Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Week With Chick Corea: Part 7 -- Day 2

Table Of Contents
A Week With Chick Corea: Part 7

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

7:00pm, Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Breakfast and Gym

I stayed up too late unpacking and setting up the keyboard in my room and mentally unwinding before going to bed, which made it hard to wake up early. But, I got up and met Fernando for breakfast as planned. We walked over to the mansion and there was a great breakfast buffet available for us. After breakfast, we walked over the the fitness center and each worked out for over an hour. It was good stress relief and great to get some physical activity with so much sitting around during the workshop.

We headed back to our rooms to shower and change for the rest of the day. I wasn’t too eager to go to the jam sessions since I was tired and not very excited about informal jam sessions in general. Plus, since there was only one bass player and one drummer among the students but two different rooms for jam sessions with mostly keyboard / piano players, it didn’t seem like the jam sessions would work very well especially if the bass player and drummer weren’t there or weren’t together in the same room. I would have been more interested in trying to jam with Chick, John, and Antonio, but it didn’t sound like they would be around much during the morning jam sessions. Seems like mornings were there time to have a break from us, which is understandable. I needed the break from everyone too.


12:00 noon, Tuesday, August 28, 2012

There was another buffet for lunch outside on the terrace patio. It was fun to hang out with the other students and learn more about each other. After lunch, while waiting outside the ballroom for the next workshop session to begin, I met a new student (Mike Rihner) who showed up on Tuesday from New Orleans after missing all of Day 1 (and it turns out, also missing the Chick and Gary Burton show at Tanglewood on Sunday though he had tickets). Preparations and delays due to Hurricane Isaac had caused him to miss out on those two days. It was also difficult for him to fully concentrate on the workshop while worrying about friends and family and property back home.

Day 2 Workshop Sessions

1:00pm, Tuesday, August 28, 2012

GULP! Freak Out Time
I forgot to mention that at the beginning of Day 1’s evening session Chick informed us that we would each play one piece of our own choosing with the trio beginning on Day 2 through Day 4. Originally they had planned for us to record a piece with the trio on Thursday afternoon, but quickly realized that they would need a lot more time than originally thought in order to give all 23 students a chance to perform with them. They wrote up a list of student names on a big piece of chart paper on an easel up front so we knew what order we would be called upon to play. The pressure was on for each of us to pick a piece and prepare for the experience. I was relieved to see that I wouldn’t perform until Day 3 (Wednesday). I felt a little bad for the four people that were suddenly going to be asked to choose and play something in just a few hours with little time to mentally prepare. But I was sure glad I had a little extra time.

Master Class with John Patitucci

1:00pm, Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Top priorities for a bass player
  • Develop a powerful rhythmic concept.
    • John says it’s exciting to play in a rhythm section with Chick because of Chick’s rhythmic abilities.
  • Develop a powerful ear.

What’s missing in academic music programs

  • Schools don’t prioritize rhythm.
  • Too much focus on scales and chords.

Study some drums and dance

  • Take dance lessons
  • Old-school drummers used to tap dance
    • ex. Roy Haynes -- even Steve Gadd(!)
  • Play drums along with records

Most demanding gigs in John’s experience

  • Playing ballads
  • Playing flamenco by ear -- no charts!
  • Cerebral music vs. beautiful melodies
    • the “curse” of Chick Corea -- two meanings:
      • I took this to mean that composer have been influenced by Chick’s difficult music and now write their own difficult music.
      • Fernando Giuffrida interpreted John’s statement differently: He didn't mean exactly Chick's influence on other composers, but rather composers writing difficult stuff and telling him "look, this part is almost unplayable, but it might be OK for you, because you played with Chick Corea!".
    • NOTE: (my commentary) Chick writes and plays beautiful melodies too, though.
  • Classical music

Duo playing

  • Learned a lot about rhythm on duo gigs
  • Develop your inner clock to relax but be solid with forward motion
  • Make music pop rhythmically without just marking time
  • What does a bass player want from a pianist in a duo setting?
    • Stay with the bass
    • Dialogue with the bass during bass solos
    • Be clear about your rhythm
  • Share the time instead of leaning on each other

Get control over your instrument

  • Set metronome to turn on & off & on so the “click” comes and goes
  • Play along with recordings

Clapping (6/8 rhythms)

  • Accent different beats
  • Shift 1 → 2 → 3 → 4 → 5 → 6


  • Try speaking / reading words out loud in rhythm to learn about phrasing

Practicing TIME

  • Slow tempos

Learn the jazz language / accent

  • Listen to recordings
  • Learn bebop
  • If you don’t learn to speak with the right accent, it’s hard to understand you

Ear training

  • Learn to sing solos from records
  • Don’t just learn the notes -- learn the phrasing too!

