Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Week With Chick Corea: Part 8 -- Day 2 (cont.) -- Evening

Table Of Contents
A Week With Chick Corea: Part 8

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 2 (cont.) -- Evening

4:45pm, Tuesday, August 28, 2012

After the break, we were treated to another concert performance of the trio consisting of Chick Corea, John Patitucci, and Antonio Sanchez. I forgot to mention that Chick gave us sheet music for all of the music that Chick, John, and Antonio performed for us during the entire week. Most of the sheet music was given to us in advance and we all feverishly tried to practice the music in the weeks leading up to the workshop, not knowing what we might be asked to play during the workshop. As it turns out though, we didn’t have to play any of it. Instead, we simply got to follow along while they sightread it and performed it in front of us with no advance rehearsal. It was cool to be able to pull out the charts and refer to them while they played.

To give you a flavor of the panic we all experienced prior to the workshop when Chick sent us the sheet music, here’s a note that Fernando Giuffrida sent me via e-mail a couple of weeks before the workshop started:

I had previously heard about the suite Chick composed for the San Marino Piano Competition, although had never heard the actual music. Afterthought is really tough and impossible for me to play well in such a short time. Have you seen the Russian guy who won the competition? He was also third place in the last Chopin Competition. Check the video:

NOTE: Chick didn’t actually perform this piece for us during the workshop. So we all freaked out for nothing! Still, it’s an amazing composition and it was great to add this sheet music to my growing collection of Chick’s music.


Chickmonk (John Patitucci)  

They sightread a brand new original that John Patitucci had written in Chick’s honor inspired by the music of Chick, Thelonious Monk, and Joe Henderson. It was fun to watch them first talk through and then try reading a new tune together for the very first time. 

NOTE: I really liked the humorous title. Sounds similar to the play on words I like to use in my song titles too.  

Roy-alty (Chick Corea)  

They sightread an original by Chick Corea originally written for drummer Roy Haynes. Roy didn’t end up recording this tune, but Roy did steal the song title to use as his most recent solo album title Roy-Alty. This tune had some interesting transitions between a swing feel and a straight eighths feel. John sounded great catching bits of the written melody on bass (reading treble clef, no less!).

I can’t find a clip of the song Roy-alty, but here’s a YouTube video promo for the Roy Hanes album of the same name. You can see Chick showing Roy Haynes some music he’d written for him starting at around the 2:00 minute mark:

Roy Haynes - Roy-Alty EPK

1 For Antonio (Chick Corea)    

They read through another original that Chick had written for Antonio’s solo album Migration. This is a challenging but fun latin-flavored piece with Chick Corea’s modern jazz style stamped all over it. This is actually one of the few pieces I worked on a lot prior to the workshop. It’s a ton of fun to play this tune, but very difficult to play it well. Tons of chromaticism, quartal harmony, unexpected rhythms and kicks, and a lot of symmetrical harmony (diminished and whole tone scale movement in the right hand with quartal chord voicings moving around in the left hand).  

It was fascinating to hear Chick and Antonio relearning to play this tune very slowly. Chick was struggling to play the melody. They couldn’t quite remember the form they’d used before during the recording session years ago. Chick also decided to change the form and wanted to try using a different section for solos.  

NOTE: John Patitucci was sneezing and mentioned that his allergies were killing him.

Here's One For Antonio from the Antonio Sanchez Master Series DVD so you can hear the tune and watch Antonio play it on drums:

Antonio Sanchez - Master Series DVD - One For Antonio
NOTE: It was interesting to hear the version of this tune that Chick sent us in advance of the workshop. It was a demo of Chick playing it with Antonio but was obviously a different take or recording than the one used on Antonio’s Migration album. I think I liked the demo version even better than the official album recording. 

