Chick Corea's Spirit of Creativity

R.J. DeLuke By

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I see that the world is more turbulent now than it ever was and the music is not reflecting it
Turbulent times, these are. Times of bloodshed and fear that touch not only far-off lands, but the heart of the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, from Maine to El Paso, and from Miami to Seattle. People's minds are cluttered by apprehension and concern. In such an atmosphere, it must be hard for artists to create and express the spirit of creativity when spirit seems deserted.

"It's harder and harder" to create art, reflected Chick Corea not long before the war in Iraq began. "As hard as it is for you and every other person to even travel on any airlines, that's one reflection of how hard it is to get artistic creations happening in the world today. But it's not impossible."

Yet chaotic times have produced important music in the past, like the 1960s - Dylan, Coltrane's spiritual search, protest songs, psychedelic music, and Bitches Brew. Has that chaos created a caldron in which creative inspiration is being stirred?

"I see that the world is more turbulent now than it ever was and the music is not reflecting it," says the composer-pianist. "There was more freedom of expression in the '60s. There was revolt. There was 'We want freedom.' There was Martin Luther King, human rights coming to the fore. Today, a lot of that is under wraps and gone suppressed. So the music we hear is kind of just 'nice' music. There's not a lot of cutting edge music going on, and yet the world is in total turbulence. War is all over the place."

Difficult for artists, but not impossible.

"The basic truth that continues to sit there is the fact that an artist has his direct communication with the audience in front of him. My basic theory is that if I can continue to find people in front of me, the people themselves are similar to the way they were, ever," said Corea. "That is, they respond to creativity. It's just how to gather them together and where to gather them, and how to extract them from their TV sets and from the styles of the day. But live music will never die."

Live music is just the thing on Corea's soon-to-be-released double-CD set, Rendezvous in New York (available April 24). The recording is a sparkling compilation culled from three weeks of live music at the Blue Note nightclub in New York City. It features various performances with many of Corea's old friends and old bands. It was recorded in December of 2001, as a celebration of his 60th birthday that year.

Behind this set, which samples all of the bands that played the Blue Note over the three-week stint, will come separate CDs on each group, said Corea. It was also filmed in the cutting edge Direct Stream Digital (DSD) audio technology and the new 24P Hi Definition video format. The video will be seen on places like the Internet's HDNet and other markets are being looked into. DVDs are also a possibility.

The music comes from a portion of Corea's musical life, but it's all freshly done, on the spot. It's not all-inclusive — no Return to Forever, for example. Corea was reluctant to go back and play older music, but was convinced by club manager and old friend Sal Haries that a birthday celebration theme would work.

"I kept thinking about it as being a kind of reunion and it didn't interest me so much. But he kind of convinced me in the direction of being a fun party. So I started calling some friends up and the response was great. What started to be a one-week celebration turned out to be a three-week birthday celebration," he said. "It ended up being nine different groups playing two nights each at the club. Almost all of them were some of my projects with these great musicians. One was a brand new project, the duet with Gonzalo Rubalcaba. But it was a ball. We had the great time, so we took the opportunity to record it all and film it all."

Included are duets with Bobby McFerrin and Rubalcaba, the trio with Roy Haynes and Miroslav Vitous that recorded the excellent Now He sings, Now He Sobs LP, another "Crystal Silence" duet with Gary Burton on vibes; the Acoustik Band with John Patitucci and Dave Weckl; the Origins band with Avishai Cohen, Jeff Ballard, Steve Davis and Tim Garland; the Remembering Bud Powell group, with Joshua Redman, Haynes, Christian McBride and Terrance Blanchard; the New Trio with Ballard and Garland; and the Three Quartets band with Michael Brecker, Steve Gadd and Eddie Gomez.

Throughout, the music is splendid, full of creative solos, thoughtful investigation of tunes, and with that special quality of being live music.

"Being a musician doing what I'm doing at all is like leading a pretty charmed life, traveling around playing the music I love to play - and my own music, mostly, for my whole life. I continue to love doing what I'm doing. To have the friendship and the musical partnership with the greatest musicians alive is, of course, an honor and a great joy each time it happens. That's why this project was so special," he said, "because so many of these friends came together and, on fairly short notice, were able to come and play and be part of this project. So it was very fulfilling."

Armando Anthony Corea has been on a musical journey well over 40 years, even though that's the figure being tossed out as the length of his "career." The prolific and diverse pianist-composer has been on that voyage since his early days growing up in Chelsea, Mass., listening to his father play trumpet and having dad point out Bud Powell piano solos on records.

The journey has taken him from Mongo Santamaria to Stan Getz, to Sarah Vaughan. And of course the Miles connection that indelibly stamped so many careers; the people in Davis' musical family becoming part of the mystical and mythical forest surrounding the Prince of Darkness. But there's been so much more. Circle, with Dave Holland, Barry Altschul and Anthony Braxton. The revered fusion band Return to Forever. The Acoustik and Elektric bands. Origins. Classical works. And 10 Grammy awards along the way.

At this writing, Corea was off to play in Italy with bassist John Benitez and drummer Jeff Ballard, and had planned summer duets concerts as well as an Elektric Band tour. All the while, his eyes are on the future, including the creation of a piano concerto that will be presented during the Mozart 300th anniversary celebration in Austria in 2006.

Corea is an artist that doesn't put things into categories. He doesn't fret if jazz purists don't like his electric stuff or don't like funkier music. He doesn't look over his shoulder to see the reaction when he chooses to perform classical music and concertos.

"It's been an interesting story in my life, this thing about eclecticness, or whatever you want to call it. I never paid much attention to forms or what I was doing with regard to styles. The only time I ever get drawn to the idea is when others draw me to the idea, and they're saying, 'Well, gee you're doing this, and then you do that, and then you do that.' And I say, yeah, I guess I do.

"I always saw the kind of music I love being involved in as having an atmosphere of freedom in it. Freedom to develop ideas. I never saw music as having a law about it, one way or the other. I'm just taking whatever path musically - whatever sounds, musically, whatever instruments - to take me on musical journeys that end up making this kind of music, different kind of music. The rallying point is my own interest and what choices I make about what I want to do."

Corea has a calm, yet direct style of speaking and he expresses his opinions without any hint of pretension. He's confident in his direction and comfortable with the idea that not everyone is going to jump on the bandwagon. In fact, he has no bandwagon. He's just an artist who continues to try and grow and search and make music that means something. His talk with All About Jazz was enjoyable and informative, evidenced by these highlights:

All About Jazz: Where did that variety come from in your music? Does it come from your upbringing, your musical curiosity, different influences growing up?

Chick Corea: My father's interest in music was jazz music. He was a trumpeter. He led a band around Boston and they played a modern Dixieland style. When I was a tot, I grew up in an atmosphere of my dad playing his record collection of 78 rpm vinyl. It was Diz and Bird. Bud Powell was in some of those bands. I remember listening to Bud. Billy Eckstine big band was part of my dad's collection. That was the kind of music my father liked, but quickly after that I got interested in Latin music and Latin grooves and Latin dance music. So when I first arrived in New York after high school, I connected up with Latin players and actually got a wonderful tenure with Mongo Santamaria's band and made contact with a lot of Latin players.

But the journey goes on and on in investigating all kinds of music. Classical music, different kind of cultural music. Dave Holland and I used to listen to the Bulgarian singers that are now quite popular. Jazz musicians have gotten interested in their music. So my interests have taken me all over the place.

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?

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