Friday, November 11, 2011
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Chick Corea, the ebullient and eternally youthful pianist, bandleader and composer, turned 70 this year. Being a jazz musician, he’s bound by custom to celebrate this mile marker on the bandstand, aglow in retrospection. Had there been a corporate-sponsored jazz festival in New York this summer, he probably would have headlined Carnegie Hall sometime around his birthday, on June 12. Instead he’s taking over the Blue Note for most of November, beginning on Tuesday: two sets a night, in 10 different configurations, with collaborators old and new. It’s the more fitting option by far.
Mr. Corea has trained his public to expect nothing less of him. His career is among the most kaleidoscopic in jazz, encircling everything from plunging postbop to chamberesque Latin hybridism to superheated fusion. He’s among the most productive figures of jazz’s last 40 years, a worthy luminary with the instincts of a tinkerer, more committed to inquiry than to resolution.
Chick Corea will celebrate his 70th birthday year throughout November with a month-long residency at New York’s Blue Note, featuring 10 different configurations in more than 40 performances. The extended gig also marks the 50th anniversary of Corea’s debut in Greenwich Village.
Among the scheduled performances are Corea with Herbie Hancock, Marcus Roberts, Bobby McFerrin, Gary Peacock and Paul Motian, Gary Burton, John McLaughlin and a special Return to Forever unplugged gig. The full schedule is below.
A DownBeat Hall of Famer, NEA Jazz Master and 16-time Grammy winner, living legend Chick Corea has flourished for over four decades as a celebrated jazz pianist and composer. The Massachusetts native first made a name for himself as a sideman in the 1960s with artists like Blue Mitchell, Stan Getz and Miles Davis, and in the 1970s he founded Return to Forever, one of the world’s premier fusion acts.
To celebrate his seven decades, New York’s legendary Blue Note Jazz Club is holding a month-long 70th Birthday Celebration residency from Nov. 1-27, which includes a lineup of 10 different groups and more than 30 musicians. Included on the guest list are Herbie Hancock, Bobby McFerrin, the Five Peace Band with John McLaughlin, and a special unplugged appearance from Return to Forever.
In this exclusive interview, I spoke with Corea about the gigs, his thoughts about turning 70, the reason Return to Forever initially disbanded, and his first conversation with Miles Davis.
What are your thoughts about playing for a whole month at the Blue Note?
It’s just totally invigorating and exciting and great, and I mean that. My friends that were able to join me that are going to play with me are such great people and inspiring musicians. The whole thing is like being in heaven, you know? With all this creativity to get into, it’s the ultimate pleasure to have. It’ll be a lot of work, for sure, but it’ll be a lot of fun, mainly.
Which shows are you looking most forward to?
I’m looking forward to everything; I don’t even know where to start. I’m halfway through preparing right now. Unfortunately, I had a few weeks off before the gigs started, and I was able to put a setlist together and try to organize it a bit, but I’m looking forward to the whole thing. There’s some kind of new configurations that’ll be interesting. I worked with Paul Motian and Eddie Gomez for a couple of weeks earlier this year at the Blue Note—we made a recording there—but Paul ended up not being able to make it, and Eddie didn’t have the schedule to do it at that slot, so I found Gary Peacock, who I haven’t played since, wow, the ’70s, I guess.
But then leading to replace Paul because he wasn’t able to make it, I found that Brian Blade had a day open in his schedule before coming in with the Five Peace Band. So it’s going to be Brian and Gary Peacock. Now that’s going to be very interesting to me; that’s a whole new thing. I’ve also got Gary Burton and the Harlem String Quartet. We recorded one track with the Harlem String Quartet for our new duet recording, so for the whole three nights with the string quartet, we’re going to review some of the lyrics and music that we’ve made in the late ’70s and early ’80s, whenever that was, and a couple of new things that I wrote for the sextet.
The bash takes place at New York City’s Blue Note between Nov. 1-27. The jazz club hosted Corea’s 2001 three-week residency marking his 60th birthday. The sold-out run of dates was recorded and then released in 2003 as the two-CD set Rendezvous in New York.
During the four weeks of dates, each night that is booked will features two performances with one show at 8 p.m. and a second at 10:30 p.m.
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Frank Gambale is a strange mix of star and fan, Über-confidence and wide-eyed wonder. In his 26-some-odd years as a legendary guitarist and role model, he’s done a lot to advance the progress of play with his Sweep Picking Technique and Tuning System. He’s played with only the best there is, touring the world several times over, hitting the finest jazz festivals, nightclubs and concert halls, and helping to put out albums that would mark historical territory, as well as shape young minds who would then grow up to become stars themselves.
He’s done all this as a member of an elite jazz-fusion club,and as a diehard fan of that club. In most circles, that’s called living your dream. Single-handedly, the Australian wonder changed the entire landscape for rising guitarists in 1975 with his Sweep Picking Technique. The technique enabled guitarists the world over – once they painstakingly mastered it through tons of practice – to play faster, better, but with more ease and freedom of expression. Many before him had tried, but could only pull off one or two licks before giving up.
A Guitar Institute of Technology (GIT) “Student of the Year” back in the day, Gambale used what he knew to help others through instructional books and DVDs, teaching gigs, and a line of his own guitars. To this day, he’s still revolutionizing the industry, with his Gambale Tuning System, which allows guitarists to achieve chordal capabilities of the piano on their fret board.
