Friday, September 21, 2012

A Week With Chick Corea: Part 6 -- Day 1 (cont.) -- Class Begins

Table Of Contents
A Week With Chick Corea: Part 6

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 1 (cont.) -- Class Begins

Reality Sinks In

We learn during orientation that there are 23 students and 2 spouses attending the workshop. That's a lot fewer attendees than I expected. When I originally signed up, David Smolover at National Guitar Workshop had estimated that the ballroom at The Cranwell could hold 50-70 people max and he expected up to that many people. Of course, that may be part of the reason that NGW suddenly declared bankruptcy. Lots of high budget workshops with world-class artists and low numbers of students actually signing up. Anyway, I'm pleasantly surprised at how few students there are. I was worried that 50-70 students would make for a difficult learning experience. 23 students seemed much more manageable and offered everyone a chance to participate more fully.

During orientation, a resort staff member walked up and said, "I have keys for Patitucci and Prigodich." You don't hear that every day. It was an odd feeling to be staying in the same place that my music idols were staying after following them from afar for so many years. After lunch, Fernando and I went back to Beecher’s Cottage to move my luggage out of Fernando’s room and into my room.

As the new starting time for the workshop loomed, we started walking back toward the mansion. As we were walking, we noticed we were trudging behind none other than Chick Corea, John Patitucci, Antonio Sanchez, and Bill Rooney. When we arrived at the mansion, we saw Chick, John, Antonio, and Bill enter a side door instead of the main door where we’d entered during registration. We weren’t sure if we should follow them through that side door, but Chick turned around, smiled at us, and in a very welcoming manner, motioned for us to follow him through the side door into the ballroom where all the workshop sessions would take place. As we would soon find out, that’s was a taste of how Chick treated everyone during the workshop.


2:00pm, Monday, August 27, 2012

The 9 foot Yamaha CFIIIS grand piano is done being tuned. Instead of having completed soundcheck before the start of the workshop, Chick purposely started the workshop with the soundcheck in front of all of the students so we could watch the process and learn from it.

Key Points

  • Be musical during soundcheck
    • Don’t just bang on your instrument to make some noise to “get a sound” as Chick put it. While you could set levels with random notes individually, you’ll get better results by playing real music together as a band while the audio engineer tweaks levels, etc.
  • Arrange the instruments on stage to create good communication lines and eye-contact
    • between band members
    • between the band and the audience

Chick had the piano and keyboards moved and also had John’s bass rig moved to allow for better eye-contact and close proximity between all the instruments. It was fascinating to watch Bernie Kirsh and his assistant Sam Crawford expertly address all sound issues quickly and efficiently. Here’s Bernie Kirsh explaining how he mic’s Chick’s piano:

There were also some really bright lights being used by the camera men since the entire workshop was being filmed professionally with multiple cameras. The lights were shining in their eyes so they asked for lights to be dimmed. Dan Muse also brought Chick a pair of cheap sunglasses because Chick had forgotten his good sunglasses at Tanglewood the day before. Chick put on the cheap sunglasses and looked ridiculous. He joked that the sunglasses could be useful for doing Elvis impersonations, etc.

NOTE: Jimmy Collins was the lead camera guy. I found out that he had first started working with Chick by filming Chick’s week-long Bill Evans tribute Further Explorations with Eddie Gomez and Paul Motion at the Blue Note in NYC.

Chick Corea, Eddie Gomez, Paul Motion -- Further Explorations

Funny Story: During soundcheck, Chick hung his coat on the short stick of the piano lid claiming that was the real purpose of the short stick. Got a good laugh out of that.

What began as a soundcheck ended as a mini-concert. Because it was so musical, it was hard to tell where the soundcheck ended and the concert began. It also became quickly apparent that the trio was completely unrehearsed for this workshop, so it was fascinating to watch Chick, John, and Antonio sight-read and talk through charts for the first time, rapidly rehearsing brand new pieces in front of us to work out trouble spots, and then just going for it, performing everything on-the-fly. The performers were as surprised as we were in the audience since they never knew quite what to expect and reacted quickly and masterfully to each new situation that arose during the improvised performances.

