Interview With Chick Corea

Pianist,composer and bandleader Chick Corea is one of the jazz genre’s most unique and diverse artists. One of his earliest recordings, Now He Sings, Now He Sobs, is a landmark piano trio recording. His stint with Miles Davis, who encouraged him to explore the electric piano, changed the sound of jazz accompaniment. His groundbreaking experiments with Return To Forever, first in a mixed electric-acoustic Latin-Brazilian format and then in pure electric jazz rock, showed a restless ambition.  He challenged the avant garde with Anthony Braxton and Barry Altschul in Circle and performed duets with Gary Burton, Herbie Hancock, Bela Fleck and Hiromi. At one time, he worked with both Acoustic and Elektric bands. In recent years, he’s toured with his bandmate from the Miles Bitches Brew period, guitarist John McLaughlin and synthesized directions with his Freedom Band. In short, there’s no direction or combination of musicians that Corea hasn’t felt a need to explore.

For his feature article in the 2010 Playboy Jazz Festival program, “Pop and Sizzle: Plugging Into Jazz Fusion,” the Rabbit had an email exchange with the always busy Corea about his early Miles experiences, his interest in all kinds of music and how his diverse past affects his equally diverse present. Here’s the complete exchange.

–As Stanley Clarke says in the “Chick Corea” documentary, “Chick has no problems with changing.” You’ve explored and developed so many styles of music—no need for me to list them—what has driven you? Why have you been (and continue to be) open to so many styles and genres? Is your father’s influence a key? And how does it relate to your own composing?

I’m often asked about what others consider my diversity of tastes. Actually, the simple, but most truthful and direct answer is, I never think about it. I follow my interests and find that it leads me to trying to understand other cultures and the artists that create within them. Often, rather than seeing another way of music as only a “curiosity”, I want to understand it more intimately – and that leads me to studying the music of and participating with the musicians of that culture.
–When you look back on the period in 1969 when In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew were recorded, how do you view what was going on then? How would you characterize the musical times? Were you aware that what you were doing with Miles would be thought to be so innovative and different? That it reflected the shifting cultural and social  times?

From present time looking back on the 60’s, it seems that there was more agreement and acceptance in society of experiment and change. There certainly was in the arts. If I compare it to what’s happening now, it seems “The Media” and “big business” has the flow of art locked up and tightened down. The public has gotten used to it. The result is, less individuality and thus everything else that goes along with that negative direction.

Of course at the time we were recording In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew, none of us were talking about what “impact” it might have on the future. Miles was in a constant mode of search and change; it all seemed perfectly natural. And, for me, still does.

–It would be great to have an anecdote from those days, some unique memory that reflects the spirit of those times. In his biography, Jack Chambers quotes Miles saying that after you first joined the group, you and he would “talk about music until late every night.” Is there anything that stands out from those discussions that you recall? What was the setting?

The first gig the Miles Davis Quintet played after Tony Williams left the band was a week’s engagement at a club in Rochester (Duffy’s Tavern?). Jack DeJohnette joined the band and we just finished the first set. As we were walking off stage, I was following Miles off to the left, he muttered to me: “Change again.” in his familiar cryptic way. I took it to mean that he had scanned his whole musical life in an instant and seen the constant change. Maybe he was resisting it at that moment – – I’ll never know.

–When you did the Five Peace Band Project, did you feel it to be part of a fusion legacy? Or was it something that stood apart, reflecting the current times? Both? How does the spirit of what you did then affect what you do now (ie, The Freedom Band)?

Working with John and the gang in the Five Peace Band felt fresh as a daisy to me. Not much talk about the past during the tours. But there was an unspoken (sometimes spoken) reverence expressed for Miles and “the day” – delivered in a manner not wanting to dwell on the past but with real feeling.
–Fusion can also suggest a combining of personalities, something you’re very familiar with especially considering the wide array of duo performances –Hiromi, Gary Burton, Herbie Hancock, Bela Fleck, Bobby McFerrin, et al—you’ve done over the years. Can you address the dynamic of fusing musical personalities in performance, how it affects those involved and what they create?

Making music with other musicians is an ultimate joy. To be a part of a group creation when there is complete giving amongst the group is my pay for being a musician. And each musician is a unique world unto himself. This is the subtle and high level challenge of communication between free spirits. Unencumbered by any particular protocol, and with a desire to make the other sound the best he can sound, soulful and satisfying music can be made. I’m fortunate to have these kind of associations with my musician friends.

I remember a wonderful incident when Herbie Hancock and I were first beginning to play 2 pianos together. At first we were careful about “not getting in each other’s way”. The playing moved cautiously and slowly. Then we both discovered that we could play whatever we wanted and never get in the other’s way because there was no offering from the other that wasn’t fully accepted and enjoyed. We were both trying to make the other sound good. We had a good laugh over that.

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