Mimic to learn what other artists are thinking before expressing your thoughts

  • Saturation
  • Imitation
  • Finding out what is behind the thinking

What to do when someone plays outside the changes

  • “Stay home and watch the kids”
    • Stay “inside” the changes
  • Decide to go out too when another musician plays outside

Pet peeve -- when people or charts call for “latin feel”

  • Which one?
  • Lots of different rhythms all over Latin America

Study many different rhythms

  • Latin American rhythms
  • African rhythms
  • R&B, blues, rock / pop / funk, etc.

Next, John asked Antonio to join him for a rhythm section master class.

John and Antonio
Rhythm Section Master Class

[Antonio] How two strong players avoid colliding with each other
  • Play together
    • Give and take
  • Balance
    • What sounds good
    • Listen a lot
  • Experience
    • Play a lot with other people
  • Think about what’s best
    • What’s best for this tune?
    • What’s best for this millisecond?
  • Leave your ego somewhere else
  • Anything any player does should affect you while you are playing
    • Don’t just mimic each other all the time while playing
    • Can’t react to everything that’s happening
    • You can choose a different figure that complements things
  • Keep it clean to avoid getting too busy and overpowering
  • Play busy for a while until you reach a target point

[John] Be organic and trust each other
  • People forget to be organic with all the clicks and quantizing today.
  • Trust between players.

[Antonio] Click in the studio can be very helpful and save time
  • ex. Michael Brecker’s Quindectet album
    • Copyist made a lot of mistakes in the string and woodwind parts
    • No time to rehearse after dealing with all the mistakes in the parts
    • Live takes were full of problems that ruined whole takes
    • Lots of valuable studio time wasted
    • Running out of time and budget
    • Antonio had just come from a Pat Metheny session using a click and convinced Michael Brecker to let John and Antonio play the bass and drum parts to a click
    • As a result, woodwind parts could be picked from any take and used interchangeably
    • Using a click saved that recording

[John] Odd meter playing
  • Play off clave instead of counting all the time
  • Use a groove pattern to play off
  • [Antonio] -- Play with good feeling
  • [John] Performance demonstration
    • Plays in 7 without counting at all, just feeling groove
  • [Antonio] You have to learn odd time
    • It’s done a lot these days.

[John] Hire a great drummer
  • You don’t have a great band unless you have a great drummer.

[Antonio] Working together with other musicians
  • Agree on how to feel time
  • Adapt
  • Go where it feels like going
  • Build something bigger together with a group vs. what you can do individually

Student Recordings With The Trio

3:15pm, Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Student Recording #1
student: Scott Ballin (piano)

  • with John Patitucci (upright bass) and Antonio Sanchez (drums)
selected piece: The Days Of Wine And Roses (Henry Mancini)
style: straight ahead jazz standard (swing feel)

Scott Ballin played this tune on piano. Scott is a Jazz Piano Professor at Five Towns Music College on Long Island and private jazz piano lesson teacher in Hauppauge, NY. My notes are missing this detail and my memory is foggy, but I don’t think Chick sat in on this performance. I think Chick just watched and listened off to the side or sitting in the audience. Scott had good straight ahead jazz piano chops. Played the head, traded solos, etc.