NOTE: I remember seeing Chick a few years ago at an outdoor festival with The New Trio with Avishai Cohen and Jeff Ballard. They came out on stage after a previous act with no time for a soundcheck. Chick tested the piano and found a spot in the keyboard range where there was some feedback in the PA system. Bernie wasn't running sound that day so he was at the mercy of the rock-n-roll sound engineers hired by the festival. Chick just said "ring it out" into the microphone and started improvising all over the piano keys but kept returning to the problem range to see if the feedback issue was resolved. Once it was resolved to his satisfaction, he seamlessly transitioned to the first tune in their set and the bass and drums joined in. It was impossible to tell where the soundcheck stopped and the concert began because the whole process was so musical.

How Deep Is The Ocean (Irving Berlin)
Chick called this tune as their warmup/soundcheck -- they had no chart and spent a few minutes trying to remember Chick's arrangement. Neither John nor Chick could quite remember the Akoustic Band arrangement and reharmonization, so they stuck with the more standard changes and form. To give you a slight taste of what we heard, here’s Chick playing How Deep Is The Ocean with the Now He Sings, Now He Sobs trio from his 60th birthday bash at the Blue Note in NYC with Miroslav Vitous and Roy Haynes (available on his Rendezvous in New York 10-DVD Box Set -- highly recommended!):

How Deep Is The Ocean
Chick Corea, Miroslav Vitous, Roy Haynes

Blue Bossa (Kenny Dorham) Chick stated the melody with lots of embellishment and variety which added some nice interest to this otherwise frequently heard jam session tune. Here’s a very different treatment of Blue Bossa by Chick done as a duet with Bobby McFerrin from their duet album Play (highly recommended!):
Blue Bossa
Chick Corea & Bobby McFerrin

Matrix (Chick Corea) Antonio’s surprise suggestion of Chick’s well-known piano trio piece from the classic Now He Sings, Now He Sobs album (highly recommended!) featuring Roy Haynes and Miroslav Vitous. Chick seemed a little caught off guard by Antonio’s suggestion and asked Antonio to set things up by opening with a drum solo intro. After the drum solo intro, the trio performed the tune, but some of the entrances, phrases, and the form seemed a little loose. If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought they might have even been lost a few times, but if they were lost, they hid it well. Here's a sample of the classic recording -- an album that many people consider to be one of the best piano trio recordings ever made:

Post-Concert Q&A Session

Actually, it turns out they were lost during Matrix. There was a short Q&A session after the mini-concert where we could ask questions about what just occurred. So I asked if they were ever unsure of where each other was during the performance of Matrix. I assumed that I as a listener was the one who got lost and they as performers always knew exactly where they were and had confused me by extending phrases over the bar line or by playing with time. However, Chick immediately fessed up and said that he got lost in at least one spot in particular and kept extending phrases because he wasn’t sure where “one” was. Chick had to look over at Antonio for Antonio to communicate to him where beat “one” was. When Chick looked at Antonio, Antonio gave Chick a clear and strong declaration of where beat “one” existed and then Chick was able to sync back up with the rest of the trio. It’s challenging to play with rhythms and not get lost. Chick, John, and Antonio all took turns telling stories about situations where they or other musicians they were listening to got lost. They emphasized the need to trust each other on the bandstand and the need to NOT panic. By not panicking and trusting each other, the situation will probably eventually resolve itself without making the problem too obvious to the audience. 

John Patitucci described a past concert where he and Chick were watching from the side of the state at a jazz festival and saw Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Tony Williams, Wallace Roney, and Ron Carter get totally lost, but each player was so convinced they were right and the other were wrong that they each kept playing where they thought the music was without budging. They let the tension build for a long time while they stayed out of sync until finally they coalesced into the same time and place in the tune and resolved the musical disagreement. John described the whole experience as being very cathartic.

I love seeing guys at the top mess up occasionally because it lets me know they are still human. The key point they made was "If you screw up during the gig, don't panic, but trust each other and you'll eventually lock in and recover in a musical way. Listen and communicate." Most people won't notice the mistake that way.

