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Chick Corea - Rendezvous in New York

Chick Corea easily rates as one of the greatest and most prolific artists in jazz history, whether the measuring stick is applied to the number and quality of his recordings or to the number of styles with which he has experimented and mastered during his long career. In his fifth decade at the pinnacle of jazz, Chick Corea’s recent CDs and performances show that age has done nothing to slow him down or dull his creative abilities and impulses. Chick’s forthcoming album on Chick’s own Stretch Records label (an affiliate of Concord) is Rendezvous in New York. Due on April 22nd, the release is a 2 CD live set featuring performances from over a dozen of Chick’s friends and colleagues, including such living legends as Roy Hanes and Gary Burton, established stars like Joshua Redman and Christian McBride and the brilliant young musicians in Chick’s recent groups Origin and the New Trio. The following interview was both an honor and a pleasure to conduct.

JazzReview: I guess I should start by saying how much fun I’ve had listening to your new CD Rendezvous in New York. It’s a really amazing collection, and it features a really amazing collection of musicians. Why these musicians in particular?

Chick Corea: Well first, thanks, I’m glad to hear you’re enjoying the album. Now, the event that’s documented on Rendezvous in New York was my 60th birthday party, mainly which was held at the Blue Note in New York. I had a short time to prepare for the shows-the gig was three weeks in December 2001 and the idea came together just shortly before then. So the people that played were my friends that were available, my treasured musical partners who I knew and would like to play with and have at my party.

As it worked out over the three weeks at the Blue Note, we built up a good arrangement where different nights of each week were given over to different types of groups. On Tuesday and Wednesday there were duets, Thursday featured trios, and on Saturday and Sunday, we brought in the larger groups.

JazzReview: You’ve written something about each of the musicians that you worked with here in the liner notes, so I don’t want to make you repeat yourself. But there are a few specific individuals I’d like to ask you about. The first is Gonzalo Rubalcaba. Had you worked with him before?

Chick Corea: Yeah, Gonzalo and I had just played some duets together in Europe that summer, five concerts together at European concert halls and we really had a blast. When I was unable to get Herbie (Hancock) because of his prior commitments, I immediately called Gonzalo. He was the first person I thought of as a replacement and I was very fortunate to get him, and had an absolutely wonderful time playing with him again.

JazzReview: It’s interesting to hear you bring up Herbie, because he’s one of the few guys that kind of stands out by being absent from the recording, though it makes sense that his schedule would be pretty full. Dave Holland is another one in that category, given all the great work you’ve done together through the years.

Chick Corea: Right, and it was the same thing with Dave Holland. I had actually been hoping to put Circle back together for the gig, but Dave was so busy that he couldn’t make it. He’s made several great records over the last few years.

JazzReview: Yeah, his recent albums have been terrific. To kind of finish this theme, the other thing that struck me about the current release is that all of the bands are acoustic, which was a little surprising given your history with electric instruments. But, before I could read anything into that, of course, it occurred to me that you recently played some shows with the Elektric Band.

Chick Corea: Well, there was just such a short preparation time for the gig. I toyed with the idea of putting Return to Forever together, but when I thought of the time needed to put together that type of production, it just wasn’t there. So, I basically made no attempt to do anything like that at the Blue Note. As you mention, I recently did some shows with the Elektric band, and we do plan to do some more work together. We have a whole summer tour lined up.

JazzReview: Getting back to the album, another artist involved in the Blue Note project that I’m curious about is Miroslav Vitous. You mention in the notes that one of the reason’s he’s kept a fairly low profile in jazz recently is that he’s been involved in making recordings for sampling.

Chick Corea: Miroslav’s developed a whole business recording orchestral samples, which I understand are very popular with the people who use samples. So, he hasn’t been completely active lately playing jazz, although that’s changing. He recently completed a new album for the ECM label, a couple of tracks of which I contributed to.

JazzReview: That’s certainly welcome news, and I’ll definitely look for that one when it’s out. Your two most recent groups are Origin and the New Trio, they’re both featured on the new album and they both share the nucleus of Jeff Ballard on drums and Avishai Cohen on bass.

Chick Corea: Well, the New Trio grew out of Origin. Origin is an ensemble I put together in 1997, and it started out really with Avishai’s bandmates--I produced Avishai’s band as the first release on Stretch Records, and then ended up working them into Origin--I just added Bob Sheppard and Tim Garland, and that was Origin. I worked with those guys for a couple of years and then did the Past, Present and Futures CD as the New Trio with Avishai and Jeff and played with that unit for a year or two.

JazzReview: Bobby McFerrin is someone else you played with here that I’d like to talk about. He has such tremendous range. He performs in a very comic style on the first couple of tracks, and then-actually, I think there’s a kind of a false dichotomy that sometimes gets set up between "comic" and "serious" art, because there’s a lot of seriousness behind any kind of good comedic work, so let’s just say that here on the album he sings really well here both comically and straightforwardly as the situation dictates.