Here’s a video clip of Scott Ballin playing piano so you can get an idea of what we saw and heard:

Jazz Pianist Scott Ballin on Sonny's PianoTV Show-"The Steinway B Show"

Chick’s comments:
  • Scott has a nice tone on the piano
  • Some advice on playing standards:
    • develop the melody
    • it’s nice to hear the melody stated in different ways

Student Recording #2 
student: Elliot Casillas (nylon-string acoustic guitar)
  • with Chick Corea (piano), John Patitucci (upright bass), Antonio Sanchez (drums)
selected piece: Black Orpheus (Luiz Bonfá)
  • NOTE: this tune goes by many different titles around the world
style: Brazilian jazz / Bossa Nova  
Elliot played this tune on guitar. This was a beautiful sounding straightforward rendition of a jazz standard, stating the head and trading solos. Lots of expressiveness on the guitar -- subtle vibrato, pitch bend, etc. Elliot is a big fan of all my favorite guitar players and I’m a sucker for the sound of nylon string guitar so I really enjoyed hearing this performance. Elliot drove all the way to the workshop from his home in Florida. It was fun getting to know him a little bit during the workshop the few times we hung out.  
I can’t find a clip of Chick Corea playing this tune, so here’s a clip of Al Di Meola, Paco de Lucía, and John McLaughlin playing it instead: 

Al Di Meola, Paco de Lucía, John McLaughlin (The Guitar Trio)
Black Orpheus (Manhã de Carnaval)

Chick’s comments:
  • loves the sound of the nylon string guitar
  • Chick claims he is secretly a frustrated guitar player
    • (my commentary) -- this admission probably helps explain Chick’s use of Spanish flamenco rhythms, scales, and technique in his piano playing as well as his frequent use of pitch bend while playing keyboards, not to mention his frequent grace notes on the piano to give the illusion of pitch bending

Student Recording #3 
student: Richard Coates (MIDI accordion made by Roland) [yes, you read that correctly!]
  • with Chick Corea (piano), John Patitucci (upright bass), Antonio Sanchez (drums)
selected piece: Crystal Silence (Chick Corea) 
style: primarily slow rubato throughout, only one section played in tempo  
Richard Coates was one of the students that traveled all the way from Australia. Funny guy with a dry sense of humor. Richard is also a piano player but mainly focuses on accordion now. He has a quintet album available on CDBaby.  
No one had ever heard Chick’s classic sensitive ballad Crystal Silence (from the album of the same name) performed on accordion before. I think the trio (especially Chick) was a little surprised at the song choice given the instrumentation! But it worked. It was interesting to see and hear. My dad is an accordion player and I like the sound. I’d heard about electronic accordions before but had never seen one in real life before, so that was fascinating to watch Richard work the bellows for volume control without actually needing to push any air through acoustic reeds to generate the sound since the sound all came from digital samples and/or synthesis.  
NOTE: I found this short clip from the workshop that was officially posted on Chick's YouTube channel. It's the only clip they've put up so far from the workshop, featuring none other than student Richard Coates from Australia on his Roland MIDI accordion. But now you can get a small taste of what it was like to be there.

"The School of Chick brings out some totally unexpected and beautiful music - like this "Crystal Silence" for piano trio (Chick Corea / John Patitucci / Antonio Sanchez) plus accordion (student Richard Coates). Enjoy!" 

"Crystal Silence" for Piano Trio + Accordion

Chick’s comments:
  • Chick talked a little bit about their use of clusters during the performance.
    • NOTE: You can see a little bit of Richard’s use of clusters on the accordion in that video clip of the performance
    • (my commentary) -- tone clusters are somewhat dissonant groups of adjacent notes -- half-steps or whole-steps -- that are intentionally played together even though they tend to clash -- produces a musical effect

Student Performance #4 
student: Rusty Edwards (vocals / lyricist)
  • with Chick Corea (piano / rhodes), John Patitucci (6-string electric bass), Antonio Sanchez (drums)
selected piece: Prism (Chick Corea)
  • NOTE: Rusty wrote original lyrics to this Chick Corea Elektric Band tune
style: funk / fusion  