So What
Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Wallace Roney, Tony Williams, Ron Carter
A Tribute To Miles Davis

Here is some more evidence that Chick Corea is human after all. I'm pretty sure that Chick gets lost, starts rushing, and/or drops a beat or two in this performance. Try counting along to his solo between 5:25 and 5:40. Chick probably knows he's lost, but keeps pushing through hoping the rhythm section will follow his lead instead of stopping to listen to where the downbeat is which might make the mistake even more obvious since stopping would put a break in the energy and arc of the solo. Great job by the rhythm section salvaging the performance and syncing up with him again to avoid a train wreck.
Chick Corea - Armando's Rhumba
From the album Chick Corea and Trondheim Jazz Orchestra (Live in Molde)

Letter from home

During the break after the soundcheck and mini-concert, I chatted with Chick and gave him an envelope containing a letter that my 10 year old daughter Anneka had written to Chick along with a musical picture she drew on the front of the card, thanking him for saving the workshop, telling him that she loved composing new music and that her favorite album is The Mad Hatter because it sounds like Alice In Wonderland. Chick loved the picture and note and told me to give Anneka a kiss for him. He said he was going to take the note home to show it to his wife Gayle since she sang on that album. Here’s Gayle singing Falling Alice from The Mad Hatter album: 

Chick Corea -- Falling Alice (Mad Hatter)

Greetings from a friend
During the break, I also passed along greetings to Chick from my friend David Goldblatt. Chick asked where David was living now and I told him he was now living in Portland, Oregon where I live too. David Goldblatt has known Chick for many years now. Besides being just about the nicest guy I know, David is a world-class film and television composer, jazz pianist, and keyboard player who I’ve had the good fortune and honor of getting to know over the last few years after he relocated from L.A. to Portland to raise his family. David and I share a deep love and respect for Chick’s music. David was one of the piano and keyboard players featured on drummer Vinnie Colaiuta’s first solo album along with Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock. David also used to be a member of the fusion band Tribal Tech with former Chick Corea Elektric Band guitarist Scott Henderson and bass player Gary Willis, performing on two albums: Nomad (1990) and Tribal Tech (1991). Here’s a sample of David Goldblatt performing on keyboards with Tribal Tech back in the day:

Tribal Tech circa 1990 - Dr. Hee

Master Class with Chick Corea

“Think For Yourself”

3:30pm, Monday, August 27, 2012

Background: Chick hasn’t done much teaching over the years. In fact, for most of his career, he resisted the idea of teaching others because he feels that every artist should find their own path. But now at age 71, Chick has decided that he wants to learn how to be a teacher. Bill Rooney told me that especially after the National Guitar Workshop bankruptcy that almost cancelled the workshop completely, Chick took a much bigger personal interest and ownership in the concept of teaching the workshop.

“Think for yourself” is his mantra and theme of the workshop.

Chick’s intention
He wants to help artists.

About Chick’s new school
Purpose: He wants a world with more active artists (not necessarily full time artists).
Caveat: The workshop will not be technical.

Meaning of “think for yourself”

  • Be your own judge
  • Empower yourself
  • Allow yourself the right to have your own tastes

Chick’s goal

  • Help and encourage us to make art
  • Chick wants us to go away inspired to do more

Definitions and roles

  • Definition of knowledge: What you’ve experienced and what you can do
  • Role as a teacher: Help us learn by example. Advocate or preach

What can Chick do for us

  • Share his opinions
  • Demonstrate

What is art

  • It is hard to reduce art to rules
  • Art is spiritual, not technical
  • There is no one way to do it


  • Textbooks are just opinions
  • Anything you see / hear is just opinion
  • Make your own decision / judgement
  • Be selective


  • Chick does not like criticism in teaching

Constructive criticism

  • A suggestion is not useful unless you choose to accept it and use it

Open mic Q&A session with Chick


Composition Process
  • It is a spiritual thing
  • It is simple

The desire to do something

  • “I’d like to write a song”

Cheap advice

  • Start trusting yourself
  • Stop criticising yourself
  • Don’t evaluate it
  • Just write stuff down
  • Just “go”
  • Just play and record
  • Try to admire what you do

NOTE: See Chick’s Cheap Advice section on his website for more cheap advice.


