Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A Week With Chick Corea: Part 9 -- Day 3

Table Of Contents
A Week With Chick Corea: Part 9

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 3
After another late night hanging out with several people at the workshop in the lounge and some frantic practicing on the keyboard in my room, I got up early and met Fernando for breakfast at the mansion followed by our morning workout at the fitness center again. I headed back to my room to shower and practice some more.

I avoided going to the jam sessions in the mansion again because today was the day I was supposed to record with the trio.
Gulp. Recording a piece with Chick Corea, John Patitucci, and Antonio Sanchez tonight. One take. On camera in front of audience (the other workshop attendees). Bernie Kirsh doing the recording. No pressure. I pick whatever tune I want and they sightread it with me. Going to have them try one of my originals. I was scheduled for an evening slot but I wasn’t quite sure what tune I should play. Should be fun. Until the stage fright kicks in.

I wanted to have the trio play one of my originals since I play my music much better than I play Chick’s music and much better than I play standards. But should I play it safe and pick a simple tune, or should I give the trio a challenge? I ended up choosing a more challenging but fun flamenco piece that I thought Chick and the trio would enjoy, but had a plan ‘B’ up my sleeve in case it proved to be too difficult for them to read and we needed something easier.

I headed over the mansion again for lunch -- another buffet on the terrace patio, I think. Then it was time for the next official workshop session.

Master Class with Antonio Sanchez

1:00pm, Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Good Cop, Bad Cop
At the start of Antonio’s session, he said something like: “Alright, I know Chick doesn’t like to criticize and we’ve been fairly positive in our comments after your performances, but I’m going to be the bad cop and try to give you some constructive criticism.”

What Musicians Want

  • Musicians always want to get better.
  • It’s inspiring to see players always pushing to grow and improve.

Two Ways To Become A Better Musician

  • Play with much better musicians.
    • NOTE: (my commentary) -- this reminds me of some great advice that bassist Mark Egan gave me a few years ago. I took this advice to heart and it really works!

  • Play in front of an audience.

Soloing Advice
  • Solo etiquette
    • Let the drummer and other soloists cue when they’re done so they can pace their solos.
    • Don’t just cut them off at the end of a chorus. Let them signal when they’re ready to end.
    • Every great soloist -- you know exactly when they are done
  • Make something happen so you don’t lose your audience
    • Motivic development
    • Dynamics
      • Pat Metheny -- dynamics within the dynamics
    • Storytelling
    • Peaks and valleys
  • Tension and release
    • Analogy -- picture a canoe tipping but not capsizing
      • band members can change positions inside the canoe to balance it or not
      • bass player is like the fulcrum -- center of the canoe

Communication vs. Technique
  • Jazz is constant communication
    • Many little decisions in real time
    • Each band member always listening how to make it better
  • Technique
    • Analogy -- you don’t think about speaking or getting out of bed
    • Technical study allows you to stop worrying about that stuff when you play

Always Record Yourself
  • Lets you hear what you need to work on
  • The recorder is the 4th person in a trio

How To Practice
  • Learn tunes
  • Don’t waste time on stuff you won’t use on the gig

Work With A Metronome
  • Easy to use in the wrong way
    • At this point, Antonio sat down at the drum kit, turned on his metronome, and demonstrated rushing / dragging without improving time while playing along to a click. It was greatly exaggerated for comedic effect. Hilarious music nerd humor!
  • Leave as much space as you can between clicks
  • Use slow clicks
    • eg. 30 bpm instead of 120 bpm
  • Randomly switch pulses / grooves while the click stays constant
    • try changing to a different number of beats between clicks
    • example: 8 → 7 → 6 → 5 → 4 → 3 → 2 and back up to 8
  • Try different polyrhythms with two instruments and two players together
  • Practice in a musical way

At this point, Antonio asks John Patitucci to come up and help demonstrate some two player polyrhythmic stuff while playing to a slow click. John plays a funk bass line in 4 while Antonio plays a drum solo involving different grooves in various time signatures while the click stays constant. The slow click is always on the downbeat of each measure. Very difficult even for those guys, and Antonio says so afterwards!

