Corea was in town with his trio at Seattle’s Jazz Alley, but took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to talk to me about his incredible career, his month-long birthday celebration at the Blue Note in New York, his work with musicians like Paul Motian and Miles Davis and more.
He also performed three beautiful solo piano pieces.
After Corea opened the session with “Children’s Song #10,” I decided to ask him about what has made him so versatile over the years. Corea has played with many different musicians, crossed so many genres and styles, and I wanted to know how he avoided being typecast and limited to a particular sound.
He told me his attitude has always been to simply not think about it, or himself for that matter. The more he thought about defining himself for any other reason than self-improvement, the less productive he found it.
“I keep a student kind of mentality in my life, so that I am always learning something, and that keeps me fresh,” he said.
Birthday Bash at the Blue Note
Corea arrived in Seattle almost immediately after finishing a 40-performance, 10-group run over 26 days at the Blue Note in New York in celebration of his 70th birthday. The bands ranged from Return to Forever Unplugged to a duet with Bobby McFerrin.
When I asked him how he went about organizing and planning all of that, he told me that he basically had a wish list of musicians he wanted to play with and they all magically ended up having the time and saying “yes.” From there he said it was basically an intense period of librarian work: contacting musicians and formulating set lists.
“It is always the musician that I am playing with that is the inspiration for the music that I choose,” Corea said.
Corea mentioned that he was invited to perform at the Apollo as part of a lifetime achievement award celebration for Stevie Wonder, and that he performed an arrangement of Wonder’s “Pastime Paradise” for him.
This was also the second song he performed for us as well. Or, as he said, a song he would “practice” for us.
This prompted me to ask him about his practice regimen. Corea told me that actually playing at the piano was really the very last thing that he ended up doing. “Practice” for him typically revolved around a particular project or recording on the horizon. Communication with other musicians and arranging are the first steps he takes in his practice regimen.
Practicing for Wonder’s Apollo celebration began with finding the song on YouTube.
Corea on Paul Motian
I decided to ask Corea about a couple of musicians he worked with over his long career, and the first one was drummer Paul Motian who recently passed away. Corea said he really only had the opportunity to seriously work with Motian over the last year, but developed an immediate friendship.
“He (Motian) was a self made man, a renaissance man. He had his own beautiful idea of how he wanted his life to be and he lived it exactly that way,” Corea said.
Corea on Miles Davis
Everyone who works with Miles Davis seems to come away with their own unique perspective, and when I asked Corea about his work with Miles, he initially found it a bit difficult to capsulize because it was such a big part of his life.
He first “met” Davis by bumping into him in the men’s room at Birdland, but his experience with Miles really began when he joined his band in 1968. Corea told me that the biggest thing he took away from working with Miles was to make music his own way and follow his creativity.
“Miles had a very high ethical standard when it came to following through on his individual freedom to express himself. He did not ask for license from anyone to do what he envisioned to do. And that ended up being the most magnificent strength I saw coming from Miles,” Corea said.
Right off the bat, he will be making arrangements of his work with Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra for a record. After that, he will tour with vibraphonist Gary Burton and the Harlem String Quartet; then a month of touring with Bobby McFerrin, and some trio tours with Christian McBride and Brian Blade.
So, there’s certainly no slowing down for Chick Corea.
I might have caught Corea off guard a bit when I asked him to play a third song, but he graciously accepted, saying he would “wing something out” for us. “Winging it” must vary from person to person, as Corea’s version of winging it was an exceptional version of “Armando’s Rhumba”.
This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to sit down with a jazz legend who so rarely grants such performances not only moved me, but it also inspired the bulk of KPLU’s staff to cram into the production booth and around the outside of the studio to catch the session, too.
By the way, Chick told me he was going to send a copy of the session to Stevie Wonder.