Thursday, November 22, 2012

My composition process: from chicken scratch to finished notation

My new masterpiece. A quick 3/4 latin / flamenco tune inspired by Chick Corea's "La Fiesta". Lucy Goose is our nickname for our pet Lakeland terrier who likes to lie at my feet while I'm playing piano. It's a happy, playful song, just like our dog.

Here's the finished chart:

And here's a live performance of this piece with my band MPEG featuring John Nastos (sax), Damian Erskine (bass), Reinhardt Melz (drums), and Rafael Trujillo (percussion).

Now some background into the composition process for this piece and many of my other pieces. No one but me can make sense of my chicken scratch sketches until they get fleshed out into proper notation. It's my strange creative process at work. Almost every tune I write starts out like this.

For example: here's my original chicken scratch sketch of my new tune Lucy Goose.

And here's the final product -- the finished notation of my new tune Lucy Goose. Interesting to compare the finished product to the original illegible chicken scratch sketch.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A Week With Chick Corea: Part 12 -- Leaving Cranwell

Table Of Contents
A Week With Chick Corea
Chick’s first ever 5-day Master Workshop with John Patitucci (bass) and Antonio Sanchez (drums) held at Cranwell Resort in Lenox, MA from August 27 - 31, 2012

Here's a memento from the activities of the first-ever Chick Corea Music Workshop. At last, some video evidence that I was actually there and it really happened!

Leaving Cranwell
We stayed up late on Thursday night after the photo session and reception, hanging out and chatting about the workshop and other things. A couple of the students snuck in to listen to Chick practicing in the ballroom in preparation for his upcoming gig with Gary Burton and the Harlem String Quartet that coming Saturday at the Detroit Jazz Festival, but I didn’t go listen because I didn’t want to wear out my welcome with Chick. I thought it best if I let him practice in relative peace and respect his privacy after all of his generosity toward us.

Below is a series of photos and an accidental video from the photo session on Thursday night. NOTE: I'll try to add more photos from the workshop at some point when I have more time.

Scroll down past the photos to read more about what happened on Friday and beyond.

Whoops, trying to take a picture while the phone is in video mode doesn't work so well.

Me and Chick Corea 
(click the link or picture to view the video)

Me and Bill Rooney

Me and Dan Muse

Me and Bernie Kirsh

Me and Antonio Sanchez

Me and John Patitucci

Me and Chick Corea

Joe Gold (left), Me (center), Fernando Giuffrida (right)

Elliot Casillas (far left), Fernando Giuffrida (2nd from left), Me (2nd from right), Mike Rihner (far right)

Me and Chick Corea

Me and Chick Corea

Friday, August 31, 2012
While loading my bags into my car and checking out of the resort, I found the painter in the hallway who saw me perform with Chick on Wednesday night. He had complimented me on my music so I gave him a copy of my CD. His name was Jody Lampro and it turns out he’s also a professional drummer and a bass player -- I think he’s been working with folk singer Arlo Guthrie among others. He since connected with me on Facebook and loves the CD. Also, the night before, I learned that one of the bartenders was also a fan and a musician so I gave him one of my CD’s the previous night too. It turns out that one of the Australian students Richard Coates saw both of them lurking outside the door to the ballroom one night during the workshop and let them sneak in. They fessed up during the break told Chick's staff they were resort employees and asked for permission to stay. They were both huge fans of Chick Corea. Jody was also big fan of John Patitucci and had recognized John walking around the resort earlier in the week and did a double-take when he saw him, recognizing his face from pictures on bass magazines over the years.

Fun story: Decided to grab lunch before hitting the road. Chick Corea and Bernie Kirsh randomly passed me at my table and stopped to say hi again before heading off to the Detroit Jazz Festival. Cool that they noticed me and recognized me out of context while I was oblivious to their presence. I mentioned to Chick that my sax player (John Nastos) would also be there performing with Chuck Israels (former bass player for pianist Bill Evans) the same day that Chick would be performing with Gary Burton, and Chick told me to have him stop and say hi in Detroit tomorrow. However, John didn’t meet Chick in Detroit because he said Chick got mobbed with people at the festival so he had no chance to try to meet him. Oh well. It was worth a shot.