Antonio and John Rhythm Section Master Class

[John] Anecdote
  • Michael Brecker was an incredible drummer.

Misconception about jazz and swing

  • swing notes are not as lopsided as you might think
  • it varies
  • not consistent
  • not uniform
4/4 and 6/8 time
  • Afro-Cuban, Samba, African, Latin American rhythms
  • Always feel 4/4 and 6/8 at the same time so you can switch between at any time

Shameless Self-Promotion

My Own Examples
Forgive me for using my own band and compositions as examples here, but these are the examples I could think of off the top of my head. And hey, it's my blog, right?

There are probably better examples out there, but here's an example of my band switching between 6 and 4 feels during the solo section of this original of mine entitled At Sixes And Sevens from my Variety Pack - Live EP. WARNING: the head to this piece is actually in 7, so you won't feel the 6 and 4 until the solo section starts. But we switch back and forth between 6 and 4 a lot during the solos emphasizing different aspects of a 2 against 3 feel or a 3 against 4 feel.
Here’s another example -- my composition written in honor of Chick Corea called Coreatown from my album A Stitch In Time. This tune is an African feel in 12/8.

And another example -- my composition written for my daughter in 6/8 called Anneka’s Dance (Fantasy And Allusion) also from my album A Stitch In Time.

Back To The Tag Team Master Class

[Antonio] Motivic Development
  • Analogy -- two kids drawing a random line
    • one starts
    • the other completes
  • Say something → pause → finish the phrase
  • The best soloists leave a lot of space to give other players a chance to respond

Always give 100% in any playing situation
  • Antonio says that when he was younger, he was not giving 100% when playing wedding or club dates.
    • He heard a recording of himself playing a wedding or club gig and realized how bad he sounded because he wasn’t giving 100%.
  • Respect the music and other musicians
  • Consider it a privilege to be able to play music in any situation

Chick’s Talk

3:15pm, Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Mid-Workshop Evaluation
Chick has been reflecting and evaluating how the workshop is going and sees the following areas in need of improvement.  

Things to improve

  • Balance
    • Sees an unbalance between theory and technique
      • Not enough doing

    • Too much talking
  • Structure
    • Need more structure

    Principle: Communication
    Bill Rooney moved a big easel with chart paper to the front center of the room next to Chick. Chick then started trying to explain what he means by communication in art by drawing a diagram similar to the following (without the lines in the table) while talking.

    Person “A”

    has a thought “~”
    over some distance
    Person “B”
    1. “A” needs to make sure “B” hears “A”
    1. “B” needs to hear “A”
    2. “A” needs to hear “B”
    2. “B” needs to make sure “A” hears “B”

    Call and Response Demonstration
    Repeating a phrase exactly 
    (like an acknowledgement -- let’s the other person know you heard what they said) 

    At this point, Chick sits down at the piano and calls up student Joe Gold to sit next to him at the piano. Chick plays a simple melodic / rhythmic phrase, then asks Joe Gold to try playing the same exact phrase back to him to see if he “got” it. Joe has some trouble picking up on a subtle “push” in one of the rhythms. Chick can see that he’s not “communicating” the idea to Joe yet. They keep working on the phrase, back and forth, slowing it down, focusing on the miscommunication area. Eventually Joe hears the correct rhythm and successfully plays it back for Chick. At this point, Chick and Joe are “in communication”. Joe finally heard and understood Chick’s musical thought. And Chick heard back from Joe in a way that Chick could tell that he had successfully communicated with Joe.  