Chick Corea: Uh-huh. I know what you’re saying and I agree with it. That’s a very, very good description. Bobby McFerrin is one of the most complete artists and performers I know. As a solo performer, what he does is unprecedented. What he does just walking onstage by himself is incredible-he has immaculate creative and musical technique. And he’s a unique and amazing orchestra conductor as well. He combines his improvisational techniques with the traditional role of the conductor. I just saw him lead the Florida Orchestra, and it was incredible. The program included pieces by Prokofiev and Ravel, Bobby did some solo antics and then Beethoven’s Eighth. I was absolutely floored.

JazzReview: Another thing that impresses me about the album is that, while it’s ostensibly a celebration of your many years of making music, you devote a lot of space to music by Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell and other composers.

Chick Corea: Well, again, it was my party, and I wanted to play music that I enjoy. The music I chose, particularly from Monk and Bud Powell, is music that I love and have been influenced by throughout my entire life. Monk is usually part of everything I do, as is the music of Bud Powell. I did a trio recording of all Monk tunes with Miroslav Vitous and Roy Haynes around 1981, and, of course, the Remembering Bud Powell Band was one of the groups I featured at the Blue Note and on the album.

JazzReview: I was recently looking at your website and was really impressed. Some people seem to have a website just because they think they ought to have one, but yours has a lot of content on it and feels like a real destination on the web.

Chick Corea: Thanks, I’ve been trying to make the website something special. I have a lot more ideas for it. One of the things I really like on it is the ongoing question and answer section I have with the people who write in. I really appreciate the opportunity to communicate directly with my fans.

JazzReview: You’ve done so many different types of things musically through the years, from acoustic trios, to fusion, to concerti and so on. Do you find that you have the same fans regardless of the type of project you are doing, or does it vary according to the nature of the project?

Chick Corea: Well, I just have such great fans that I play for around the world. I’m blessed with audiences of music lovers of every category, every race, creed, color, age I’d say they all tend to be wonderful audiences. Now, it can be a little unpredictable who is going to be at a place like the Blue Note in New York, which is a world-famous jazz club and an international spot for travelers. On any given night during the three-week run there, probably fifty to sixty percent of the crowd were out of towners, including people from Europe, Japan and all over the world, which is very exciting.

JazzReview: There were also a lot of musicians in the crowd at those gigs, some of who sat in with you. Though you are, obviously, well known for your work in fusion, I was still a little surprised that a few of them were artists that one tends to associate with rock, such as Isaac Hayes-a Rock-and-Roll Hall of Famer, in fact--and Chaka Khan.

Chick Corea: I usually pay very little attention to styles of music. I think it’s kind of a red herring to label musicians and performances as being any one particular thing. I just enjoy working with different musicians, and they are both great musicians. Isaac, I know through Scientology, we’ve played together in the past at church events and always enjoyed playing together. Chaka, I’ve known for quite a while. I produced her first jazz recording back in 1983. I love her as a singer. There was quite a bit of sitting in that went on during the gig-Wallace Roney, George Benson, Bela Fleck and several others Paul Schaffer did some things that were very nice at the Blue Note.

JazzReview: Is any of that going to eventually come out? I’d love to hear some of it.

Chick Corea: Yeah, the Rendezvous project was really such an incredible one. We edited sixty hours of recordings down to two hours for this album and we’re planning on a subscription series of ten CDs and ten DVDs. We’re also planning to broadcast some documentaries in HDTV. Each of the nine different bands will have a release, and there will be a tenth one that’s a compilation of everything.

JazzReview: This CD is recorded in something called Direct Stream Digital (DSD). What exactly is that and what does it mean for the listener?

Chick Corea: Direct Stream Digital is a brand new digital audio technique developed by Sony and Phillips-they own the copyright, in actual fact-that brings the sound quality of digital up to the level of analog. Now, when CDs came out there was lot of talk-propaganda, really-about how the sound quality was "better" than analog, but that really wasn’t true. It was easier to skip around from track to track, but the sound quality wasn’t any better.

JazzReview: I’m so glad to hear you say that. When CDs came out I remember thinking that they didn’t seem to really "breathe," if you know what I mean, and that it took me a while to get used to that.

Chick Corea: I know what you’re saying, and DSD breathes. Have you heard the album on a player equipped for DSD?

JazzReview: No, just on a regular CD player. It does sound good, though.

Chick Corea: You’ll be amazed how good it sounds when you hear this on a DSD player. This is actually the first recording made with a sixteen track DSD recorder. First they had it for two tracks, then four, then eight and-just in the nick of time, right before the gig-they got DSD up to sixteen tracks.

JazzReview: Chick, thanks for giving us some of your time and good luck with the album and everything else you have going on.

Chick Corea: Thank you.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Chick Corea
  • Subtitle: 60th Birthday, Live at Blue Note
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