Pianist supreme Chick Corea talks about his wide and varied sources of inspiration, his philosophies on life — and the Japanese dynamo who is about to join him on stage.
It comes as a surprise to learn that jazz great Chick Corea has only this year started tuning in to one of the most famous music groups of all time.
“My most recent kind of artistic kick has been, after all of these years, discovering The Beatles — of all things,” he says before taking to the stage at the North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, during his 35th anniversary “Crystal Silence Tour” last month.
“I wasn’t into them as a teen, but recently I saw my friends being engrossed by The Beatles, and I thought I should give it a good listen.
“So my friend (banjo player) Bela Fleck, who is coming to Japan with me . . . he gave me a tour through The Beatles’ music, and now I am really inspired by this creative group — 40-odd years later.”
As shocking as this confession might be to many music lovers, it is a reflection of Corea’s individualistic personality and style. While the rest of the world was listening to the likes of “All You Need is Love” and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” Corea focused on Bud Powell, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk. Later, he started listening to classical composers, and he paid close attention to painters, architects and avante-garde artists. It has taken him a long time to get around to The Beatles, but the fact that Corea digresses in diverse and sometimes unpredictable musical directions is one reason why the 66-year-old has become one of the most influential jazz pianists and composers in the world.
“I keep myself open for it,” the 14-time Grammy Award winner says of musical inspiration. “I have a big open channel for anything that’s creative or uplifting; I allow it to come into me, and I like to be with artists and people who reflect that.”
Japanese jazz aficionados will get a snapshot of Corea’s present musical mind-set when he collaborates with a number of musicians during a series of concerts at the Blue Note nightclub in Tokyo next month. The Chick Corea & Hiromi Uehara Duet might be the local favorite as the two musicians have teamed up previously at the Tokyo Jazz Festival, and their musical friendship dates back 13 years. A fellow pianist, Uehara, now 28, who met Corea through contacts at Yamaha, is set to make her mark as well. Corea remembers their first meeting:
“She knocked me out then. She was like all over the piano, she ate the piano up,” he says.
Years after that encounter, a promoter friend of Corea brought Uehara back to his attention. “I listened to some of her records and I went, ‘Who is this wild lady?’ ” Corea didn’t realize that it was the same artist he had met when she was a promising 15-year-old until their second encounter. “We decided to play together at the Tokyo Jazz Festival. It was kind of like an improvisation. We had a little bit of a rehearsal together and decided on a couple of tunes. It was really a lot of fun, so much that we decided to do something more together.”
Corea makes almost yearly visits to Japan, updating a constant “flow of memories” that began in 1967, when he toured here with saxophonist Stan Getz.
“I totally feel at home with the Japanese audience, and I think that lately more and more younger people are getting interested in jazz, and it’s nice to see them at the clubs and concerts,” Corea says.
Corea’s long career as a storyteller of jazz has resulted in a mixed bag of works, starting from his early days with Miles Davis to his electric, as well as acoustic, days, to the most diverse musical excursions and collaborations in recent years. He has always produced his own music, and Stretch Records, the label Corea founded with manager Ron Moss, allows him tremendous creative freedom.
“Every message that is on every record that I have ever made is my personal message,” he says.
One such album is 2006’s “The Ultimate Adventure,” inspired by the writings of L. Ron Hubbard. Despite winning two Grammy Awards, the album was considered below par by some reviewers, largely because of its spiritual connection to Scientology, the new religion of which Corea has been a member since 1968. Corea, however, is unapologetic; his approach is one of complete individualism — looking for his own truth, likable or not. “If you want to meet someone who has very particular ideas about life, talk to an artist or another musician,” he remarks.
Trying to get a grip on Corea’s message to his audience, one thing becomes clear: Freedom to exist being true to oneself is the all-important philosophical axis for Corea.
“(That’s been the case) ever since I was a small child, with the help of my very beautiful parents who allowed me to think for myself, allowed me to have my own mind, allowed me to do music the way I wanted to. That set a standard for me, which I kept throughout my life, and I have always kept to my own mind in the way I like to do things.”
Collaboration and improvisation are the underlying foundation of the jazz world, and it is hard to match the diversity of collaborations and musical genres touched by Corea’s artistic adventures over nearly five decades. When asked what ingredients he considers essential in cooking up a successful collaboration, Corea cites that his life lesson of experiencing joy in communicating — to be open and accepting in life and to know how to give and take without losing oneself — has provided him with essential social skills. They allow him “to grant the other person a lot of space to live and have his viewpoint and work with it for it to be a true collaboration and not forced.”
“Enchantment,” an album Corea released earlier this year, is representative of such highly successful collaboration — on this occasion between Corea and his artistic comrade Fleck.
“Bela took me into musical realms that I hadn’t been to before because his way of playing and his creativity are unique. Plus the fact is that he plays in a style of music that I wasn’t that familiar with — bluegrass and country music. The way Bela does it is very creative, and it has a groove to it which makes it immediately a lot of fun to work with.”
The result is unique — the album features original music composed partly by Fleck and partly by Corea, then smoothly transformed into a unique blend of bluegrass and jazz — and proves once again that fusion is Corea’s true home.
If his latest offering is anything to judge him by, it seems there is no end in sight for this inspirational locomotive.
Chick Corea & Hiromi Uehara play Sept. 24-26, 7 p.m. & 9:30 p.m., at Tokyo Blue Note; tickets: ¥10,500; tel. (03) 5485-0088. Chick Corea Trio with John Patitucci (bass) & Antonio Sanchez (drums) play Sept. 28-29, 7 p.m. & 9:30 p.m., Sept. 30 at 6:30 p.m. & 9 p.m.) at Tokyo Blue Note; tickets: ¥10,500; tel. (03) 5485-0088. Chick Corea & Bela Fleck play Oct. 1-3, 7 p.m. & 9:30 p.m., at Tokyo Blue Note; tickets: ¥10,500; tel. (03) 5485-0088. For more information, visit www.bluenote.co.jp
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