Chick Corea's Spirit of Creativity
AAJ: On piano, who struck your fancy as a young kid?
CC: On recordings, Bud Powell was the first pianist I heard that caught my ear. I used to like to listen to his piano solos. My father pointed them out. I was 6 or 7 years old. As I was beginning to play the piano, I couldn't nearly approach trying to play anything like what Bud played. It was too technical for me. But I do remember the first pianist whose music I started to take as kind of a university course was Horace Silver's music. I had some of his quintet music, his early music, including Blowin' the Blues Away with Blue Mitchell and Junior Cook and Gene Taylor. That became a learning process for me. I did a lot of transcribing of Horace's compositions, transcribed his piano solos. He was a pianist I was very much interested in.
Then as the years went on, I think I listened to and learned a lot from a lot of different pianists. In a recent book I wrote - it's called "A Work in Progress" because it's not over yet - It's sort of like my write-up on what I do musically; how I practice and how I write music. Not intended as an instructional book, more as a book where I share with other musicians how I do things and if they can learn from it, it's fine. In that book, I finally sat down and made the list of pianists I feel I learned from or got inspired by in one way or another. And gee, it's a whole page of pianists, from Vladimir Horowitz through to Wynton Kelly and Bill Evans and Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, McCoy Tyner. The list could be extended now, because there are other pianists I've found as well. It's a piano club, you know?
AAJ: What would you say was your big professional break.
CC: My charmed life was such that practically each step that I made through the '60s, before I had my own bands, was a break. To me, a big break was when I got the gig with Mongo Santamaria. It was an incredible break for me to break into the New York scene as a teenager. After that, I worked with the Sister Sadie All Stars, which was Blue Mitchell's quintet. I actually made some of my first jazz records with Blue and actually got a composition of mine on one of Blue's recordings. But then another great break was playing with the Stan Getz quartet, that helped me out a lot. And working with Sarah Vaughan was a wonderful musical experience and break for me. But the gig that everyone considered the prime gig was the gig with Miles.
AAJ: Ah. That's a whole section in itself. Was that through Tony Williams?
CC: I think Tony was the one that recommended me to Miles. Miles probably heard me play when I was working with the Blue Mitchell group because we used to do these stints up at Minton's Playhouse for four and five weeks at a time. Miles came by several times to sit in with the group. Sometimes he'd just hang out. He probably heard me play up there. And then Tony, later on, in '68 reminded him - maybe he remembered back then, I don't know. I never did ask him - but I think Tony was definitely my connection, the guy who recommended me to the quintet and how I got the gig.
AAJ: Was that intimidating at first?
CC: It was a pretty emotional experience, after what for me at that time was a lifetime of listening to Miles and following his recordings and learning from the musicians around him and so forth, to actually be on the stage with him. There was already an aura about the group that I was coming into, which was the group with Herbie [Hancock] and Wayne [Shorter], Tony and Ron Carter. So when that group began to disperse, and things changed, and I found myself sitting in the piano chair, it was pretty intense at first, the first bits of it. But Miles himself, in retrospect I can remember, was in a mode of just continuing on with his musical life. He commented a few times at the beginning, when I got in the band, then about six months later when Jack DeJohnette joined the band, he commented how it was change again for him. He would say 'Change again.' This was another change for him, that he was then getting accustomed to, which was a whole new set of musicians with a whole new set of ideas and it was a wonderful experience.
AAJ: The electronics of it, was that something you were ready for?
CC: Not at all. I was extremely disappointed. I thought the electric pianos were kind of a coloration thing in addition to the ensemble. One night as I was walking on stage and heading toward the acoustic piano, Miles turned around, pointed at the Fender Rhodes and said 'Play that.' So I did. Probably from that day forward, which was about six or eight months after I got in the band, I played pretty much exclusively electric keyboards. Mainly the Rhodes. So I learned as I went along and it was an experiment.
AAJ: It had to be something like being in a laboratory, almost, that band. Does it still stand out as one of the highlights?
CC: Miles approached that whole thing kind of like he was cooking up a spiritual brew. He was like a witch doctor. He brought all of these musicians together and he was brewing the pot. It wasn't like he was giving out a bunch of directions about what to do, because he wasn't. He'd bring in tunes, or he'd bring in the bare essentials or a line, or a vamp, or a groove or something or other. But he really wouldn't ever give much instruction to anyone about how to play. Therefore we all got the idea in that band that we were to play it as we heard it. It was a very free atmosphere. We were leading each other around and maybe trying to follow Miles along to see what direction he wanted to take things. But there was quite a bit of give-and-take in it as well. The rhythm section would set up things and set up atmospheres and grooves and different kind of directions that Miles would then embellish on and take somewhere. It reminded me of Miles' cooking. He was an excellent cook.
One of my takes on Miles' leadership qualities was just that. All of the great bands that he had, I think he pretty much had that kind of a tacit, unspoken policy about the band. Which was that everyone in the band would play freely. If you analyze the music of the Great Quintet with Herbie and Tony and Ron Carter and Wayne, it's that way. And earlier than that, with Coltrane and Philly Joe Jones and later on Bill Evans and Jimmy Cobb, all of those musicians, you can hear their individuality come shining through on everything that they did.