Rusty Edwards is the pastor of a Lutheran church as well as a freelance hymn writer and composer who is also a big jazz fan and has written lyrics to various tunes by Chick, Dave Brubeck, etc. In fact, he’s known Chick for many decades and Chick even wrote the foreword to one of his Christian hymn books in 1992, The Yes Of The Heart (Hope Publishing), which was really surprising to me giving that Chick is an outspoken Scientologist. But they both believe strongly in freedom of religion and artistic expression. The forward is written in that spirit.  
When Chick found out the day before that Rusty wanted to perform the Elektric Band tune Prism from the Light Years album, he asked if anyone had the music for it. Somebody gave Chick the official Hal Leonard transcription produced by Chick’s chief organizer and transcriber Peter Sprague who has been involved with many of Chick’s music publications, with Chick listed as the editor of the book. Chick looked it over that evening but when Rusty came up to perform it, he said that he couldn’t read the transcription and had to look up his original score. He was also very curious where the transcription had come from and seemed surprised to learn that Elektric Band transcription books had actually been published and made available to the general public! Kinda funny!  
Anyway, Chick can’t remember the form and asks Rusty and John how it goes. Chick can’t make sense of his own original chart. It was amusing to see that Chick forgets how to play his own compositions and arrangements. Makes me feel better since I tend to have the same problem -- use it or lose it! They had to go over the road map of the chart and figure out how to match Rusty’s lyrics up with the chart since his lyrics were based off the original Elektric Band studio recording from the Light Years album and apparently they had made some changes to the arrangement in the studio that weren’t reflected in the original score. They eventually figured out most of it except for the ending. Here is the beautiful poem that Rusty wrote to accompany the melody in Chick’s tune Prism (posted with Rusty’s permission -- thanks Rusty!). Rusty hopes that one day Gayle Moran Corea (Chick’s wife) will sing and record this song. 

Here’s a YouTube clip of the Chick Corea Elektric Band version of Prism so you can get a taste of what the tune sounds like. And try your hand at singing the lyrics in Rusty’s poem along with the synth part in the recording.

Chick Corea Elektric Band -- Prism


4:30pm, Tuesday, August 28, 2012

After those first four student recordings, we took a break. During the break we had a chance to chat with everyone involved in the workshop. Kinda felt like a jazz club atmosphere getting to hang with Chick, John, Antonio, Bernie, Bill, etc.

I hung around John Patitucci by food and beverage table in the back of the ballroom initially. I found out that John is now an artist in residence at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Then I joined a conversation that Chick was having with some students and John.

Financial Freedom
Chick talked informally about financial freedom to the few of us gathered around him.

  • Don’t be in debt to anyone.
  • Pay cash for everything.
  • Don’t even take on mortgage debt!

Own Your Own Music
John Patitucci mentions that he doesn’t have a record deal but wants to record a new album. But John can’t afford to go into the studio. Chick asks John why he needs a record label?

Chick’s advice to John and the rest of us:

  • Own your own music.
    • Apparently Chick doesn’t own rights to the Stretch Records catalogue though he’s working hard to get those rights back.
  • Make your own recordings.
  • License your masters to labels to help you market and sell records.

The Yellow Nimbus

At some point, Chick left the ballroom during the break. While Chick was outside of the room, student pianist Fernando Giuffrida sat down at Chick’s 9’ Yamaha concert grand piano and began performing Chick’s beautifully intricate, complex, and insanely difficult Spanish flamenco composition The Yellow Nimbus, originally recorded on the Touchstone album. Here’s a link to the audio from the original album version:  

I was still in the back listening to John Patitucci and Bill Rooney chatting, when Patitucci stopped talking in mid-sentence and said something like “Hey, listen to that! That’s incredible!” when he heard Fernando playing Chick’s piece. A few moments later, Chick walks into the room with an amazed expression on his face, then quietly walks up behind Fernando and just stands there listening to Fernando play the entire piece without Fernando knowing he was standing there. Afterwards, Fernando finally noticed Chick was there and asked Chick for help on a couple of tricky chords he wasn’t able to figure out, so Chick sat down at the piano and demonstrated those two sections to Fernando while Fernando took mental notes and clarified a couple voicings. The really amazing thing besides the fact that Fernando can play this difficult piece almost perfectly is that Fernando had managed to figure it all out by ear without using any special software to slow down the music and without any written transcriptions to help him out. He has a phenomenal ear and loads of talent!
I snapped these photos of Chick watching and listening to Fernando play The Yellow Nimbus, then helping Fernando figure out a couple of tricky spots.

Here’s an older tutorial on this very tune by Chick himself taken from an old instructional video called Keyboard Workshop where Chick demonstrates how to learn and practice a difficult piece of music with flow and intention, observing and correcting glitches:

Chick Corea Keyboard Workshop - The Yellow Nimbus
Here’s Chick performing a full version of the piece from his Solo Piano - Originals album so you can get a taste of what it sounded like to hear Fernando playing it while Chick listened in amazement (ha ha!):

Chick Corea Solo Piano - Originals - The Yellow Nimbus

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