    Responding to a phrase or completing a thought 

    (like a dialogue / conversation -or- question and answer) 

    After Joe sat back down in the audience, Chick called up Fernando Giuffrida to sit next to him at the piano. Chick started playing a groove and then improvised a phrase and asked Fernando to respond to it or complete the thought with another phrase. This proved to be a bit difficult -- Fernando tended to play lengthy phrases without leaving space for Chick to interact or respond back. So it wasn’t clear to Chick that he was communicating to Fernando with his initial phrases because the response wasn’t clear and succinct. So, Chick then asked Fernando to play some simple phrases instead while Chick continued to play the groove, and then Chick tried responding to Fernando’s phrases to attempt to show that he “got” each phrase that Fernando played. It sort of worked, except Fernando tended to keep playing longer rambling phrases then Chick had asked for initially. Time was running short so the demo had to be cut off before Chick and Fernando to get into really good communication. I think a few more minutes with more direction would have allowed Fernando to “get” it better. It takes a little while to learn this concept. It sounds simple when you explain it, but it’s a little trickier to actually put it to good use when you’re put on the spot in front of an audience and asked to trade phrases back and forth with your idol on the piano, while at the same time worrying about the technical aspects of listening to and playing new notes and rhythms.
    Here's a perfect example of Chick demonstrating communication with an audience in music -- an audience sing-along and clap-along with his most famous composition Spain. This is the kind of stuff that Chick tried to teach us during his 5-day master workshop. Think about it. Here's an instrumental fusion tune that involves audience participation with a large crowd. No lyrics involved. Wordless communication through melody, rhythm, and harmony:

    Creating Space
    You create space with your attention. 

    Chick led the class in a fascinating exercise to focus our awareness in various ways. We were asked to sit still. Then, without looking around, just become aware of whatever Chick told us verbally to mentally focus on.  

    Demonstration: Get out of your head
    • Be aware of your own body -- every part of your body all at once from head to toe
    • Be aware of your neighbor next to you
    • Be aware of all the students in the room
    • Be aware of the entire room -- the walls and ceiling of the physical space

    It was interesting to be able to shift your attention without moving or looking around and actually become aware of these different things just by an act of changing your mental focus at any given moment. Chick said that we need to be aware of all of these things while performing in order to effectively use your own body to communicate with other band members, the audience, and interact within the bounds of the physical space where the performance is taking place.

    After Chick’s talk, we took a brief break while they set things up to get ready for the next set of student recordings with the trio.
    Chick Likes Warm Toasty Rooms!
    The ballroom had tended to be quite warm in temperature all week, but today it seemed extra warm. You could feel a huge difference in temperature and humidity when you entered the ballroom from the hallway outside. It was hot, humid, and sweaty. I asked Bill Rooney if there was any way to set the A/C colder so we wouldn’t be so uncomfortable. Bill said he was uncomfortable too, but that was as cool as they could make the room without Chick complaining about it being too cold! In the decade that Bill had been Chick’s manager, he had never once heard Chick complain about a room being too warm. Chick tended to always complain about being too cold. That explains why I often see Chick wearing a jacket or fleece on stage. Chick often wore a jacket in the ballroom during the workshop too. Chick likes it warm! That’s gotta make it tough to work with Chick! I could tell that John Patitucci seemed to be suffering from the heat. John’s face looked like he was feeling rather warm, and at one point he did ask if they could make the room a little cooler and turn the lights down to reduce the heat, and they obliged a little bit.
    Question About Live Video Footage
    A random facebook friend of mine George Lamie had asked me to find out the answer to a question he had about some video footage from years past. I was curious about it too since I’d been looking forward to this very same video footage.  

    George’s question: “I wonder if you could do me a favor. When you get a spare second with Chick, I wish you'd ask him about those dvds that were supposed to come out, but never did. I think you and I talked about them once. 2 shows from the Blue Note N.Y.C. from around 5 years ago. One being Elektric Band w/ Wooten, the other being the so-called Leprechaun band, Gadd, Jackson, and Gambale. His secretary, Julie Rooney, told me she saw the raw footage and they're fantastic, so I'd like to know what gives, from his perspective. Think you could squeeze it in?”  

    From an archive of Chick's website regarding the Blue Note 25th Anniversary DVD's:
    As part of a two week extravaganza celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the world famous Blue Note Jazz Club in New York City, Chick reunited with two incredible bands in November of ‘06.