Music Nerds 

Fernando and I have had some good discussion about the music theory behind this composition. For example, here’s something that Fernando e-mailed me about this piece after the workshop was over:
I was thinking about something Chick said when they were rehearsing One for Antonio: he puts the fourth chord C-F#-B with C in the bass and a chord symbol D7. He said to John Patitucci that it's not really a 7th chord, the symbol is just a reminder. It seems like it's just a nameless form of quartal harmony for him, but he just reminds himself with the D7 symbol for lack of a better name. For me, this explained a lot of his very free, loose conception of 4th chords in a way I didn't think before. I mean, he does this kind of stuff since Now He Sings and now he tells me it's not a 7th chord? That's kind of shocking!! How do you feel about it?

I replied:
As far as using D7 for the C-F#-B voicing, that makes sense to me. C-F#-B is a standard rootless 3-note voicing for a D13 chord. If I had written the chart, I probably would have written the chord symbol as D7/C to indicate to the bass player that the dominant 7th (C) was in the bass. The other reason to use D7 for that chord symbol is to indicate the appropriate scale to use when voicing or improvising over the chord change. So when writing modal tunes, you write the chord symbol to indicate available note choices and then leave it up to the player to choose what notes out of the scale to use when comping or soloing. So I wasn't shocked by that since I've already been thinking that way for a while now.

To which Fernando replied:

What I meant about the C-F#-B is more about the philosophical way Chick seems to think about it. For Bill Evans its always a D13 (or Ab7#9) chord. For McCoy, it's a scale. Sometimes, it seems Chick thinks of it as something else, more like Bartok's or Hindemith's music, where it would be only a quartal harmony that contrapuntally goes to other quartal harmonies, without implying chords formed by thirds (which is kind of difficult, because if the tritone resolves it will always imply a 7th chord). Maybe One for Antonio is not the best example of this, but if I knew how to explain or do this properly, I would be Chick Corea (which you might have already noticed not to be the case)! So, think for yourself, man!

Fernando also said:

When I told you the other day about Chick thinking for himself about fourth chords, I couldn't find an adequate example, but now I've found a reasonable one (Bartok's Bagatelle #11). Bars 26-29 seem like a Chick solo. He seems to have thought (for himself) like this in some parts of Now He Sings, which I use as an example just because I have the transcription, but you certainly have seen this millions of other times in his music.

To which I replied in jest:

Aha! Chick didn't think for himself. He just copied Bartok. Good catch! We should have gone to Bartok's master class instead. That section of Bagatelle#11 looks a lot like 1 For Antonio.

There’s actually quite a bit of Bela Bartok influence in Chick’s writing. But it was fascinating when Fernando found that bars 26 - 29 of Bartok’s Bagatelle #11 were really quite similar to Chick’s quartal chord voicing and writing concepts. See this link for more in-depth discussion and analysis of the music theory in those particular bars of the Bartok piece, which turns out to be very similar to the writing in 1 For Antonio!

Dinner Break

6:00pm, Tuesday, August 28, 2012

After the concert, we broke for dinner. Most nights we had dinner in the main dining room of the mansion complete with a custom menu prepared specifically for Chick Corea Productions by The Cranwell with multiple choices for appetizers and entrees along with dessert. The food was excellent. It was even more amazing the Chick was paying for it all himself.

More Student Recordings With The Trio

8:00pm, Tuesday, August 28, 2012

After dinner, we met again in the ballroom for more student recordings with the trio.  

Student Recording #5 
student: Scott Erichsen (piano)
  • with Chick Corea (rhodes), John Patitucci (bass), Antonio Sanchez (drums)
selected piece: Dreaming (Scott Erichsen -- original) 
style: straight eighths  

Scott Erichsen is a blind pianist with perfect pitch from Australia. He would hear various sounds during the workshop (people’s phones, background music, etc.) and immediately identify the pitch. Scott also works in the Information Technology world testing, evaluating, and training people on various types of accessibility technology on computers, mobile devices, etc. Scott is also starting a masters program in music at a university in Australia and is hoping to write his masters thesis on the music of Chick Corea. His original composition Dreaming was a cool tune, though I guess I was enjoying listening to the music so much that I neglected to take good notes about the performance. It was fun to see Chick interacting musically with Scott.  