Besides developing techniques and gear, Gambale always turned heads wherever he jammed and whomever he jammed with. He’s collaborated with the Chick Corea Elektric Band, winning a Grammy and two Grammy noms in the process, Vital Information, Stu Hamm and Steve Smith, Billy Cobham, the Mark Varney Project, Maurizio Colonna, and GRP—not to mention his own critically acclaimed albums, about 20 of ‘em. And he’s not done yet. By Valentine’s Day next year, he and his wife BOCA will release “Soulmine,” featuring sexy vocals, positive lyrics, R&B jazz-funk stylings, and his signature racy guitar.
Currently, the man is on a world tour with Chick Corea’sReturn To Forever IV Band (Stanley Clarke, Lenny White, Jean-Luc Ponty). The world tour kicked off last February, and reunited him with many of his colleagues from past adventures – Gambale was on Corea’s Elektric Band for a significant period in the ‘80s, and has played with Ponty. The band will conclude their world tour back in New York City, at the Blue Note, for a month-long birthday jamfest for Corea’s 70th, which will give Gambale even more to do – playing RTF and Elektric Band material.
Chick Corea’s Return to Forever IV kicked off in February of this year, with their world tour starting in Australia. How did you end up on this band and in this tour? I got a call from Chick inviting me to play. I have a long history with Chick from the Elektric Band and I have been a huge fan of RTF for as long as I can remember. So it was a welcome call.
You’ve worked with Chick Corea in his Elektric Band. What’s it like coming back to that environment, Chick’s world?
In this group, I am seeing Chick in a different light. RTF is clearly a collaborative band with Lenny and Stanley and Chick all having written music for RTF and each of them giving input on the arrangements. In the Elektric Band, all the music was Chick’s and so he was the clear band leader and roughly 15-20 years older than all of us. It’s great viewing him in this light and getting to see him amongst his peers.
Playing with Chick Corea isn’t a walk in the park. Describe his collaborative style—I imagine he has high expectations, is he a perfectionist? As with any great, serious musician, the expectation is high. I am the same way with my bands. Music at this level is serious. It’s the musical equivalent of the speed and precision of Formula 1 car racing, or skydiving, or intellectual conversation in the sense that, no one is fooling around. We love what we do and it’s exhilarating at this level. Of course it’s fun, too. We’re all perfectionists and the performances reflect that.
Back in … the ‘80s? Chick asked you to join his Elektric Band – after Return to Forever kind of folded – a jazz-rock fusion band. At the time, you were teaching and had several instructional books and DVDs out there. What in particular led to his picking you out of the crowd, was it the techniques you developed in those instructional books/DVDs, or did you do any shows where he caught your performance?
I already had two solo albums out when I auditioned for Chick — “Brave New Guitar” and “A Present For The Future,” which were gathering momentum, and being recognized by great musicians such as Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, amongst others. I had also just gotten off tour with Jean-Luc Ponty. I think one of the things that attracted Chick to my playing was that he thought I was unique. I originated a way to play the guitar that has become standard in the guitar lexicon of techniques. But technique is one thing, and musicality is quite another. When I tell people that I never practiced technique, they scratch their heads. I only practiced musical concepts. These musical concepts may have been extremely difficult to play on the guitar, so they required enormous technique, but MUSICAL CONCEPT was the driving force! ... the huge desire to play a musical idea on the guitar that was in uncharted territory. So when Chick heard me play, he understood immediately what he was hearing, he really got it. It has resulted in a very long and rewarding musical journey for both of us.
In his early years, before he established himself as one of the leading bandleaders and composers in contemporary jazz, Chick Corea played keyboards in several incarnations of Miles Davis's band. Davis created more variations of music than any jazz musician before him, and in that sense he was a direct inspiration for Mr. Corea's polyglot career.
Even more than Davis, Mr. Corea has expressed himself in countless, widely disparate ensembles, in formats ranging from world-music ensembles to bebop trios to free-form collectives to symphony orchestras. Throughout November, he'll lead 10 of these combinations in a monthlong celebration of his 70th birthday at the Blue Note club on West Third Street.
The difference between Miles Davis and Chick Corea is that the former went through stages (Mr. Corea was present when Davis made his transition into electric music with "Bitches Brew" in 1969) and never looked back. Mr. Corea, by contrast, set an example for the current generation in that many of his divergent bands have run parallel to one another. At roughly the same time he was playing what became known as "fusion" with Davis (which was, among other things, an attempt to expand jazz's fan base into stadium-sized audiences), he was also creating some of the least "commercial" music of his career in Circle, the exceptional avant-garde collective he shared with multireed maverick Anthony Braxton.
As for foundations, the Massachusetts native said the forthcoming Blue Note series—and his multidimensional career—were only possible because of New York and its position in the jazz world. "I first moved to New York because all my musical heroes were here," the 16-time Grammy Award-winner said this week from his home in Clearwater, Florida. "New York in the '60s meant Miles, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins, Art Blakey and the Jazz messengers, Charles Mingus; Count Basie was here; Duke Ellington was playing! New York is still the crossroads of jazz."