Chuck Israels Orchestra - Show-Type Tune

Chuck Israels Orchestra - ‘Round Midnight
I drove back to Hartford, CT, checked in to the same smoky La Quinta Inn again (*cough*), then took the car back to the Budget rental car lot. Couldn’t figure out how to get a shuttle straight back to the motel, so I took the Budget shuttle to the airport, and then took the LazFly shuttle back to the La Quinta Inn. Grabbed dinner at Ruby Tuesday and went to bed before my early flight the next morning.
Coming Home
Ate breakfast, then took the LazFly shuttle from La Quinta Inn, Hartford, CT (*cough*) back to Bradley airport and was surprised to have the same exact driver that had brought me to the rental car lot the previous weekend. He recognized me and asked me all about the workshop. Gave him a copy of my CD. BDL → LAS → PDX Flew Southwest Airlines from Hartford, CT to Las Vegas, Nevada, changed planes, and then flew to Portland, Oregon. Fun to see my wife and kids waiting for me outside security after getting off the plane.
Back To Reality
It was almost surreal to go back to my day job on Tuesday, Sept. 4, the day after Labor Day. It was a harsh return to reality sitting in my cubicle testing software for Dell, Inc. that day after spending the previous week living a dream with my childhood and adulthood musical hero and inspiration. Did it really happen? Was it all just a figment of my imagination? Still processing everything that occurred during that magical week away from the real world. Great to be back home with my family though. Now the challenge will be to put everything I learned into action and continue to improve as an artist and continue to create new art. That’s what Chick would want me to do. That’s the best way I can thank him for everything he did for us that week. That was the whole point and purpose of the workshop. So here goes. Onward and upward. And continue to put “Think For Yourself” ™ into practice. Funny story from my Brazilian friend and fellow workshop attendee Fernando Giuffrida who was fascinated with various English accents (eg. he loved imitating the Australian accents he heard during the workshop):
I was hanging out with a Bostonian friend last Friday [after the workshop] and just learned about a scientific explanation for Chick's accent: no letters are wasted! If you take an "r" out of any word you put it back somewhere else, no matter how absurd it sounds. For example: "I was driving my cah and suddenly had an idear." I think guys from Boston don't even think they have an accent, other people do.
I received this in the mail the other day. A handwritten thank-you note from Chick Corea following the week long master workshop. Cool that he remembered my original pseudo-flamenco composition (Play Structure) that we played together. Still pinching myself. (Did that really happen?) By the way, I did get to see Antonio Sanchez again shortly after the workshop when he performed in Portland with the Pat Metheny Unity Band at the Aladdin Theater on Sept. 11, 2012. This made my day on the night of the Pat Metheny concert. Got the following text messages from trumpet player Farnell Newton right before the show:
Farnell: "Talking to Antonio [Sanchez] last night. He says he was digging your chart at the Chick [Corea] clinic! Ben Williams, Antonio and [Chris] Potter, we were all just at the bar talking and all! And I brought you up and he mentioned your song and complimenting the chart on how prepared and clean it was. Which made it clear for them to read."

Me: "Cool! He actually remembered me? How did you run into them?"

Farnell: "Ha ha of course. Mississippi studio. Ben Williams hit me up trying to find something to do and I told him to come see Brian Blade! So he brought the gang!"
P.S. Got to say 'hi' to Antonio again after the show waiting outside Pat Metheny's tour bus. He told me I should have contacted him on Facebook to get on the guest list and that I should make sure to do that next time he's in town. I didn't try doing that last night because I don't want to wear out my welcome, but now that he told me to do it, I guess I'll have to take him up on it.   Here’s a video clip from a Pat Metheny Unity Band show:
Here’s a short survey that Chick Corea Productions sent out to us after the workshop was over.
Chick Corea Music Camp
Aug 27 > 30, 2012
Survey for Workshop attendees
Question:   How did you enjoy the 4 days of workshops with Chick and the trio? What were some highlights?     My answer:  It was the most fascinating experience of my entire life. Loved every minute of it. Some highlights were getting to meet and learn from Chick, John, and Antonio as well as meeting Chick's amazing crew -- Bill Rooney, Dan Muse, and Bernie Kirsch. Seeing Chick demonstrate his two handed 10 drummers 88 drums concept to the blind attendee (Scott Erichsen) was fascinating since he'd never known about using two hands because he'd never seen Chick's hands. It was very enlightening and refreshing to experience Chick's non-academic approach to music -- no need to put a technical label on each sound or scale, with the emphasis being "think for yourself" and using sound, rhythm, harmony, melody, and space to create an effect on the listener in order to communicate with other musicians and the audience. Having Chick be willing to share his approach to synthesizers such as the Moog using Neil Shankman's Moog Voyager and I loved the performance with the Moog. Having the chance to play music together with these three amazing musicians was also a highlight.   Question:   What did you hope to accomplish attending the Corea Camp? Did you accomplish these goals?   My answer:  My goals for the workshop were to learn more about Chick approach to music (performing, practicing, composing, band leading, etc.) in order to see what ideas I could try to apply to myself in order to grow as a musician and composer. I believe I accomplished these goals, though perhaps not in the way that I thought I might prior to the workshop. But I learned a ton and I think it was exactly the information I needed to hear. I took lots of careful handwritten notes and will go back through the notes and type them up for future reference.   Question:  What particular things did you learn that you believe you can now apply to improve your music making?   My answer:  I learned that communication is key and technical and theoretical knowledge is less important though you need technical mastery in order to communicate ideas without thinking about the technical execution of those ideas. I need to work methodically at improving my technical abilities to gain the freedom I need to communicate effortlessly and efficiently. I'm also inspired to improve my overall physical health to take care of my body which I use to play my instrument. I'm very inspired by Chick's amazing weight loss over the last few years, not to mention his prolific composing and recording output. I'm inspired to continue to write and perform music as often as possible and to be accepting of my initial ideas, to not worry about what others think, but to think for myself, while at the same time, treating others with respect and dignity. Chick's approach to treating others the way you want to be treated and his love for people and the audience shines through in all he does. Many other artists out there treat their audiences and fellow musicians and business partners poorly, but Chick is a joy to watch as he constantly models what it means to be a generous, warm, open person who truly wants to have a good relationship with everyone he encounters in life. So I'm inspired not only to be a better artist, but also a better human being in general.   Question:  Any suggestions for Chick and his workshop crew?   My answer:  It was a blast to perform briefly together with the trio though I'm sure there are ways to improve the experience through rehearsal and a chance to work on ways to improve the performance after getting feedback, etc. I wish there had been more time to perfect the performance for the recording -- a quick rehearsal or a second or third take and we all would have nailed our parts. Perhaps setting some boundaries up front in song selection, arranging/notation clarity, and a basic audition process or application process to filter out musicians below a certain level would help raise the bar at the performance level, though that may not be Chick's goal if he wants to keep things open to anyone at any level. Grouping students into different levels might be useful to then customize the appropriate types of activities and information for each set of varying abilities and levels of understanding.   Question:  Anything else you'd like to communicate to Chick?   My answer:  I really enjoyed watching Chick learning on the fly how to be a better teacher. I just want to express my complete gratitude for this very special and intimate opportunity to spend such quality time with Chick, a true master artist, perhaps the most prolific composer and band leader of the last fifty years or more. Thank you so much for the generosity toward us expressed by continuing to hold the workshop as planned in spite of the bad financial situation and the amazing integrity and ethical response to cover the costs out of your own pocket. We are forever in your debt in so many ways. My commitment to continuing to grow as an artist, composer, musician, communicator, and as a human being is the best way I can express my on-going thanks to Chick for all he has given us over the years and especially at this workshop. I've learned a lot about myself and how to relate to other people through this experience. I look forward to meeting again someday and eagerly await whatever art Chick will create in the months and years to come. Chick is my hero in so many ways and yet I love how there is absolutely no ego involved in his interactions with others. You have my utmost respect and I'm honored to have been a part of this grand experiment. Keep doing what you do and wish you all the best for many more years to come. Well done! -- Mike Prigodich