    Week one featured the Elektric Band with Chick/keyboards (including Rhodes and Mini Moog), Dave Weckl/drums, Eric Marienthal/saxes, Frank Gambale/guitar and bass virtuoso Victor Wooten. The music nearly raised the roof off the venerable jazz club making it a very memorable week for this one-of-kind ensemble. The band played a great cross-section of material from the Elektric Band catalog. The band was in top form and with the addition of Victor Wooten on bass for this special engagement, the group was grooving and burning hard.

    The second exciting week featured a group of musicians Chick dubbed "The Leprechaun Band." This group featured Chick on keyboards, the great Steve Gadd on drums, bass legend Anthony Jackson, the amazing Ravi Coltrane on saxes and the Elektric Band's Frank Gambale.

    This exclusive reunion focused on Chick's music from the 70's; revisiting tunes from the classic albums The Leprechaun, The Mad Hatter, My Spanish Heart and Friends. This group was really special because it was the first time Chick, Steve Gadd and Anthony Jackson--all musicians who were on the original recordings--had ever played the music live together!

    To take things over the top, Chick and band played Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy from the first electric Return To Forever album. There's a special significance to this in that Steve Gadd was actually the original drummer for the electric Return To Forever band (a little known bit of fusion-lore) before Lenny White joined the group.

    The gigs were documented with a very innovative video shoot using 15 miniature High Definition cameras placed around the stage at different interesting vantage points. The end result will make you feel like you're actually on stage and in the band!

    Additionally, there are plans to make a special "instructional video" version of this film, where the viewer would be able to focus on a particular player in viewing the DVD. If you wanted to watch only Victor Wooten (or whoever your choice was) for the whole performance, from two or three camera angles, the viewer would have that flexibility. You could switch between all of the players individually or watch the show with the "conventional" edit.

    It takes a lot of work to edit that many cameras and mix the audio in 5.1 Surround Sound, so you won’t likely see the release of this DVD until fall or winter of 2007.

    You're going to love both of these DVDs which will most likely be packaged as a reasonably priced double DVD.
    Answer: Instead of asking Chick directly, I asked Bill Rooney about the Victor Wooten Elektric Band and Leprechaun Band footage during one of the breaks. Bill said they haven't had time to edit and mix yet because Chick is always restless wanted to move forward with lots of new projects. Also, the video company that did the filming went out of business and it's a ton of work to edit and choose footage since they used 16 cameras (if I remember the number correctly) and they filmed every show every night for two weeks. It needs time and money to do it right. Hopefully someday.

    Another Round Of Student Recordings With The Trio

    4:00pm, Wednesday, August 29, 2012

    Student Recording #9
    student: Gary Gotto (piano)

    • with John Patitucci (bass) and Antonio Sanchez (drums). I neglected to write down whether Chick Corea played keyboards on this tune or not. Whoops. I think Chick was probably on rhodes electric piano.
    selected piece: Lush Life (Billy Strayhorn)
    style: ballad

    Gary Gotto works as an attorney in his day job. I don’t remember ever interacting with him during the workshop, being the introvert that I am. I also took really lousy notes on this performance. I think I was tired (and feeling too warm and uncomfortable due to the toasty room!). All I know is that Gary performed this ballad and it was played very slowly throughout. I remember thinking how different this approach was to the way Chick usually approaches this piece. Chick tends to play the main part of this piece with an upbeat tempo after the rubato intro is over. But Gary took the whole tune slowly without a groove from what I remember.

    Click this link to hear an example of how Chick normally approaches this tune from his Expressions solo piano album.

    Student Recording #10
    student: Debora Gurgel (piano)

    • with Chick Corea (rhodes), John Patitucci (bass), Antonio Sanchez (drums)
    selected piece: "Das Americas" [translates to "From The Americas"] (original)
    style: cha cha rhythm

    Debora Gurgel is a great pianist and composer who traveled all the way from Brazil with her husband Carlos. It was a joy to listen to her play. Chick, John, and Antonio sat up and took notice. They were blown away by her composition and playing. She was shy and apologetic for her English language skills, but she could play a mean piano! It was a beautiful Brazilian sound. 