  • Likes to learn all the time
  • Wants to learn how to teach

How To Learn
  • See an area to learn
  • Get into it & find other musicians who do that well
    • Those who are alive and living
    • Go and be with them
    • Listening to recordings


  • How to get better at improvising:
    • Do it a lot
    • Just do it

Arranging for solo piano

  • Transition an ensemble piece to solo piano
    • Orchestra reduction
      • Chick’s wife Gayle Moran Corea reads great
      • Gayle reads and plays the orchestral parts indicated on the orchestra reduction when Chick is learning a new Concerto
  • Extract the basics
    • Bela Fleck got Chick into the music of The Beatles recently
      • Chick somehow missed The Beatles during the 1960’s
      • Too busy listening to Coltrane instead
    • Eleanor Rigby demonstration
      • Invent ways to keep the motor going

Chick Corea and Gary Burton playing Eleanor Rigby 

Playing standards

Stating a melody
  • Chick likes how Keith Jarrett clearly states a melody.
  • However, Chick usually adds variety to stay interested and avoid cliche.
    • Blue Bossa demonstration
      • Chick can’t help embellishing
      • Tried hard to just play the stock melody (laughed)
      • Couldn’t stand playing the melody straight

Thinking while playing

  • No words
  • Conceptual
  • Don’t think → communicate
    • communication process
    • communication flow
  • Wilbur Ware (bassist) story
    • Soloing on Rhythm Changes on a gig with Blue Mitchell
    • Played a particularly interesting set of 8 bars
    • Decided to change the form on the spot and keep expanding on those 8 bars
    • Mumbles to Chick while soloing “I’m going to do that again”
  • Make a decision while playing
  • Compose on the fly
  • Keep phrase going
  • Unconscious decision making

Writing new music

  • Invent
  • What effect do you want?
  • Set a goal of production -- that helps Chick write
  • Chick likes to write specifically for particular musicians

How to practice

  • Concept of “a win”
    • Set out to do something
    • When you make it → that’s a win
  • Set small and large goals
  • Be tenacious enough to get there
  • Schedule your time
  • Choose one troublesome phrase
    • Go to a point where you settle it down and win
    • Even just 15 minutes of practice is enough when using this approach

Working with other musicians

How to click with other musicians if the magic isn’t happening:
  • Golden rule: Try to make the other musicians sound good
  • Try to extrovert, not introvert
  • Treat others how you want to be treated


Bobby McFerrin
  • Chick learned a lot by watching Bobby McFerrin communicate with audiences

Bobby McFerrin plays the audience as an instrument

Various forms of music
  • The form is way junior to how the artist is communcating
  • Different size audiences for different forms

Interesting communication phenomenons

  • Social phenomenons
    • The effect that the music of The Beatles created and continues to create with the continued popularity of their recordings
  • Craftsmanship
    • The craft of Sgt. Pepper
      • Chick recently told George Martin that he’d finally discovered The Beatles
  • The songwriting of Stevie Wonder
    • NOTE: Chick and Stevie are members of the “Mutual Admiration Society”
      • Stevie performs Chick Corea’s tune “Spain”
      • Chick performs Stevie’s tune “Overjoyed”
      • Chick occasionally sits in on Stevie’s gigs
      • Stevie occasionally sits in on Chick’s gigs

  Chick’s version of Stevie Wonder’s tune “Overjoyed”

Stevie’s version of Chick’s tune “Spain”


Stevie sitting in with Chick performing “Spain” together

Physical health as a musician

Avoiding injury (repetitive stress, overuse, etc.)
  • Body is a vehicle with a Carbon Oxygen engine
  • Body is an instrument like a piano
  • Be in control -- easy control
  • If tightening up, decide to stop doing that
    • Toothache example: Went to dentist, found no cavities, dentist suggested that Chick stop clenching his jaw
  • Get good advice
  • Technique
  • Good posture at the piano
  • Egoscue -- book about pain -- may be helpful

Weight Loss
  • Lost over 100 lbs. in a year-and-a-half by learning about nutrition.
  • Dr. Fuhrman’s book Eat To Live.
    • Ideas in the book seem to have a lot of corroboration.

    Check out this set of before and after photos. The "after" is from the Grammy awards in early 2013. The "before" is the heaviest I've ever seen him probably from some time in the mid-2000's. The rumor is that he was having hip problems and avoided hip replacement surgery by losing all that weight.


