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For Chick Corea

By November 21, 2021 No Comments

My roommate in university, we’ll call her Lydia, sheepishly admits that the first time she saw Chick Corea perform, during one of his infamous Blue Note runs, it was quite by accident. A friend has coerced her into going out that night with designs on a certain bartender behind the stick, and in loyal wingwoman form, she obliged, with one caveat—it was high time, she decided, to see for herself what this transcendental LSD meets jazz experience was that her parents and their musician friends often raved about. As she tells the story, it was as gauzy and profound as heralded, right up until the second set, when either the merry hallucinogens, or one too many Electric Lemonades caught up with her, and she began to laugh uncontrollably, to the horror of the the rest of the patrons, who all but clobbered her with disapproving glares.

Chick, however, she says, showed no signs of anger, nor did he motion for security to immediately toss her out; rather, he looked straight at her, winked, and raised a single finger to his lips and said “Sshhh.” That direct connection was enough to break the spell of unnecessary laughter and root her back into the performance; to this day, she considers it one of the most significant experiences of her formative years as a pianist, a path which would eventually lead to her becoming a performing artist herself with her own unsavory audience members to contend with.

This was Chick. As a performer, he always sought ways to bring his audience into a more participatory role, rather than just projecting an experience onto them; during his last leg of shows, he often used a Call and Response ritual to establish an initial rapport, gradually making the notes more complicated, and grinning mischievously as the audience fumbled to match him. Establishing this connection before the performance began was what he believed would keep them present, with him, rather than vacillating between the live and their respective devices. It wasn’t only a tactic to avoid distraction, though; for him, it was an integral part of who he was, eager to go deeper with anyone who was willing to meet him there and play, just about any night of the week.

Lynn considers himself fortunate to have seen Chick perform numerous times, some of the notable highlights being the second iteration of the electric Return to Forever band, a show which opened up with Chick aglow under a pinhole spotlight amidst a daunting solo on a single snare, a masterclass with Gary Burton at a local jazz festival in Colorado, and the amazing rhythmic vitality of the vaguely African and American Appalachian infusion with the banjo player, Bela Fleck. He also attributes finally coming around to a deeper appreciation of flamenco music to both Chick and Maria Schneider citing it, on separate occasions, as the most interesting thing happening in the musical world, without missing a beat.

Antonis, however, regrets having only seen him live once with the electric band in Athens, nearly 20 years ago; and at the time, he admits, he still didn’t entirely understand what the hype was all about, as he relished more in the sound of Keith Jarrett on piano, for example. Perspectives evolve, though, and with Chick, when one incarnation isn’t your fancy, you can simply venture into another of the myriad collaborations or iterations he pioneered, and that’s exactly what he did. This last year during the first quarantine in Greece found him reveling in playing alongside Chick every day in the masterclasses he offered, an experience which not only deepened his relationship to him as a musician, but even altered the way he holds his hands when he plays the piano now.

In the days following the jarring news of Chick’s death, amidst the outpouring of grief and heartfelt tribute across social media, Lynn also noted that, one by one, an incredible number of keyboard players began posting the letters they had received from Chick over the years. These letters included bits and pieces of information from his life at the moment, as well as genuine appreciation for whatever nice sentiments the receiver’s letter had included, and encouragement to keep doing what they were doing, reminding them just how vital and necessary it was.

It wasn’t only the breadth of the music he was able to engage with and create that made Chick such a source of inspiration for so many players; it was the humility with which he did it, and the absolute joy. It was that he welcomed every chance to experiment, even if it wasn’t registered as a success on the levels most people are accustomed to measuring it. For Chick, the success was the in the magic that unfurled in each moment, with each collaborator, audience, improvisation, letter, masterclass, interview, beat, breath.

Thanks for showing us one of the most beautiful ways a life of music can be lived, Chick.

We’ll do our part to carry it forward.

– Emma and The GeniusJamtracks Team

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