Here is a podcast where Scott is interviewed about jazz piano, perfect pitch, braille music, and accessibility technology.

I also found this video on YouTube of Scott Erichsen playing piano so you can hear a little bit of what he sounds like (though the video and sound quality isn’t great from a cell phone):

Student Recording #6 
student: Brett Frey (electric bass)
  • with Chick Corea (piano), John Patitucci (acoustic bass), Antonio Sancez (drums)
selected piece: So What (Miles Davis) 
style: modal jazz (swing)  
Brett Frey is a young electric bass player and the only student bass player attending the workshop. Is was unusual for him to request that John Patitucci also play bass -- two bass band configurations are fairly rare, though not unheard of. I’ve seen Stanley Clarke and Victor Wooten each perform with other bass players at times. Brett wanted to trade back and forth with John during the solo section. Brett was very enthusiastic and obviously enjoying the opportunity to play with these guys. It’s always interesting to hear Chick play a Miles Davis piece since Miles was one of Chick’s idols growing up as well as a former employer of his. So What is one of the songs on the Kind Of Blue album -- one of the most influential albums of all time and the best selling jazz album of all time. By the way, I believe Brett just began studying at Berklee College of Music in Boston this fall just after the workshop ended. 

Here’s some great live footage of Miles Davis playing So What:

Miles Davis Quintet - So What

Student Recording #7 
student: Fernando Giuffrida (piano)
  • with Chick Corea (rhodes), John Patitucci (bass), Antonio Sanchez (drums)
selected piece: Incompatibilidade de Gênios (João Bosco) 
style: Brazilian samba  
Fernando Giuffrida (an endocrinologist at a medical school and teaching hospital by day) chose a well-known Brazilian tune, being from Brazil himself. I first heard this tune years ago on a Lee Ritenour’s Festival album, only it went by the English title “Latin Lovers”. So when Fernando referred to the original Portuguese title, I didn’t know what tune he was going to play until they started playing it and began to recognize the melody and chord progression. Fernando hand-wrote an arrangement of this piece the night before and/or earlier in the morning so the trio would have a chart to read. Fernando must have been really excited to play with the trio because he took chorus after chorus after chorus during his lengthy solo.

Here's a video of the composer performing this piece.

Incompatibilidade de Gênios - João Bosco

Student Recording #8 
student: Joe Gold (piano)
  • with Chick Corea (rhodes), John Patitucci (bass), Antonio Sanchez (drums)
selected piece: Nardis (Miles Davis and / or Bill Evans -- the composer’s identity is a mystery) 
style: straight ahead swing

Joe Gold lives just 20 minutes away from Lenox but opted to stay at The Cranwell with us to make the most of the experience. Joe is an ophthalmologist by day. Nardis was performed the usual way playing the head, trading solos, etc.  

Click the link to hear Chick Corea and Stefano Bollani playing Orvieto Improvisation No. 2 / Nardis. Nardis starts about halfway through that recording.

Comments On Student Recordings

John’s comments
  • Keep the form intact.

Chick’s comments
  • Don’t stray to far from the melody even when playing free or out.
  • Keep a thread for the listener to follow.
  • Play a melody.

NOTE: Antonio was not feeling well that night -- upset stomach. Fortunately he felt much better the next day.

After the student recordings were finished, the official sessions were over for the day, but Chick told us that he would give a short demonstration on Mini Moog programming for any of us that were interested after the break. Anyone that wasn’t interested was asked to leave the room so as not to distract the rest of us that wanted to participate in the informal Mini Moog session.

