Chick Corea likes to meet his targets.
Controlling his own destiny is essential to him. He's sort of like a
corporation that way. He is a corporation. A hip one, but still...
he decides in advance to start a piano solo with a certain kind of
feeling, but then for some reason, right or wrong, objective or
subjective, finds something else at the last minute, he feels he let
himself down somehow. Like he didn't have the nerve or the energy or
the smarts to see it through. Weird? This may sound over-disciplined
for a jazz musician, but he is in fact anything but predictable.
the early '70s, when he recorded "In A Silent Way" with
Miles Davis's first rock-oriented band, and right after that his own
jazz-rock fusion group Return to Forever (RTF) launched him into the
big time, he has grown into one of the most eclectic, influential and
respected figures on the scene.
There are, it should be
noted, people who do not approve of his being a Scientologist, and
working for their cause. But he tends to keep his beliefs to himself.
It would be difficult, in any case to preach to jazz musicians, who
can make a religion out of Devout Skepticism. His flutist and reed
player the late Joe Farrell once told him: "Hey, man. Don't lay
that Scientology shit on me."
As leader and soloist,
Corea has switched between electric and acoustic bands, acoustic and
electric keyboards, solo improvisational concerts, and post-bop,
Latin, electro-pop and funk styles. He also writes and records
children's songs and records and presents recitals of classical music.
Discipline even extends to breaking discipline. Moving
contrary to ecological currents, Corea started to smoke cigarettes in
June, 1993, after years of abstinence. Not that he considered them
good for his health; he just remembered how much he used to enjoy
smoking. He intended to stop the following June and you better believe
he did it. He has been called "The Chameleon."
have their own taste and the basic freedom to change it at any given
moment," the Chameleon said. "I do not consider someone who
likes one color one day and another the next fickle. That's the
challenge when you are presenting people with your ideas. It takes
guts and intelligence to change your mind in public.
what I have to offer today and here's how I put it across. I don't
like to be forced into one bag or another. Music is a process rather
than one song or an album. One offering is only a part of a stream of
John Patitucci, electric bass, and David
Weckl, drums, built strong reputations as fusion players with Corea's
"Elektric Band." But then they became the battery of his "Akoustic
Band," Patitucci having switched to the string bass. Old bags
were continually being traded in around Corea.
He likes life "crisp,
crystal clear and to the point." Down Beat magazine called him "jazz's
most protean and unpredictable character," going on to quote him:
"I base everything I do - my whole art of music - on the
communication that emanates from me and my group straight to the
listener....So whatever [instrument] I'm playing is of very secondary
consideration." His friend and colleague the vibraphonist Gary
Burton called him "the most prolific and versatile of any modern
Sitting in the lobby of a fancy Parisian
hotel, one that is more often host to rich rock musicians, Corea
puffed an American Spirit cigarette ("organically grown tobacco,
no additives in the paper"). Looking clean, fit and bright he
takes enough time to carefully consider what he talks about.
parenthetical example, about John Coltrane: "The reason any of us
go into an art form is to find the freedom to create something we
like. It was inspiring to hear Trane follow through his creation so
consistently and thoroughly on such a high level of finesse and
Corea created Stretch Records - a subsidiary of GRP, a
subsidiary of MCA, a subsidiary of Universal (so it goes in the
multi-national world) - as a showcase for his own bands and also the
people who worked with him. It made sense, he had already built a
state-of-the-art recording studio.
He was only a consultant,
he had no ambitions to produce. He did not want to change his basic
life as a performing musician. Most of all it was about karma: "Every
musician of value has in mind where he wants to go with his own
creation. If that instinct is ignored within a group, and the members
are only allowed to play what is required in the group context, the
leader's context, the group becomes stilted very quickly."
he always tried to help the guys in his bands with their own projects.
His management team was very active dealing with their recordings and
tours as well as his own. His self-assurance was impressive -
competition was not a threat. All the more so for his utter lack of
pomposity. He seemed to be plugged into good sense like a computer
with its printer.
The mechanical implications of that simile
may seem a bit simplistic. But machines have been very important in
Corea's career. For example, the expression "plugged-in"
assumes a literal as well as a figurative connotation in his case.
image of Corea that soemehow stays in the mind of someone who has
known him for awhile is in a studio with Keith Jarrett, Joe Zawinul
and Herbie Hancock recording on electronic keyboards with Miles. They
are producing a veritable cascade of highly reverbed wah-wah spinoffs.
Visually, it appears as though the three of them are being sucked into
a spaghetti-like tangle of wires connecting a cornucopia of fancy and
state-of-the-art hardware. And they are loud.
became popular and expensive. Some people accused them of being, so to
speak, expensive hookers - doing what they were doing for money not
love. That was partially jealousy of course. Everybody wanted that
heavy bread. Those guys left Miles's band with a graduate degree in
In the late '70s, on the basis of RTF's fusion
sales record, he was given what Corea called a "big-time advance"
by Warner Brothers. But while the company was expecting a sort of
RTF2, he was by then interested in making acoustic chamber jazz. The
first two records under the deal did not sell well.
balance between the money and the product was "way out of whack,"
he said. "When a record doesn't make its money back, if that goes
on for awhile, then a musician is going to feel like his product is no
good. The financial reality tends to invalidate the musical value.
Eventually it puts the musician in a frame of mind where he uses his
energy trying to make music that isn't really his."
though Warners was committed to four more albums - Corea had engaged a
"big-time lawyer" to draw up the contract - he offered them
a graceful way out. "Look," he said. "Let's just drop
it. That way you don't have to pay me and I don't have to deliver
something I don't want to do right now." The president wrote him
a letter saying what a nice guy he was.
Of course it's easy
to be a nice guy when you're giving other people money, which is what
it amounted to. But then you must be confident that you have the
talent, courage and commercial instinct to make more of your own on
your own terms.
After the interview, on his way out of the
hotel lobby, The Chameleon mentioned that he was painting now. It was
only a hobby but obviously important to him. Although he didn't seem
to realize it, his explanation of what painting meant to him explained
his relationship to music as well:
"I find myself
always looking at light and color and shading,. I am always looking
for a way to frame the environment, to put it into perspective."