Basics to communication with an audience

  • Observe other artists that do it well
  • Be happy if audience gets some pleasure
  • Like your audience; leave audience happy

Why Chick just wears casual clothes on gigs now
  • Avoids two sets of clothes -- day clothes and gig clothes -- just wears day clothes now
  • Puts audience at ease -- relaxed

The Music Business

Exchanges with others
  • Product
    • performance
    • band
    • recording
  • When a team is involved
    • Keep it ethical
    • Keep it at a high level
    • Keep it honest
  • Attitude
    • Invite / include others in your team
      • venue owners, etc.
    • Keep an open / trustworthy attitude
  • Keep your own principles high
    • Tends to invite that level back
  • Be clear

Booking gigs

  • Chick used to book his own gigs during the Dave Holland “Circle” post-Miles days
  • Chick made his own sign for the Village Vanguard
  • Apprenticeship
    • Learn from other bandleaders
  • Put out lines of communication
  • Find people to help you present what you want to present
  • Book / create your own gigs
  • Find new situations

Do your own thing with your music
  • Keeps it real with integrity
  • Chick’s personal example:
    • Herbie Mann’s new record label in 1965
      • Chick turned down an offer to record on the label
        • Herbie’s offer had specific requirements to include specific latin percussion instrumentation
        • Chick didn’t want to include timbale or conga
        • Chick was writing music for a more traditional jazz quintet sound with horns
      • Eventually Herbie Mann came back to Chick with another offer
        • New offer allowed Chick to record his own music in whatever way he felt best
        • Became Chick’s first solo album “Tones For Joan’s Bones


After the master class, we broke for dinner out on the terrace patio. It was beautiful weather and great food. Nice scenery outside too.


8:00pm, Monday, August 27

Here are some photos of the ballroom prior to the concert. This is the way the instruments were set up all week during the workshop. Chick's Yamaha Motif XF synth with his custom Fender Rhodes Mark V sample since his Rhodes is too fragile to travel and maintain these days. Plus the 9 foot Yamaha CFIIIS concert grand piano. John's upright bass and custom Yamaha six-string electric bass. Antonio's drum kit.

Throughout the workshop Chick, John, and Antonio sight read a bunch of new tunes in front of us -- lots of stuff they'd never tried before including things Chick had written but never himself tried playing before. The concert on Monday evening was no exception.

Here's a taste of what the trio sounded like, though they didn't play this particular tune while at the workshop:

“Illusion” by Dr. Joe Trio

Chick Corea, John Patitucci, Antonio Sanchez

Lotus Blossom (Kenny Dorham)
They started out with Chick’s new arrangement of Kenny Dorham’s “Lotus Blosom”. There’s a version of it minus the challenging ending/coda released on The Continents - Concerto for Jazz Quintet & Chamber Orchestra. They finished recording the Concerto ahead of schedule, and since they had extra studio time, they decided to try recording some additional material and released the extra tunes on the 2nd disc of this two-disc set. By the way, this is the second piano concerto that Chick has written, and this one in particular was commissioned by the country of Austria to celebrate Mozart’s 250th birthday.

John and Antonio hadn’t played or heard this arrangement before, so they were sight-reading. Chick hadn’t played it in a while and had to relearn it, especially the challenging Coda that they skipped on The Continents recording. Chick worked on the ending a few times before trying the whole tune with the trio after talking through the form. It is a beautiful but tricky arrangement that starts out in a African-sounding 2-against-3 groove on the intro and A-section, but then morphs into straight-ahead swing for the blowing and B-section.

Heaven and Earth (Chick Corea)
Next they tried a brand-new more through-composed tune that they had never played before called Heaven and Earth. I don’t think this has been recorded or released yet (other than a Logic demo that Chick sent the workshop attendees along with the sheet music). The arrangement involved Antonio playing in and out of time on the drums. The challenge is knowing when not to play. As they were all having difficulty sight-reading this at first, they demonstrated how to make pauses musical when you don’t know how to play your part. It was fascinating to watch them sight-read a difficult piece in such a musical way so that it didn’t really sound like they were sight-reading at all. Rather, they made their faltering sound very expressive.

Boston (Chick Corea)
The last tune of the night was another brand new tune that was a very simple sketch. No chord changes. Just rhythms and a bass line with lots of room for improvisation. I don’t believe there is a recording of this tune yet.

After those three tunes, they called it a night. Some students went downstairs afterwards to jam. I headed to the lobby of the mansion to unwind and chat with some of the other students and have something to drink with Fernando and another student named Joe Gold (and ophthalmologist). I forget who else might have been there with us. Fernando and I decided to meet early the next morning for breakfast and then hit the gym for a workout before the next workshop session began.

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