July 13, 2013:

Today I finally got to hear a recording of me playing my composition "Play Structure" with Chick Corea, John Patitucci, and Antonio Sanchez at the workshop last summer. I signed a legal document preventing me from sharing the recording with anyone since it is a rough mix of an unrehearsed first take. All I can say is that it was amazing to hear them sight-reading my piece and playing along with me expertly recorded and mixed by Bernie Kirsh. I got to play Chick's 9-foot Yamaha CFIIIS grand piano while Chick played on his Fender Rhodes Mark V (sampled on his Yamaha Motif XF). Hearing Chick solo and comp on my changes and interact with my playing was almost exactly how I imagined it would be. And hearing John reading treble clef on the fly to periodically play unison melody lines on his 6-string electric bass and listening to Antonio blend perfectly and catch all the kicks on the drums just looking at the lead sheet was astonishing. Those guys are the real deal. And it was cool to hear Chick say afterwards, "Wonderful. Beautiful. Really great. Wow, Mike. Great writing, man." Sometimes impossible dreams do come true!

Monday, October 15, 2012

A Week With Chick Corea: Part 11 -- Day 4

Table Of Contents
A Week With Chick Corea: Part 11

Chick’s first ever 5-day Master Workshop with John Patitucci (bass) and Antonio Sanchez (drums) held at Cranwell Resort in Lenox, MA from August 27 - 31, 2012

Day 4

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Fernando and I got up early again for breakfast and another morning workout at the fitness center. I headed back to my room to shower and change, but moving slowly. The long days, jet lag, and lack of sleep were catching up with me.

The Painter
As I was leaving my room to head to lunch, I walked past a painter in the hallway and was surprised when he said something like, “Great job last night!” I asked what he meant and he said he had snuck into the ballroom after work and seen my performance with Chick, John, and Antonio the night before. I didn’t expect the staff at the resort to be into the music at the workshop, but apparently some of the staff were musically inclined and they were excited that that Chick Corea was at the resort that week. That was fun to hear that he enjoyed my composition and playing. 

Piano Tuning

1:00pm, Thursday, August 30, 2012

When we entered the ballroom after lunch, I grinned when I saw the piano being tuned. They introduced piano technician Rick Speer when he was finished tuning. As I suspected, Chick decided he needed the piano tuned after all following the heavy pounding it took the day before. Of course, Chick tends to have his piano re-tuned during intermission at his concerts so he obviously has a critical ear when it comes to pianos being in tune, as do I. I find I play better and I’m much more inspired when the piano is perfectly in tune. An out-of-tune piano, even just slightly out-of-tune, tends to bother me and I get distracted by the imperfection in tone.

I’m actually a piano technician of sorts myself. I had learned how to tune pianos about a decade ago when I was considering changing careers to become a full-time piano technician during a period of unemployment from the IT industry. I partially completed Randy Potter’s School Of Piano Technology home study course but only completed the tuning portion of the course and never made it through the voicing, regulation, and repair / maintenance portions of the course. I also “cheat” by using some software to help me set the temperament and pitch but use my ear to tune unisons. I tend to make other piano technicians work hard for me because I can hear when unisons aren’t quite right. I’ve fixed some unisons in the past and then had a former Steinway Concert and Artist technician check my work and she was amazed at how perfect my unisons were. I’ve made her re-tune notes for me when I haven’t been completely happy with a tuning. I’m picky. So I completely empathize with Chick when it comes to piano tuning standards and I really appreciate how good the piano always sounds on his studio and live recordings as well as the times I’ve heard him perform live.

