Monday, February 7, 2011

Chick Corea & Clint Eastwood – Soul men

"People have their own taste and the basic freedom to change it at any given moment," … [Chick] said. "I do not consider someone who likes one color one day and another the next fickle. That's the challenge when you are presenting people with your ideas. It takes guts and intelligence to change your mind in public.

"Here's what I have to offer today and here's how I put it across. I don't like to be forced into one bag or another. Music is a process rather than one song or an album. One offering is only a part of a stream of offerings."

… [Chick]  mentioned that he was painting now. It was only a hobby but obviously important to him. Although he didn't seem to realize it, his explanation of what painting meant to him explained his relationship to music as well:

"I find myself always looking at light and color and shading,. I am always looking for a way to frame the environment, to put it into perspective."

- Chick Corea from an interview with Mike Zwerin -

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles has long had in mind to do a feature on Chick Corea, but we truly had no idea where to begin it, let alone, how to develop it.

I mean, how do you go about doing a profile on a - “Chick Corea [who] is one of the most prodigious performers and prolific composers of our time. The recipient of 15 Grammy Awards and nominated a total of 51 times, Chick Corea is best known for his work with Return to Forever, Origin, the Elektric Band, his duo with Gary Burton and his numerous super trios and quartets. Corea has been a transformative force in music for over 40 years and has worked in many styles and genres, with musicians from the jazz, classical and pop music worlds.”

How does one wrap ones arms around such a Giant?

Put another way, Chick’s music has kept coming into my life, but I have always hesitated to write about it because I am not an expert on its comprehensiveness.  If anything, there’s more about it that I’m not familiar with.

Then, two things happened that led to this feature on Chick and the related videos.

The first was that I went back to why I started this blog in the this first place and that was to write about my impressions of Jazz musicians and to make every effort to be interesting, honest, and accurate [including crediting the work of others where appropriate]while doing so.

So what follows is not in anyway an inclusive retrospective of Chick’s music, but rather, some comments [by me and others] regarding aspects of it that I have found enjoyable while listening to it over the past forty plus years.

The second “inspiration” for this piece was Geoff Boucher’s article on film director Clint Eastwood that appeared in the Thursday, September 9, 2010 Calendar section of the Los Angeles Times.

The lead-in photograph for Mr. Boucher’s piece entitled Soul man has been modified to serve a similar purpose for our feature on Chick.

Mr. Boucher’s article concerns Mr. Eastwood’s new film, Hereafter, which is his 32nd film as a director. Its premier was at the Toronto Film Festival on Sunday, September 12, 2010.

In the article, Mr. Eastwood is quoted as saying: “At the age I am now [80], I just don’t have any interest in going back and doing the same sort of thing over and over, that’s one of the reasons I moved away from Westerns.

Although Chick will “only” be turning 70 in 2011, Mr. Eastwood’s comment about not wanting to do the same things “over and over” was the responsive chord [pun intended] that led to my writing this piece about him.

Given the breadth and depth of Chick Corea’s music over the past 40+ years or so, the last thing that anyone could say about it was that he was doing the same thing “over and over” again.

This is also what makes it so difficult to write a retrospective about a career that encompasses so many distinct and diverse style of music.

If there is any truth in the axiom that we are either constantly, busy being born or busy dying, then Chick Corea has been in a constant state of Creation over the past four decades+.

If you try to take a quick look at Chick’s music by going to The Penguin Guide to Jazz of CD, 6th edition you soon realize that there is no way to quickly comprehend the magnitude of his output as it encompasses pages 332 – 337 of Richard Cook and Brian Morton’s tome. And it is printed in the most miniscule of font sizes!

You could try, but here, too, the list of Chick’s recordings seems to go on forever [“forever” being an interesting choice of words to associate with him].

The other immediate, observable fact about Chick’s music is that it is always changing which puts it in what Duke Ellington referred to as “beyond category.”

Much like Mr. Eastwood, Chick is simply not interested in “going back and doing the same thing over and over.”

The fact that Chick’s music is continually evolving is difficult for some Jazz purists to accept and many of them have also had a hard time with the fact that Chick has been a commercial success over the years.

If you have ever tried to feed a family while working as a professional musician, then all you can say about Chick’s financial viability is – de salute! – more power to you. I never found anything particularly glamorous about the hunger part of being a “starving musician.”

Chick first came to my attention in the 1960s as one of a troika of young pianists that captured every Jazz fan’s attention in that decade: McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock and Chick.

McCoy’s fame began with his stint with tenor saxophonist John Coltrane’s quartet, while Herbie and Chick made it to the big time courtesy of their involvement with Miles Davis’ various acoustic and electronic bands of that decade [and beyond].

