundation of the LA Phil’s offerings, which also include a multi-genre, multidisciplinary presenting program and such youth development programs as YOLA (Youth Orchestra Los Angeles). Performances are offered on three historic stages—Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Hollywood Bowl, and The Ford—as well as through a variety of media platforms. In all its endeavors, the LA Phil seeks to enrich the lives of individuals and communities through musical, artistic and learning experiences that resonate in our world today.  

About the Hollywood Bowl
One of the largest natural amphitheaters in the world, with a seating capacity of nearly 18,000, the Hollywood Bowl has been the summer home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic since its official opening in 1922 and plays host to the finest artists from all genres of music, offering something for everyone. It remains one of the best deals anywhere in Los Angeles; to this day, $1 buys a seat at the top of the Bowl for many classical and jazz performances. In June 2021, the Hollywood Bowl was awarded Amphitheater of the Decade at the 32nd Annual Pollstar Awards. It was also awarded the Top Amphitheater prize at the 2017 and 2018 Billboard Touring Awards. For millions of music lovers across Southern California, the Hollywood Bowl is synonymous with summer.

Photo credits:

  • Herbie Hancock: Christian Weber, courtesy of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association
  • Thomas Wilkins: Bill Sitzmann, minorwhite studios inc., courtesy of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association

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