More info on Chick's piano requirements:

From Chick's blog:

Playing a different piano each night, differently prepared, is an ongoing challenge. I’m afraid (or glad) that I’ve become totally spoiled by (or accustomed to) the greatest and best-prepared pianos in the world – so I’ve also become very picky about the quality of the pianos I encounter. Fortunately, my longtime friend and master piano technician Brian Alexander tries his best to make calls around the world to help choose the best local technicians and pianos. I discovered years ago that the technician and his ability to prepare a piano is far more important than the make or even the condition of the piano. My favorite pianos continue to be the Yamaha CF3 and the Bosendorfer concert grands. But, unless they are well prepared, it might as well be any spinet available.

From the rider for Chick's new band The Vigil:

Chick Corea - Piano & Keyboards:
The Piano provided by Yamaha Concerts and Artists will be a 9 foot Grand piano CFX or CFIIIS Midi Grand. It will be on stage one day before the show if provided locally or will travel with Chick in a custom road case depending on local availability. Nothing but tuning and stand by services will be needed for the show. No voicing or adjustments of any kind are needed to the Yamaha grand unless specifically requested by Chick Corea the day of the show.

The Concert Piano Service For The Show Must Be:
1) Tune the piano to Current Pitch
2) Meet Mr. Corea at sound check , discuss the piano and any changes that may be needed.
3) Tune the piano again to Current pitch before the show.
4) Touch up the tuning at intermission.
5) Stand-By for the ENTIRE show.

Tuning of the piano for Chick must be done with a HEAVY POUNDING METHOD, the only very "stable" style. Regardless of the temperament chosen for the concert piano at hand the piano must be POUNDED in completely. If you are not a POUNDER when you tune then do not work for Mr. Corea. A top line piano tech knows this from experience. You must strike the keys harder than Chick can to insure tuning stability.

Chick can really strike a piano hard as he throws accents into lines and passages with his right hand and left hand. If the tuning isn't pounded in completely the piano will go out of tune quickly. POUND THE PIANO INTO TUNE. If you have you ever tuned for Lazar Berman, Lexo Toradze, McCoy Tyner or Billy Joel you know what I am saying. POUNDING IN THE TUNING is the only method that is acceptable for Mr. Corea.

ON SHOW DAY, ON STAGE, if you are not pounding the piano into tune with a HEAVY POUNDING METHOD you may be asked to be replaced by Chick Corea Production Staff.

Thank you for your attention to this. Please realize that to Mr. Corea you are the most important staff person at the concert hall and just as important as the piano. He is very aware that a top line piano technician can make all the difference to the quality of his experience and his audience. Your attention to the piano in the above manner will insure that Mr. Corea enjoys the piano provided to him and that he will provide a stellar performance for the audience.

Call me directly if you have any technical questions regarding any of the above. With over thirty years of experience on the road and in recording with Mr. Corea, forty-five years in the piano business of manufacturing, restoration, rental, touring, tuning and servicing performed on instruments made by all of the major piano manufacturers, I am sure that I have the solution to any problem you might encounter.

Brian Alexander
Ph. 805 226 2272
Fine Pianos Since 1962

Chick’s Final Q & A

Chick started this session by saying this would be his final Q & A session for the workshop. Bill Rooney also told us that they had decided to end the workshop Thursday night since Chick had an early flight to catch on Friday, so there wouldn’t not be any session on Friday morning as originally planned.

“My favorite game to play in music is the one of forming groups.” — Chick Corea, 2012

Advice On Being A Bandleader
Elliot Casillas asked for advice on becoming a bandleader.

Chick’s answer:

  • Think about how you want to be treated, then treat other people that way.
    • You can’t go wrong with that. It’s ultra simple.
    • This advice is “senior” to everything else.

    • Anecdote:
      • Chick described a situation where he was sideman working for someone else a long time ago where the bandleader got upset with the audience and walked off the stage during the middle of a show, leaving Chick standing there awkwardly in front of the audience. Chick eventually shrugged and walked off stage too, but told the bandleader afterwards something like: “I love you and respect you, but if you ever do that again, I’ll stop playing with you.” Chick didn’t name any names, but one of the students thought it may have been Stan Getz.

How To Learn A New Tune
Mike Reinhauzens asked a question about how to practice or learn a new tune.

Chick’s answer:

  • Piano demonstration -- Meditation by Antonio Carlos Jobim (and Newton Mendonça)
    • Chick sat down at the piano and pulls out the lead sheet.
      • Chick said he’s never played it before.
      • Chick observed that it is in the key of ‘C’.
      • Chick said he’s heard the song in the past.
    • Chick tried sight-reading the lead sheet.
      • Chick said the chords and melody on the lead sheet don’t sound right to him.
      • Chick came up with new chords and corrections to the melody that sound right to him.
  • Break down of piano demonstration:
    • Memory / Ear
      • Heard a wrong phrase that he didn’t like.
    • Lead sheets are not accurate

Meeting Pianist Hiromi Uehara
Someone asked how Chick met Hiromi.

Chick's answer:

Chick said he met Hiromi when she was 14 or 15 (though according to the info on Chick’s web site about their duet album, he met her when she was 17). He said it was an isolated incident. Later, the man who helps Chick organize concerts in Japan suggested performing with her in a piano duo, so Chick listened to her recordings, called her, and they gave it a try. After a few days, he realized she was the same girl he had met years ago when she was younger.

Here’s a video clip of Chick and Hiromi performing Hiromi’s composition entitled Old Castle, By The River, In The Middle Of A Forest, inspired by a painting that Hiromi saw somewhere, if my memory is correct. This song was first recorded by Hiromi on her trio album called Spiral.