From 1968 – 1970, Chick appeared with Miles on four of his most iconic albums: Filles de Kilimanjaro, In a Silent Way, Bitches Brew and Miles Davis at the Fillmore.

“My time” with Chick in the 1960s began when he was with trumpeter Blue Mitchell’s quintet and you can sample some of the music that they made together in the following video which uses as its audio track Chick’s Tune [a Corea original based on the changes to You Stepped Out of a Dream]. Junior Cook is on tenor saxophone and Gene Taylor [b] and Al Foster [d] make up the rhythm section [Al Foster trades some monster 8 bar breaks with Junior and Blue beginning at 7:49 minutes].

Thereafter, I followed Chick’s music through a variety of his recordings including Tones for Jones Bones – 1968, Captain Marvel – 1972, on which he appears as a member of tenor saxophonist Stan Getz’s quartet, his excursions into Jazz-Rock fusion with Return to Forever – 1970s, the duo albums with Gary Burton in the 1980’s, his Three Quartets album with tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker [1981] and the various iterations of his “Akoustic” trio and band in the 1980s and 1990s.

When I listen to Chick’s music, whatever the context, I always experience a very high level of musical satisfaction be it as a result of his pianism, his interesting compositions or the ever-changing musical contexts in which he places them.

Put another way, the guy can really play the piano and his writing is always engrossing: it doesn’t take much of an effort before I’m caught up in both.

Chick’s music takes me on an adventure. I may not always know where the quest is taking me, but I always enjoy the trip.

It’s also fun to play,  I was the drummer in a rehearsal band that featured arrangements of two of his compositions – Spain and La Fiesta – and everybody in the band had a blast playing on these tunes. Their song structures are so rich and vibrant and, as you would imagine from their titles, rhythmically engaging, as well. As Doug Ramsey put it: “La Fiesta” is becoming a minor anthem among high school and college bands.” [Jazz Matters, p. 124, paraphrase]

“Corea is a pianist and composer of remarkable range and energy, combing free-ish Jazz idiom with a heavy Latin component and an interest in more formal structure.”

This capsulation of Chick’s style by Richard Cook & Brian Morton in their Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed. is spot-on as to what is on offer with the music of Armando “Chick” Corea.

Yet, in some ways, it barely scratches the surface of what his music encompasses.

As usual, words are a poor substitute for the music itself, so I would urge you to return to the book by Messer’s Cook and Morton and help yourself to a healthy sampling of the titles of Chick’s recordings and take your own adventure through the music world of Chick Corea.

If you have an interest in new and different musical adventures, then CoreaMusic is the place to be. 

Once there, you’ll find a healthy mixture of melody, harmony and rhythm, as well as, “texture” that ingredient that gives great music a certain, something extra.

As defined by the author Robert Harris of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation:

“The texture of any given music is often the embodiment of the culture and society in which it was written. Music does not exist in a vacuum. It is part and parcel of a social, political and cultural world, a world that can brought to life by music.”

I can think of no composer-performer whose music is more evocative of the flavor of the times in terms of American music over the past forty years than that of Chick Corea’s.

It’s all there: straight-ahead, hard-bop, modal, scalar, fusion, trio Jazz, Latin Jazz, chamber group Jazz - which is why you can be assured that, in visiting the Musical World of Chick Corea, you won’t hear the same thing over and over again!

The sound track on the following video tribute to Chick is Duke Pearson’s arrangement of Corea’s Tones for Joan's Bones which Bob Blumenthal described as “a masterpiece.  The performance is set-up by [Jerry] Dodgion’s dramatic flute introduction, which yields to the exceptional melody. While the structure is an asymmetrical 44 bars [I would diagram it ABCADE, with the D section only four bars long], it is totally logical.”

The cut is from trumpeter Blue Mitchell’s Boss Horn CD and, in addition to Dodgion on flute and Chick on piano, it features Julian Priester [tb], Junior Cook [ts], Pepper Adams [bs], Gene Taylor [b] and Mickey Roker [d].

Perhaps a good way to conclude this brief look at the Musical World of Chick Corea is with the following quotation from Miles Davis:

“Chick Corea can play anything he wants to play, just like me. He’s a music-lover, you know.” [Miles to Sy Johnson, quoted in Jack Chambers, Milestones: The Music and Times of Miles Davis, V. II, p. 141]

Now if I could just figure out a way to have Chick write the music to Clint Eastwood’s next movie, I would have developed a perfect ending for this piece.

On the other hand, our thanks to Clint [and to Geoff Boucher] for providing a source of inspiration to share some thoughts about Chick and his music.