    You can see the lead sheet for her composition Das Americas here. Here is a video of Debora Gurgel performing this piece:

    NOTE: Chick commented afterwards that her chart was a good example of how notation can communicate. Later, Chick also signed Debora's lead sheet and wrote that she was the star of the workshop! Here's a scan of that signed lead sheet:

    Here’s Deborah Gurgel’s EPK (Electronic Press Kit) video so you can get an idea of what her music and personality is like:

    Deborah gave some or all of us a copy of her wonderful self-titled album. Here’s my favorite track on the CD called Clara da Lua (based on the Debussy piece Clair de Lune). She plays a really cool ostinato piano bass line starting about halfway through the piece.

    NOTE: Her daughter Dani Gurgel is also a great singer / songwriter with a few albums of her own. I’ve bought most of them! Her drummer Thiago Rabello is also a fantastic Brazilian drummer. I got to meet both of them on the last night of the workshop when they dropped by after just flying in from Brazil to start a short US tour with Deborah.

    Here’s another great video of Deborah with her daughter Dani singing:

    To see more photos of Debora at the workshop and read her comments about it (in Portugese), see the link to the Chick Corea Workshop page on her website.

    Student Recording #11
    student: Martin Hallmark (piano)

    • with Chick Corea (rhodes), John Patitucci (bass), Antonio Sanchez (drums)
    selected piece: original (whoops -- again I forgot to write down the name of the piece -- sorry!)
    style: 3/4 (waltz) or 6/8 (not sure if it was in 3 or 6)

    Martin Hallmark traveled all the way from the U.K. They had some trouble determining the pulse and feel / groove of the tune at the beginning. Some false starts and talking through things. After a slow rubato intro, the groove kicked in. It was fun to see and hear the interplay with Chick on rhodes especially during the vamp at the end of the tune.

    Student Recording #12
    student: Gia Ionesco (piano)

    • with Chick Corea (rhodes), John Patitucci (bass), Antonio Sanchez (drums)
    selected piece: Sea Journey (Chick Corea)
    • new arrangement written by Gia Ionesco
    • originally titled Song For Sally on Chick’s Piano Improvisations vol. 1
    • later appeared as Sea Journey in Gary Burton’s repertoire
    style: Gia’s arrangement switched grooves and meters a few times, including one crazy section in an unusual and difficult odd meter of 19/8!!!

    Gia Ionesco was an interesting big Romanian guy (now living in Canada). He leads a band called The Unpredictable Update performing his original compositions and he writes music for films too. You can buy his albums here. There were some interesting cultural differences in his interactions with Chick, John, Antonio, and the rest of us. Different social norms typical for his Romanian background, I think. He tended to be very vocal and boisterous compared to the rest of us. And when he sat down at the piano, his playing matched his personality! He played the piano very loudly! But his technique was very virtuosic. He reminded me a bit of pianist Chucho Valdez in his approach. Very rhythmic with fast runs and two-handed pounding of the keyboard. Chick had a lot of trouble with the 19/8 section but John and Antonio held their own, though you could tell they were working hard trying to hold it together.

    NOTE: It was eye-opening to see that Chick didn’t seem to know the names of common modes and scales. He had to ask Gia and other students what they meant by certain modes and then asked them to play the scale on the piano so he could hear it. Then Chick would write in a chord symbol on the chart as a reminder to himself.

    Here’s a sample of Gia Ionesco & his band The Unpredictable Update:

    Here is Chick Corea playing his original solo piano version of Song For Sally:

    Here is Gary Burton, Pat Metheny, and Antonio Sanchez playing Sea Journey:

    After Gia’s performance, we took a break for dinner. I mentioned to Bill Rooney that the piano might need to be re-tuned after the loud performance. I was a bit worried the piano was going to be out-of-tune with my own performance coming up later that evening. Bill shrugged.

    Then Bill and I both went up to see Chick because we needed to try to switch the order of the next student performances to put the student drummer last since the drummer wanted to swap out cymbals and make other minor adjustments to Antonio’s kit. Chick wasn’t sure that was a good idea and seemed concerned about making any changes to Antonio’s kit. But it had already been cleared with Antonio and Bernie. Eventually Chick gave in and agreed to change the order to put the drummer last that night.