Thinking About Chord Changes vs. The Whole Form
Someone asked whether Chick thinks about chord changes or the whole form.  

Chick’s answer:
  • Learn chords so well that you’re familiar with the form.
  • Know the street. Have fun driving.
  • Stop thinking about form and make changes to it.
  • Chick sat down at the piano and demonstrated what he meant by playing a couple tunes for us:

Here’s a video clip of Chick Corea and Bobby McFerrin goofing off with Blue Monk that is a great example of what Chick means by playing around with the form. NOTE: See their duet album Play and their live Duet DVD for more of this fun duo.

Composition: Sketch vs. Fully Written Form 
Someone asked a question about Chick’s composition Matrix and referred to it as a blues.  

Chick’s answer:  
Chick emphatically stated: “Matrix is NOT the blues!”, then went on to explain the difference between a sketch and a fully written form.
  • Sketch
    • Matrix is a “sketch” -- short fragment to improvise on.
  • Fully Written Form
    • Chick played one of his Children’s Songs at the piano as an example of a more thoroughly written composition.
    • A thoroughly written composition is intended to create a particular effect.

Long Extended Solos 
Someone asked a question about how Chick improvises long extended solos.  

Chick’s answer:
  • Fun factor
    • Am I enjoying it?
    • Is the audience enjoying it?
  • Speak With Continuity
    • Make sane conversation
    • Try to make one thing lead into another
  • Chick demonstrates playing random disconnected crap at the piano as an example of how not to play a solo.
    • He saw students taking notes while he was playing the random crap, stopped playing, and joked in mock consternation: “What are you writing down? Are you stealing my licks?”

Ways To Compose 
Gia Ionesco asked a question about how to approach composing a new piece -- start with motifs and phrases or think about the whole thing? What is the priority for various settings? Trio, quartet, large group, etc.  

Chick’s answer:
  • Not for any specific purpose
    • Research / develop / explore
      • Harmony
      • Rhythm
      • Motifs
    • Chick’s Children’s Songs were written just as an exercise to relax
  • Write for a specific band (Chick’s normal approach)
    • Decides that he needs a piece to create a desired mood or effect
    • Quickly produces a piece to produce that mood or effect
NOTE: My composition process is very similar to Chick’s process demonstrated in these video clips below where Chick composes a brand new piece before your very eyes and ears. This is something I had hoped he would do for us in person at the 5-day Master Workshop, but he didn’t compose a complete new piece for us on the spot like he did in this video. So I’m glad this video exists so we can see an example of how he writes tunes. By the way, the rehearsal portion in these videos is also similar to the way my own band develops grooves and arrangements of my compositions. Chick demonstrates writing a new composition called “Long Fall”, then rehearses it with John Patitucci on bass and Tom Brechtlein on drums. These clips are taken from the Chick Corea Keyboard Workshop DVD / VHS:
part #1:

part #2:

part #3:

Writing Long Extended Compositions
I asked Chick about how to approach writing a long extended composition.

Chick’s answer:
  • Example #1: Chick’s second piano concerto “in the spirit of Mozart”.
    • The Continents: Concerto For Jazz Quintet And Orchestra
    • Chick said he was asked to write a concerto in the spirit of Mozart for Mozart’s 250th birthday celebration in Austria.
      • Chick thought “That’s easy! Mozart had a playful spirit expressing the joy of creating music.”
      • Here is some background information on that experience.
    • Chick conceived of six movements.
      • Chick said he came up with the six continents idea after the six movements were already written -- six continents matched up nicely with the six movements.
        • NOTE: My commentary -- this was fascinating to me since I assumed incorrectly that Chick must have conceived of writing the movements as a musical picture of each continent prior to writing any of the music. It never occurred to me that he had actually written the music first before deciding to name the movements after each continent because I hear influences of the continent for which each movement is named when I listen to the movements. Chick did a really good job of assigning the appropriate continent names to each of the movements!
    • Here’s a video trailer about The Continents so you can get a taste of the music:
  • Example #2: The second movement of Chick’s Lyric Suite For Sextet with Gary Burton
    • Part 2: Waltz
      • Chick plays the theme at the piano to demonstrate.
        • The theme became the form to improvise on.
        • Chick didn’t write the theme first when he began to compose the piece.
        • Instead, Chick started writing the piece with some random rambling.
        • The theme came later on in the process.
      • Summary of this approach:
        • Start with a mood
        • Land on something that has substance  that can be repeated
        • Chick likes to write modularly
          • Writes theme → leads to something else → leads to something else
          • Sometimes never coming back to original theme
      • NOTE: My commentary: Fascinating! Chick had trouble playing some of the parts in this movement for us, even though I saw him perform this piece flawlessly a few days earlier at Tanglewood. But in front of us, he had to stop a few times and work out a few tricky parts he misread. And apparently after the workshop was over, Chick practiced late into the night working on this music for his upcoming performance at the Detroit Jazz Festival that next weekend. It’s very comforting to me to see that Chick forgets how to play things, makes mistakes, and has to practice before an upcoming gig! He is human after all.
    • NOTE: I can’t find video or audio on-line for Part 2: Waltz other than a short clip, but here’s video of a live performance of Chick Corea and Gary Burton performing another movement of the Lyric Suite For Sextet -- Part 1: Overture:
How To Practice Anything
Someone asked a question about how to practice.

