Chick Corea At Town Hall
New York, NY
April 10, 2014
With the coronation of rock's royalty taking place a mere six miles across town in Brooklyn at "The House That Jay Z Built" (The Barclays Center), one of jazz' princes took the stage at Manhattan's Town Hall. Chick Corea's solo piano performance was an intimate and spectacular evening comprised of stories, solo piano improvisations and his extraordinary versions of some of the best loved entries in the Great American Songbook.
For those in-the-know, Chick Corea needs no introduction. He's a master musician, multiple Grammy Award winner, and musical innovator who redefined contemporary jazz. For the uninitiated, Corea cut his teeth playing in the bands of Mongo Santamaria and Willie Bobo, Blue Mitchell, Herbie Mann and Stan Getz. He also played Sarah Vaughan, Roy Haynes, Dave Holland and Miles Davis. In 1972, after leaving Davis' band Corea (along with Stanley Clarke, Joe Farrell, Airto, and Flora Purim) formed Return To Forever. In a year's time Corea and Clarke, along with Bill Connors, and Lenny White transformed the original band into the most exciting fusion band in the world. During the ensuing 40-odd years, Corea has collaborated with Gary Burton and Bela Fleck on number of duet albums, recorded with the Chick Corea Elektric Band and the Chick Corea New Trio, started his own label (Stretch Records) and released numerous jazz fusion albums.
On this cool April evening, Corea unassumingly took the stage at precisely 8:18pm clad in sneakers, a jean jacket, a comfortable shirt and jeans, looking much like many of the members of the audience. He made a joke stating that a solo piano performance is best experience in a small, intimate club and that "with a stage this high it'll be hard to get that warm feeling going, but we'll make it work." After the thunderous applause died down, he continued, saying, "My favorite city, my favorite piano. I thought I would start with a piece written by Irving Berlin...I recorded it in, gee whiz, 1967. When I recorded it I didn't play the melody so I gave it another name. Tonight I'll play it as it was written. It's called 'How Deep Is The Ocean.'"
As the evening moved along the master covered Bill Evans ("Very, Very Early" and "Turn Out The Stars"), Antonio Carlos Jobim and others. Between tunes, Corea came to center stage and prefaced each with a story. One story began with the innocuous phrase, "Let me play you a little Thelonious Monk." Corea continued, " I graduated high school in 1959 in Chelsea, MA and I immediately set out for New York where Monk, Miles, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane and so many others were playing. I played with Mongo Santamaria and I watched everyone." He further explained that when Santamaria's group was on the bill with Monk's he noticed a hole in the curtain on the side of the stage that was just big enough for his head to fit through. The hole in the curtain allowed him a bird's eye view of Monk's hands as he played. He described how he'd watch Monk's fingers boogie and bop across the keyboard and learn by osmosis. The version of Monk's "Ask Me Now" (during which he tapped his feet in time with the melody) that followed proved that he was an apt and brilliant pupil having learned his lessons well.
Another charming exchange began with, "Any requests? No. I don't take requests. I'm a pure artist. I only play for myself. Ha ha!" Then with a twinkle in his eye he asked if the audience, "You like Stevie Wonder's music? I don't know anyone who doesn't like Stevie's music. I'm going to play some...Stevie once asked me, 'Hey Chick, did you ever think of playing some of the new classics?' 'Like what,' I said and Stevie said, 'You know, like my music.'" With that, he chuckled again and gave a fantastic reading of "Pastime Paradise."
Taking an almost complete left turn, more of a 180, Professor Corea took some time to teach a course that could have been called "Music Theory 101." He introduced the next piece as one, by Chopin, that goes well with Stevie Wonder. He said that it was what his "iPhone called a mazurka." A mazurka, he said, is a Polish folk dance in waltz time and that Chopin wrote a number of them.