    Then Chick pulled Bill aside and I overheard him say that he thought he needed to get the piano tuned! Ha ha! Great minds think alike! Bill immediately whipped out his cell phone to start dialing the piano tuner, but Chick stopped him and said “wait, let me try it out first”. Chick tried playing the piano a bit, said it wasn’t too bad, and he could try to live with it.

    I headed off for dinner and then back to my room for another quick practice session on my keyboard prior to my performance. I was getting more anxious about it.

    Observations And Impressions

    Chick Has Trouble With Odd Meters!

    It was so interesting to see that Chick Corea wasn't comfortable or familiar with odd meters during the workshop. Unlike John Patitucci and Antonio Sanchez, Chick seemed to struggle with relatively common odd meters like 7/4 and really got thrown for a loop when a Gia Ionesco tried to get him to play something in 19/8 of all things. But John and Antonio read the 19/8 section fairly well! I would have freaked out at 19/8 too!

    Chick Doesn’t Use Jazz Theory Terminology!

    It was quite fascinating to realize that Chick doesn't think about jazz harmony the way that so many people think about it today. In fact, the basic jazz theory terminology that we've all come to expect was just confusing to Chick. He wasn't familiar with the names of modes and finds altered notes in chord symbols to be confusing. That explains why he favors simple chord symbols like C7 instead of C7v9#11, etc. He would rather improvise the alterations on the fly and looks to the written notes in the melody to give him clues about the passing tones and scale choices. But he doesn't really know the technical names of the scales. Rather, he thinks about stuff like "this kind of sound" or "that kind of sound". If someone referred to the name of a mode, he would ask that person to play the mode for him, and then he'd exclaim (oh, that kind of sound). Fascinating. The old school jazz musicians never really thought about jazz theory and harmony the way it is taught today. Here is a link to Chick’s web site where Chick talks about his approach to scales.

    BTW, I have nothing against modern-day jazz theory. I think it's very helpful. I learned a ton from books by Mark Levine, Dan Haerle, Frank Mantooth, Jerry Coker, John Novello, Randy Halberstadt, David Berkman, etc. I needed the theoretical analysis to learn about it and internalize it, and now I'm working on trying to forget about it and just play what I hear based on the vocabulary I gained during the analysis phase of my learning, and now learning how to think about shapes and colors instead. Of course, the old school folks also did this analysis during their learning. They just didn't put names to the sounds like we do today, so the terminology confuses them. And of course there's a lot of stuff that happens in music that doesn't fit any theoretical analysis in a neat and tidy way. Music is full of examples where people break the rules, intentionally or unintentionally.

    Chick Has A Non-Academic Non-Technical Approach

    It was fascinating and refreshing to have a completely non-academic approach to studying music. Chick is mostly self-taught and encouraged everyone to become their own teachers. He also encouraged everyone to form their own opinions and "think for yourself". His workshop was entirely non-academic in its approach. His philosophy of music education seems to be a reaction against the current cookie-cutter approach that some current jazz education academic programs seem to be churning out where many students end up sounding the same with similar vocabularies and it takes people a while to figure out how to develop their own unique voice after school is over.

    NPR's A Blog Supreme recently had an article questioning whether Thelonious Monk would win the competition named after him, Along similar lines to the "Think For Yourself" theme of Chick Corea's recent non-academic non-technical music workshop where technical stuff is much less important than whether or not you are communicating with your band members and your audience. Chops can help you communicate so you don't have to think about technical execution while you make music, but creating art is not a competition. Art is about creating beauty and connecting with each other.

    Chick Is Still Learning At Age 71

    Chick is always learning and growing. It was fascinating to watch Chick learning on the fly about how to improve as a teacher during the workshop. He would come up with new ways to get his point across when things weren’t working and people weren’t “getting” it.

    Next Up: Part 10 -- Day 3 (cont.) -- Evening

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