Chick’s answer:
      • Audio for Fingerprints by Chick  Corea New Trio:
      • But Chick says that’s hands working together.
    • Chick tried to come up with a better example of two hand independence.
      • Chick played a bass line in the left hand to establish a repeating pattern.
      • Chick demonstrates playing each hand separately, then together.
  • Play slowly and notice where the notes fall.
    • When you play slow:
      • Subdivide
        • Play broken notes in your mind
        • Sing subdivisions while playing
    • Discipline to impose on your practicing:
      • If you can play any phrase very slowly with beauty and expression -- you “win”.
      • Don’t practice fast with glitches because you end up practicing “losses”.
    • Record yourself and listen back to correct yourself.
    • Build small things into bigger things → so you can fly.
    • Don’t practice fast.

What To Look For In A Drummer
Jon Krosnick asked Chick what he looks for when choosing a drummer.

Chick’s answer:
  • Applies to any musician.
  • Dynamics
    • Communication
    • Hearing each other
    • Volume
      • Chick demonstrates talking softly, then walks up close and yells (apologizing in advance).
      • Carl Schroeder wants bass to be loudest in an acoustic trio.
      • Talked about Bob Magnusson on bass.
  • Talked about various drummers.
    • No monitors, no electronics, no amplifiers.
    • In the age of amplification.
  • Blend = Perfection
    • Loves Antonio Sanchez -- “gets under there”
    • Brian Blade is a master of blend
      • Here’s an amateur video of Brian Blade playing with Chick Corea in a trio setting:

Phrasing: Where To Begin And End
Someone asked Chick about where to begin and end phrases during solos.

Chick’s answer:
  • It doesn’t matter.
  • A phrase is a phrase.
  • Piano demo:
    • Chick played some phrases at the piano to demonstrate what he meant:
      • short
      • medium
      • long
  • Speaking demonstration.
    • Chick demonstrates phrasing by speaking in shorter and longer sentences.
      • Doesn’t matter where it starts and ends.
      • It matters that you start and end it.
      • Starting / ending in the same place has a different effect vs. starting / ending in various different places.
  • My commentary -- I read somewhere that Chick once said: “Play only what you hear. If you don’t hear anything, don’t play anything.” That will also help you decide when to start and stop phrases. It will also help create space and leave room for communication from other band members so you don’t just mindlessly keep playing notes to fill up all the available space.

How To Improve Rhythm
Martin Hallmark asked Chick how to improve rhythm abilities.

Chick’s answer:
  • That’s a deep question.
    • Advice differs from person to person
    • Anything that works would work.
  • Find recordings and videos that you like → try to duplicate it exactly.
    • Example: Transcribing Bud Powell
      • Play along to recording.
      • Set the balance of the piano and the recording to just about the same volume so you can hear when you are off.
      • Transcribing recordings helped Chick a lot.
        • Transcribing things yourself is more helpful than simply looking at someone else’s transcription work. You’ll learn more by doing the work yourself.
      • NOTE: My commentary -- check out Chick’s Remembering Bud Powell album as well as the live DVD from the original tour.
      • Here’s some video of the Remembering Bud Powell band reunion performance from Chick’s 60th birthday party available as part of the Rendezvous In New York set of DVDs:
  • See the standard → strive to get to that standard.
  • Record yourself to see where you need to improve.
  • You can only create the rhythm that you envision.
  • Go over and over a phrase to get it right.
  • Piano demonstration with Martin Hallmark:
    • Chick had Martin come up and sit at the piano to work on some aspects of rhythm.
  • Once the technical bits are out of the way, it will flow.

Changing Your Approach For Different Audiences
Someone asked Chick if he changes his his approach for different audiences or cultures in other countries.

Chick’s answer:
  • Somewhat / Not Much.
  • Example: Chick Corea New Trio concert
    • Napoli -- free concert
      • 10,000 people outdoors
      • Chick loves free concerts
      • What to do with acoustic trio in this situation?
        • Played more in a groove.
        • Less vague.
        • Amazed to have attention of that many people in spite of the crowd and the distance.
        • Call and response with the loud Italian audience.
          • Like having 10,000 opera singers!
          • Changed the vibe / atmosphere.
  • Cultural differences
    • Don’t need to play different phrases for different cultures.
      • Music seems to be a universal language.

Arranging With / Without Specific Musicians In Mind
Someone asked Chick if he does arranging with specific musicians in mind or not.

Chick’s answer:

Piano Technique
Evan James asked Chick for advice on piano technique and gave some examples of strange advice he’d been given regarding piano technique.