Mini Moog Clinic
Neil Shankman, the keyboard player from Toronto, had taken a gamble and flown with his own Mini Moog Voyager analog synthesizer just wrapped in bubble wrap without a proper flight case. That took guts (or maybe a lot of foolishness due to the risk of loss or damage!). That keyboard is worth $3000 - $5000. I wish I owned one, but I can’t afford to buy one yet!  
Neil had managed to talk Chick into giving a short demo on Mini Moog programming using Neil’s keyboard. This was a dream come true for Neil and it added an extra personal element to the workshop. I’m really glad he brought the keyboard with him since this Mini Moog presentation wouldn’t have been possible without it since Chick hadn’t brought any analog synths with him to the workshop. The only keyboard Chick had with him was a Yamah Motif XS keyboard workstation -- a digital sample-based synth. It was a big honor for Neil to have Chick play his own personal Moog. Neil wanted Chick to show him how to get Chick’s classic analog synth sound because Neil was having trouble figuring out how to match the sound he heard on Chick’s recordings. Chick generously agreed to share his approach to the Moog.

Here’s a Chick Corea interview where he talks about using the Mini Moog Voyager and the Little Phatty on the recent Return To Forever IV tour:

Formula for getting Chick's sound on the Moog
Similar to Chick’s formula for art (80% communication, 20% technical), he summarized his formula for getting that sound on the Moog as follows:
  • 20% technical stuff
  • 80% how you play it

Of that 20% technical stuff, Chick boiled it down to the following:
  • 10% -- vibrato and pitch from two elements that remain the same
    • modulation wheel set to create a slow varying pitch -- either:
      • half-step vibrato
      • more extreme wide ranges in pitch
    • pitch bend wheel
      • typically a whole step
      • (my commentary) -- though it seems like I’ve heard Chick use an even greater range on the pitch bend wheel using the interval of a 4th or 5th
    • NOTE: Chick also said to take out any glide (portamento) on the keys themselves
  • 10% -- timbre and effects
    • timbre
      • doesn’t pay much attention to timbre
      • tends to set it and forget it
      • typically just opens or closes filters to get a more mellow sound
      • tends to like more mellow sounds these days compared earlier days in RTF, etc.
    • effects
      • mainly delay
      • perhaps with a little reverb

So you can hear what we're talking about, here are a couple of my favorite Moog solos by Chick Corea (though it’s hard to choose because there are so many great choices out there!).

Love Castle (Moog solo starts around the 3:00 mark) -- from the My Spanish Heart album:

Nite Sprite (Moog solo starts around the 1:35 mark) -- from The Leprechaun album:

Chick’s Fender Rhodes Mark V 
Chick also talked about his highly customized one-of-a-kind Fender Rhodes Mark V electric piano that was no longer roadworthy and too fragile / falling apart. He talked about how they carefully sampled every note at 15 different velocity levels / 4 times per level using Spectrasonics software and some specialized machinery. This allowed them to use a “round-robin” algorithm for repeated notes for added realism. However, the latency (delay) made the sample unusable for live playing situations. So, they gave the samples to Yamaha to work their magic. Yamaha managed to take the samples and modify things to fit into a card that plugs into the Yamaha Motif XF keyboard series. That card is actually available for sale to the general public now so you can purchase Chick’s sample and play it yourself if you want. See the official press release for more interesting background details.

Here’s a video clip featuring Chick Corea from a great documentary about the history of the Fender Rhodes electric piano called Down The Rhodes where he demonstrates how he got into using the Fender Rhodes and how he came up with the idea for his classic composition Spain:

Here’s an official YouTube video from Yamaha interviewing Chick Corea about his Mark V Sample Library for the Motif XF: 

See the Yamaha Motifator store for technical information on Chick’s Mark V Sample Library for the Motif XF. Here’s an example of Chick playing both the Fender Rhodes and the Mini Moog synthesizer that I found in this blog post where someone used some software called Sonic Visualizer to generate a melodic spectrogram on the right side of the video. The left side of the video shows Chick playing keyboards with Return To Forever (RTF). This clip is part of Chick’s solo in the RTF piece called Duel Of The Jester And The Tyrant originally recorded on the Romantic Warrior album. This video is taken from the Returns DVD/Blu-ray:

Using Synthesizers And Electronic Sounds
Some people have a prejudice against electronic sounds in music, but Chick just views synthesizers as yet another timbre and part of the musical palette available for composing and arranging. He sees everything from the human voice to other analog / digital instruments -- flute, synth, etc. as all being various different mechanical machines that can be used to product sound. It’s the player’s intention that creates the musical effect no matter what specific instrument is used.  
Pitch Bend and Mod Wheel 
Chick demonstrated how he uses pitch bend and / or the mod wheel. For Chick, it is very intuitive to play like this using ½ steps or whole steps to vary the pitch -- bending notes or adding vibrato.  
NOTE: It was interesting to hear Chick say that he first heard Jan Hammer doing this before he started doing it himself.  
TIP: trying out new sounds on a keyboard

  • Imbue each new sound with music when trying out new sounds.
  • Don’t just randomly hit the keys to make noise to hear the sound.
  • Get in communication with the sound so you can make a musical statement with it.

Neil then asked Chick to demonstrate trying out various new patches and showing us what comes to him while trying out the different sounds. It was fascinating hearing Chick create new music on the spot simply based on the inspiration of the sound he was hearing on the keyboard. At the very end of the session, Neil asked Chick if he would sign his Moog. Chick said OK, took a black Sharpie™ and wrote his signature between the keyboard and the control panel. I’m sure the value of Neil’s Mini Moog Voyager just went up by a significant amount, but I doubt he’ll be selling it anytime soon!

After this session on the Mini Moog, Fender Rhodes, electronic keyboards and synthesizers, we broke for the evening though people continued to hang out and chat for a while in the ballroom or trailed downstairs to the jam session rooms.

Chick’s Hands
During the break, I remembered to ask Chick something that I’ve always been curious about and forgot to ask him the last two times I met him, always remembering afterwards and thinking “darn, I missed my chance again!”. Somehow the thought popped into my head at just the right moment when Chick was standing right in front of me and so I went for it. What was this burning question of mine? I wanted to compare the size of my hands to Chick’s hands! So I asked Chick if he could hold up his hand. He raised his right hand up and I held up my left hand and placed it palm-to-palm matching fingers and thumbs. It was kind of an odd sensation having my hand pressed against his hand like that. How many people get to compare hand sizes with their life-long heros or idols? His hand was very warm -- almost hot to the touch, which kind of surprised me.  
The verdict 
Chick’s hands were slightly larger than mine! If my memory is correct, each of his fingers and his thumb seemed to be about ⅓” inch longer than mine. That would mean that the spread between his pinky and thumb would be something like ⅔” wider than my hand could reach. To me, Chick didn’t really seem to be taller than I was when I stood next to him, and yet now that I look back at pictures of the two of us standing together, I can see that Chick is actually a few inches taller than me. Anyway, I told Chick that I now had an excuse for why I had a hard time playing piano like him because obviously his hands were bigger and he had a much easier time reaching large intervals like 10ths compared to me since I couldn’t stretch my fingers to span as wide a distance on the keyboard.

Children’s Songs
Chick sat down at the piano during the break and demonstrated his compositions Children’s Song #6 (also used as part of the Return To Forever composition Song To The Pharoah Kings from the “Where Have I Known You Before” album) and the insanely difficult Children’s Song #20.  

NOTE: I highly recommend the wonderful Chick Corea Children’s Songs solo piano album on the ECM label. You can also purchase the full sheet music score for all 20 of Chick Corea’s Children’s Songs. These are fun tunes to study and play on the piano and give great insight into Chick’s approach to composition and piano technique. I actually taught myself to play most of these pieces some time ago though I’ve long since forgotten how to play them. I even mastered #20 but it took a ton of work to play well at full speed!  

Here’s a link to the audio for Chick Corea’s Children’s Song #20 so you can hear this amazing piece that Chick demonstrated in front of our eyes that night as a few of us gathered around the piano surrounding him.

Here’s a YouTube video of Chick’s Children’s Song #6 taken from Chick Corea’s Solo Piano Originals album:

And here’s a YouTube video of Return To Forever (from the Returns DVD/Blu-ray) playing Song To The Pharoah Kings: