Before Clearwater show, Chick Corea talks going DIY, playing mashups and plans for India

He also detailed the agenda for his upcoming Detroit Jazz Festival residency.

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click to enlarge Chick Corea, who plays Capitol Theatre in Clearwater, Florida on August 17, 2018. - Chris Rodriguez
Chris Rodriguez
Chick Corea, who plays Capitol Theatre in Clearwater, Florida on August 17, 2018.

Chick Corea has gone DIY, sort of.

"I'm kind of working that way now because record companies are a little slow to get all of their ducks in a line in order to make a major release," he told CL. The long-running jazz icon is talking about a recording that he, drummer Dave Weckl and bassist John Patitucci put to tape during back-to-back St. Petersburg shows on January 13. Corea, 77, had to press it himself since the record company is still working on its version of the release.

"My tours, they just keep going. So if I wait for the record company, then I miss carrying the record around on tour, and that's where all the fans come out," he said.

Chick Corea Akoustic Band dazzles fans from around the globe at rare, intimate St. Petersburg College gig (w/photos)

Corea — a living connection to the days when Miles, Herbie and Thelonious played clubs like Birdland in New York City — is staging an August 17 solo piano set at Clearwater's Capitol Theatre. There's no planned setlist, but Corea does envision blending the work from some of his favorite classical composers (Mozart, Scarlatti and Scriabin) with tunes that have more familiar melodies.

"You know the term that's used about mashing or mixing up two songs?," he asked. "It's a mashup. I'm probably gonna try some of that out."

Attendees to the intimate gig should also keep their fingers crossed for new approaches to a fan favorite, "Spain," any bits of the music he has planned for a three-day residency at the Detroit Jazz Festival, or something from an upcoming tour he's bringing to India, where Corea plans to bring a very special ensemble.

"India? I'm bringing me, myself and I," he said. "My intimate trio."

Read our detailed Q&A — and get more information on the Clearwater show — below.

Chick Corea (Solo Piano). Fri, Aug. 17, 8 p.m.$35-$65. Capitol Theatre, 405 Cleveland St., Clearwater.

I heard you last night on WUSF, chatting with Mike Cornette, it sounded great.

Yeah, Gayle came in and told me about it. Mike is being a big help. We only did that a couple of nights ago.

Yeah, I heard Gayle in the background.

That's right. My sweet wife is always with me.

Yeah, she was great when she came on stage to join you Weckl and Patitucci at SPC.

Yeah, that was great. Thanks for that, anyway. That went well, and we made a recording and a concert film out of that. We printed it in Europe, and we sold it on this last tour — people love it.

Oh, so people are gonna have to get that on a bootleg or find it somewhere in Europe. I was gonna ask you if that tape came out yet.

There'll be a worldwide release on it at some point. I wanted to get it out real quick, so I printed it out for Europe. We did it ourselves. I have a merchandising guy who I've been working with for years, and he knows print companies, so we got a small number printed so we sold them at concerts. It came out really, really well — I am really happy with it.

Yeah, that show was really fun. It was great to watch you with Dave and John kind of look at each other after a song and be like, "Should we do another take?" Good to know, so it's out if you really want to find it — otherwise just wait for the national release.

Yeah. And I'm kind of working that way now because record companies are a little slow to get all of their ducks in a line in order to make a major release. But my tours, they just keep going. So if I wait for the record company, then I miss carrying the record around on tour, and that's where all the fans come out — on my tour. 

Here's every song Chick Corea's Akoustic Band played at its intimate comeback show & rehearsal at Saint Petersburg College

Awesome. And I am guessing we're at the point where the record companies do not tell Chick Corea what to do.

I'll send you a copy of the European release if you send me your address.

Awesome. Congrats on the NAMM award by the way. It looks like you had a good outing there.

Right, the American Eagle award. Yeah, that was fun. Hubert Laws was a big surprise showing up.

I also heard you're going to play India for the first time, which kind of blew my mind, that you hadn't been to India yet.

Yeah, it's true. I've had so many musician friends in India. Of course, one of my dear and longest friends, John McLaughlin, is intimately associated with Indian culture and so forth, but I never made it there. This will be my first time, Mumbai and New Delhi.

But they've been playing you on the radio there regularly.

There must be enough fans there because they booked me into huge concert halls. I'm hoping people come.

Which band are you bringing to India?

I am bringing me, myself and I. My intimate trio. I'm going on an Asian tour, starting with Japan, it goes through November. After India I fly over to Europe and do the rest of the month in Europe — all solo piano.

Yeah, I see the Milan dates for November – when are the India dates?

The India dates are prior to that, let me look on my iPhone, which has everything in it. The third and fourth of November.

Yeah, that'll be great.

Yeah, you should pop over.

Oh yeah, lemme get on my boat right now and see if I can get over there by then. Can we talk about the solo piano thing, since that's what you're doing in Clearwater? I know you talked with Mike about that on WUSF, and you talked about how it's a time for you to explore and mix in pieces from your favorite composers. I like that comment you made where you said that you will do that until you feel like you're losing the crowd a little — how do you know when your show is not entertaining the audience?

Ah, it's a very subtle thing. It's song-by-song and kind of moment by moment. When you communicate with an audience with music, it goes into a zone — a telepathic zone. People are listening, and you're playing, and there're emotions that go back forth — you can feel it. I like to try and stay connected, and I can sort of feel what connects and how it connects, and you know, sometimes I am willing to go off the grid and experiment where people are going, "Well, what the heck is he doing?" But then if I bring it back to a certain familiar pad, then I can feel the audience go, "Oh, that's what he was doing." They're not saying that, but I don't know, it's a game. I try and keep my own interests up, and keep my fun up, and include everybody. It's a wild thing. I love the experience of it.

Do you remember when or who you might of learned that from? Was it during a string of shows? I love that story of you reading a book, seeing a picture of Miles Davis then you decide to go to Birdland to go see him. Next thing you know, you encounter him in a men's room and don't say anything, then fast forward a few years you are filling for Herbie on piano. Do you remember when and who taught you how to feel the crowd, or was it something that you truly always had?

Nah, it's just part of life. I don't know how I sense. Even me trying to explain that to you was very unusual. I mean, it's just something I sense. Not just when I am playing for an audience. Like, when I speak to you or anyone. It's a matter of communication. The words and the sounds are going back and forth, but what's carrying the sounds and the words is an intention, and a feeling, and an emotion — you know what I mean? That's what I try and pick up on. I try and take the words and the notes and reach behind them to see what is really going on.

And last time we talked you expressed some interest in doing a lot more composing, almost commission work, and being busy with that. How has that plan played out for you? You were headed for a lot of meetings when we spoke.

Yeah. I am lining up a commission that I really shouldn't announce yet because it's not signed. I'm pretty sure it's gonna happen, and I am pretty excited about it. It's with one of the major orchestras and one of the major soloists. For me, it'll be a piece that is different than what I have done before because most of the music I compose, I write for my own ensembles and for me to play. So for me to write music for another band, or another orchestra, or another soloist to play is a beautiful challenge which I haven't done too much of. So this is going to be one I'm really looking forward to. 

Then there's another commission that is coming around for the people in Hungary, Budapest, they know that I am a big Béla Bartók fan. I've been to Budapest a lot of times through the years. In fact, I played some of Bartók's music with an orchestra there some years ago. Anyway, I was offered another commission. To honor, in a Bartók celebration, to honor Béla Bartók by writing a piece for small ensemble, which I am also gonna do.

And then there are some film things that have come my way that I am considering. So, it's rolling along.

It's cool to hear that you are approaching composing from a different place in this phase. I was thinking back — especially with someone like you that has a vast repertoire that goes all the way back several years — do any of your old songs have new meaning to you now when you play them? Are there any old songs which make you emotional when playing because they've adopted new meanings?

Everywhere I go, everyone seems to know the song "Spain." That composition was originally recorded with an introduction, a theme in an introduction that was really not my composition. It was a theme from the second movement of a three-movement guitar concerto written by Joaquin Rodrigo. It's a guitar concerto called "Concierto de Aranjuez." I would play that them and then launch into "Spain," and people got to think that the theme was mine and part of "Spain." So what I'm doing these days, that is really feeling real good, is I've actually learned Rodrigo's score. Have you ever heard that guitar concerto? I recommend it if you haven't.


It's his most famous work. Actually, on the recording Sketches of Spain Miles Davis and Gil Evans recorded that second movement with a Gil Evans arrangement, and that's where I learned it, really, from a Gil Evans arrangement. Anyway, I am playing the original score now. Not only the second movement theme, but also the first movement, and I am combining it with an orchestral arrangement that I have with "Spain." I am playing that with a large orchestra. We tried it out with John [Patitucci] and Dave [Weckl] a month ago in Prague, on tour, and it was a real blast. So "Spain" tends to be a song that people keep on asking for, and I stopped playing it for a while, and then I keep on reinventing it and rearranging it, and having the audience sing with me on it, or whatever, you know?

I don't know, I try to approach my own songs in a new way every time. Play them differently to a point where I have to return to the original arrangement otherwise people don't even recognize it anymore.

As far as "Spain" goes, do you think that's something you'll do when you play Capitol Theatre in Clearwater? What's that set look like?

Could be. It's hard to say which way it'll go with piano solo. There's a lot of possibilities of songs, and I definitely don't have a set song list, but one of the things I am trying to do in lately my piano solo shows is combine, you know the term that's used about mashing or mixing up two songs? It's a mashup.


What I've been experimenting with is putting a piece of classical music, maybe Mozart or Scriabin or Scarlatti and putting that together with a standard tune whose melody people might recognize. I'm probably gonna try some of that out.

The gateway to Scarlatti for some people.

Maybe so. He's not nearly as well known as Mozart, of course, but he's one of my favorites from that era.

Yeah, they were all improvisers like you.

Exactly, and that's another point. The composers that I choose are usually pianists that put together their own ensembles. Mozart was one of those guys as well as Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington. I put them in the same category, piano player-composers. 

Yeah, it was interesting to hear you talk about the way you assemble your ensembles with the bass and drums first, and it's funny to say that the piano is one of the last things you bring in when you are thinking of a band.

Yeah, the rhythm section is everything in the kind of rhythm music I like to play; piano, bass and drums. There are a lot of possibilities. 

Speaking of possibilities. Do you want to talk about what you're going to do in Detroit? It seems like that city is in for a treat.

Yeah, they have what they call an artist-in-residence program that they have every year. So they've asked me to bring something special in, so I put together a program that was kind of a wish list program, and I thought, "Nah, they're not gonna go for that. I don't know where they're gonna find the funding for that, they're not gonna go for it." But then they did, so the opening night we're doing a trio concert with Dave and John. The second night Dave and John are gonna be there again, but we'll have Eric Marienthal and Frank Gambale plug in and do our electric thing on our second night. On the third night they've put an orchestra together. I think they call it the Detroit Jazz Festival Orchestra, and it's made up mainly of Detroit Symphony Orchestra players. The program that night will be me bringing in a sextet, an acoustic sextet, with John and Dave again on bass and drums, Eric on soprano saxophone and then two members from by band from 10 years ago called Origin, which is Steve Wilson on saxophone and Steve Davis on the trombone. So it's a sextet, plus orchestra. We'll do that program that I mentioned earlier, that I did in Prague, which is the first two movements of the "Concierto de Aranjuez." It's the guitar concerto, but I play the guitar part on the piano. The piano piece transitions into "Spain" for orchestra. — "Spain" for sextet and orchestra. It's gonna really be something to get all together.

That's awesome. I feel like after the last time we talked I thought to myself, "I don't know if Chick Corea does anything other than live and breathe music," but then I saw you in a Chelsea football jersey. What was up with that?

Oh, right, yeah. You mean Chelsea, England, right? That was a real hoot because one of the last gigs on the last European tour was a couple nights at Ronnie Scott's club in London. And a fan presented me with this gift of a soccer jersey. I actually didn't even meet the guy, but he somehow knew that I was from Chelsea, Massachusetts. You see? He made the connection, so he gave me the actual Chelsea soccer team football jersey with a big "Chick 77" on the back.

Yeah, you were getting down and moving around in that thing.

Yeah, that was a hoot, I'm gonna show that to my Chelsea high school buddies when I go up to Boston.

And I think we're out of time. I feel like we started a good tradition last time. You told me about the grasshopper who walks into a bar, and I was wondering if you would leave us with another one of your famous pieces of humor.

Oh my God, did I tell you the grasshopper at the bar joke?

Yeah, we were just talking about at the small talk you make onstage at these conferences, the filler things, and you, unprompted by the way, brought out the grasshopper joke, so I didn't know if you had another one.

Well, I'm kind of walking outside getting some space so it makes me think of that photographer that went absolutely mad trying to get a close up of the horizon.

Uh, that's perfect.

That was a quickie, so there you go.

You spend a lot of time here, so when can we expect you back in town to sneak in another Bay area show after this solo gig?

Oh, gee, I don't know. I don't have something planned right now, but, uh, I have wishes to get in touch sometime with the Tampa, some of the symphony orchestras in Tampa to play some of my orchestral music, so maybe one of those things can connect sometime next year.

Excellent, thanks again for your time. Always great to talk and see you play in different settings.

You, too. I appreciate you taking the time and getting the word out. See you Ray, thanks for everything.

Alright, Chick. Have a good one.


About The Author

Ray Roa

Read his 2016 intro letter and disclosures from 2022 and 2021. Ray Roa started freelancing for Creative Loafing Tampa in January 2011 and was hired as music editor in August 2016. He became Editor-In-Chief in August 2019. Past work can be seen at Suburban Apologist, Tampa Bay Times, Consequence of Sound and The...
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