Chick’s answer:
Chick raised his eyebrows at some of the odd piano technique advice that Evan had been given.
  • Overall thing:
    • Find ways of rendering phrases that feel most comfortable.
    • Try to find the most efficient way to play.
  • Concepts:
    • Grace
    • Beauty
    • Movement
    • Efficiency
      • What is the smoothest way to do that?
  • All the greatest pianists all play differently.
    • But they all play efficiently.
    • No one way to do it.
  • How to acquire efficiency:
    • Experiment with fingering and movement.
  • Chick said he is mostly self-taught through mid-to-late 1990’s.
  • Then Chick saw Mario Feninger perform.
    • Chick asked Mario how he played without moving.
    • Chick has been learning a new technique to play more efficiently since then.
    • Here’s a video clip of Mario Feninger performing so you can see his piano technique in action:
    • NOTE: My commentary -- Chick has since improved his piano technique and seems to hardly move his hands at all when playing compared to early video footage that exists before he changed his technique. His playing today seems much more effortless compared to decades past.
  • Things to practice:
    • Don’t put your thumb under.
      • Just keep moving your hand.
    • Don’t turn your hand.
  • Don’t ever put your hand in a position where you’ll hurt your hand.
  • Arpeggios:
    • Chick demonstrated his “cheating” style of playing rapid arpeggios up and down the piano by using two hands crossing over.
Fernando Giuffrida’s commentary: “There is one thing I remember very clearly and is fun, but most people might not have heard because Chick said it very softly. After he answered Evan's questions, he looked sideways ironically and said something: "I didn't know I knew so much about technique!". That's a good joke. Off course he knows about technique!”
“I’ve recently come around to the realization that my main thing was—and still is—as a composer, and not trying to be a great pianist. I mean, I would love to now be a great pianist, so I’m starting to practice. But composing was always my focus, and I would use the piano to realize my compositions.” — Chick Corea, 2009
What Chick Learned Doing This Workshop
Someone asked Chick what he himself had learned by doing the workshop.

Chick’s answer:
  • Balance theory with the actual doing of it.
    • “To demonstrate” is important.
  • Everybody is really different.
    • Good thing to realize as a teacher.
    • What things can I do that will be useful to all?
    • How do you deal with the individuality of everybody?
      • Lecture.
      • Taking individuals and working with them at the piano.
      • Demonstrate how to practice.
  • Took too long to have everyone play.
    • No time for critique.
    • Next time:
      • Have people play twice with critique in between.

Chord Voicings
Someone asked Chick to teach us some chord voicings.

Chick’s answer: “No, I’m not going to do that.” 
My paraphrase: “Think for yourself!”
  • Use your ear.
  • Look at original scores.
  • Listen to others.
  • Create your own voicings.

Differences Of Opinion
  • You don’t have to agree with people.
  • Let people have their own opinions.
  • Chick doesn’t like arguments.
  • Chick thinks it’s better if two people want to learn from each other.

To get a flavor of Chick's verbal communication style, here is a great interview with Chick that covers a lot of the same ideas discussed in the workshop:

At this point, we took a short break while they set things up to do the final installment of student recordings with the trio.

Chatting With John Patitucci
During the break, I had a chance to chat with John Patitucci. We chatted a little about a mutual friend of ours, pianist Deanna Witkowski. I went to school with Deanna and both Deanna and I studied for a time with a piano player in Chicago named Brad Williams. John recorded with Deanna on her album From This Place and has performed with her on occasion. Deanna sometimes stays at our house in Oregon during her Pacific NW tours. I asked John if Chick planned on making any future workshops more exclusive by having an audition or application process to filter out people below a certain level of ability or knowledge. But John said “no” and talked about Chick’s desire to have the workshop open to anyone. John said that Chick feels he can help anyone at any level and didn’t want it to be an exclusive workshop. John Patitucci is a Christian and I was interested to hear a little bit about what it was like for him as a Christian to work with Chick who is a Scientologist. John said he used to be Presbyterian deacon and is now an elder in his church. John said he grew up Catholic but was searching to be closer to God at age 15. He converted from Catholicism at age 17. John said he used to be more legalistic as a young believer and said there has definitely been tension working with Chick due to their religious differences. But he has learned to be more loving in spite of differences in beliefs over the years. He is very close to Chick. He was the only Christian in the Elektric Band until Eric Marienthal joined the band. Eric is Catholic. John said he will not perform at events promoting Scientology, but he will perform at events that promote freedom of religion. John also talked about the struggle of the left vs. the right in politics today. He said we should put people and faith and the great commission first before politics. He also talked about compassion and the need to help and feed the poor before dealing with spiritual issues. Here is a great interview with John Patitucci where he talks about his Christian faith:
Interview with John Patitucci: A Jazz Musician After God’s Own Heart

Final Student Recordings With The Trio

3:30pm, Thursday, August 30, 2012

Student Recording #17 Student: Travis Richardson (piano)
  • with Chick Corea (rhodes), John Patitucci (bass), Antonio Sanchez (drums)
Selected piece: medley -- Armando’s Rhumba / Spain (Chick Corea) Style: latin jazz  

I don’t know much about Travis Richardson -- where he’s from, etc. Travis wanted to play a medley of two of Chick’s most well-known compositions. He had written up a very loose arrangement (a “mashup”) but it wasn’t very clear to Chick or the rest of the trio. There was also some trouble with communicating when to move to different sections of the piece while performing it. Afterwards, Chick and John talked about making notation clear. Lay the music out in 4 and 8 bar phrases so that phrases follow the lines and measures line up. They also talked about how we should give a head nod to signal when to move on to different sections of a piece and to look up to get everyone’s attention. Armando’s Rhumba from Chick’s album My Spanish Heart:
Spain from the Chick Corea Akoustic Band Rendezvous In New York reunion DVD:

Student Recording #18 
Student: Mike Rihner (piano)
  • with Chick Corea (rhodes), John Patitucci (bass), Antonio Sanchez (drums)
Selected piece: Coffee and Chickory (original) Style: two different New Orleans styles  

Mike “Rhino” Rihner is a composer, performer, and educator from New Orleans and his arrival at the workshop was delayed due to Hurricane Isaac which was weighing heavy on his mind all week. So he decided to write an original during the workshop inspired by New Orleans and Hurricane Isaac. He chose the title “Coffee And Chickory” which was a clever pun since coffee and chicory is a traditional beverage in New Orleans and he wanted to dedicate it to the workshop in honor of Chick. Chick had some trouble interpreting the chart that Mike had written because some of the sections had no written melody -- just chord symbols. Chick gave us all the following advice: “When wanting someone to improvise over changes to a song, always write out the melody. By the way, Mike Rihner happens to know the bass player in my band Damian Erskine. Mike had played a gig with Damian in Vancouver, WA a few years ago and still remembered him. Small world!

Student Recording #19 
Student: Bob Schlesinger (piano)
  • with John Patitucci (bass) and Antonio Sanchez (drums)
Selected piece: On The Rocks (original) Style: blues  

Bob Schlesinger is a composer and performer from Colorado. He’s also a Feldenkrais practitioner (reduces pain or limitations in movement, improves physical function and well-being through increased awareness and movement). Bob wrote his original “On The Rocks” as a response to Thelonious Monk’s “Straight No Chaser”. Chick commented that Bob’s piece was a good example of a clear form with space for John and Antonio to play / communicate / interact. Here’s Chick Corea, Miroslav Vitous, and Roy Haynes performing Straight No Chaser from the Rendezvous In New York DVD series from Chick’s 60th birthday bash:

Student Recording #20 
Student: Collin Shook (piano)
  • with Chick Corea (rhodes), John Patitucci (bass), Antonio Sanchez (drums)
Selected piece: Derivatives (original) Style: funky fusion in 7/4  

Collin Shook traveled from Arizona to attend the workshop. He chose to play a funky original in 7/4, an odd meter. It was fascinating to again see Chick encounter an odd meter tune. Chick doesn’t seem familiar with odd meters like 7/4. Chick had trouble feeling the groove and soloing in the odd time signature. Chick asked John and Antonio to play the groove again by themselves after the performance was over and Chick had trouble clapping along to the groove! Here’s a recording of the Collin Shook Trio performing Derivatives. The 7/4 groove starts around the 3:35 mark after a slow ballad intro in 4/4:

Student Recording #21 
Student: Jenna Stamp (vocals)
  • with Chick Corea (piano), John Patitucci (bass), Antonio Sanchez (drums)
Selected piece: Lush Life (Billy Strayhorn) Style: ballad  

Vocalist Jenna Stamp traveled from Australia to attend the workshop. The trio sounded beautiful following her while she sang Lush Life as a ballad. Here’s Esperanza Spalding singing Lush Life as a ballad in a similar way to the way Jenna performed it with the trio:

Student Recording #22 
Student: Steve Talaga (piano)
  • John Patitucci (bass), Antonio Sanchez (drums)
Selected piece: original (I didn’t catch the name of the piece) Style: not sure -- I didn’t write down enough information to remember!  

Pianist Steve Talaga is from Michigan, I think. I must have been getting tired or too warm in the hot muggy room because my notes for Steve’s performance are basically non-existent. I think Steve played a straight-ahead style original but I’m not really sure since I didn’t write the information down. Here’s a video clip of the Steve Talaga Trio so you can get a taste of Steve’s playing:

Student Recording #23 
Student: Neil Shankman (piano / keyboards)
  • with Chick Corea (piano / keyboards), John Patitucci (bass), Antonio Sanchez (drums)
Selected piece: original (I didn’t catch the name of the piece) Style: fusion / funk  

Keyboardist Neil Shankman is the guy that traveled all the way from Canada with his Moog Voyager synthesizer wrapped in bubble wrap without a flight case. Neil wrote an original during the workshop involving solos over fusion / funk vamps. The tune required the use of Moog , Rhodes, and acoustic piano. It was fun seeing Chick and Neil interact with each other on the Rhodes and Moog Voyager synthesizer. It was a great example of communication in music.

The Bug Whisperer
At one point during the student recordings (I think it was while Jenna was getting ready to sing Lush Life), a flying insect landed on John’s bass. He freaked out. He thought it was a bee, but it wasn’t. Sam Crawford, the assistant audio engineer, came up and blew it off John’s bass. At which point, John quipped that Sam was “the bug whisperer”. Everyone had a good laugh at that.

Chatting With Antonio Sanchez

I chatted with Antonio after the student recordings and he mentioned that he was having fun. He said he normally doesn’t get to play a lot of drum solos on his gigs these days, so these jams are a lot of fun for him since he got to solo more than usual.


After the last student recording, we broke for dinner and then reconvened after dinner for photos and a goodbye party with the trio and workshop staff.

Original Scores
During the photo session and reception at the end of the workshop, I mentioned to Chick that just like Chick writes in the spirit of Mozart, I try to write in the spirit of Chick Corea. Chick then told me to email Evelyn Brechtlein if I ever want to study any of his original scores for any piece. He likes to share his scores with other musicians because he learned so much by studying other composers' original scores and encourages people to learn tunes that way. How cool is that? By the way, Evelyn Brechtlein is married to drummer Tom Brechtlein who has performed off and on with Chick Corea over the years.