Experiencing Chick Corea: A Listener’s Guide

I’m proud to announce the release of “Experiencing Chick Corea: A Listener’s Guide” as part of the Rowman & Littlefield Listener’s Guides series. The book is designed for personal enjoyment and classroom use in general music classrooms or jazz settings – ask your library to order and take advantage of the 30% discount offer for your personal enjoyment. Use Code RLFANDF30 at https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781442244689.

“Chick Corea has had his ten talented fingers in so many different kinds of music, from be-bop to tango, from classical to fusion, and everything in between. It doesn’t seem possible that anyone could do this in one lifetime and convince you that he is perfectly at home in everygenre!”
– Gary Burton, grammy-winning jazz musician

His music has inspired me since I got interested in jazz – the album “Light as a Feather” was a constant companion. In the mid-80s, I got to spend some time with Chick after a concert in Tübingen/ Germany with the Acoustic Band. At that time I was working on my undergraduate thesis, a comparison of piano styles between Art Tatum, Thelonious Monk, and Chick Corea. He was kind enough to show me his perspective of the development of styles and his influence from Thelonious Monk. Over the years I got to see him in many configurations, from Elektric Band to duos with Bela Fleck and Gary Burton and other collaborations and it was always a deeply inspiring experience. Hence, when the opportunity arose to explore his life and music in depth, it was a dream come true for me.

I submitted the proposal in 2013 and it was immediately accepted. Throughout the journey I got to talk to several musicians who played in Chick’s groups, Gene Perla, John Patitucci, Lennie White, and Jamie Glaser – very fun and informative conversations. Most of the information came from the countless interviews and articles written over his nearly 60-year career – a wealth of information and snapshots in time. I especially enjoyed putting the listening guides together. The concept of the series is to bring an artist/ musical style to a broad population who might not necessarily have in-depth musical knowledge. The listening guides especially invite the reader to join a recording session or special concert through the process of getting to know the participants, some of the musical ingredients, and the special interactions and circumstances that led to a historical recording. One of the guides leads through the recording of Bitches Brew, Miles Davis’ ground-breaking album recorded in 1969. Here it is – lean back, click on the link to the recording here, and follow along – enjoy!

Let’s take a listen: Bitches Brew

From Bitches Brew, Columbia 40580, released April 1970, recorded August 19-21, 1969 at CBS 39th Street Studio B, New York, featuring Miles Davies (trumpet), Wayne Shorter (soprano sax), Bennie Maupin (bass clarinet), John McLaughlin (electric guitar), Chick Corea (electric piano), Joe Zawinul (electric piano), Dave Holland (bass), Harvey Brooks (electric bass), Lenny White (drums), Jack DeJohnette (drums), Don Alias (congas), Juma Santos (shaker)

Tuesday, August 19, 1969 was a hot summer day in New York. By 10am Columbia Studio B was crowded with 12 musicians, producer Teo Macero and engineer Stan Tonkel. With two drummers, two bassists, and two keyboard players performing simultaneously, there were not enough booths in the studio to isolate each player and get individual sounds. Headphones and monitor mixes were largely ignored and with little instruction and only some compositional sketches the musicians started exploring sounds and grooves. The tape was rolling from the start on Miles’ request. Similar to the In A Silent Way sessions earlier that year, Miles had assembled his regular live group with Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, and Dave Holland, but also invited a host of guest musicians who he had scouted at jam sessions and through recommendations. Drummer Lenny White who was only 19 at the time recalls the following set-up: “We were all set up in a semi-circle with Miles in the center. He had a tall music stand and he conducted everything. All the sessions in August 1969 started at 10 in the morning and lasted until 1 or 2 in the afternoon.”

The album In A Silent Way had just been released two weeks earlier and Miles had been performing frequently with his current group. He was in top form and he was on a mission. The favorable audience reception of In A Silent Way seemed to indicate that the world was ready for his concept of fusing elements of jazz and rock with current technological advances such as electronic keyboards and tape editing and looping. He brought musical sketches to the studio and had rehearsed some ideas and themes, but the goal was to capture the encounter of these 12 musicians as they engaged in exploratory improvisations with minimal given structures.

The first tune captured on tape that Tuesday was “Bitches Brew”. Originally conceived as a five-part suite, only three sections were recorded and two ended up on the master spliced together as the intro/ interlude/ coda and the other one as a repeated bass vamp for the solos. The track starts with repeated bass notes interrupted by percussive chords on the Fender Rhodes. Miles enters after 40 seconds with a short motif and a high bend distorted by an echo effect. Saxophonist Wayne Shorter recalls that Miles was playing off lyrics written by his wife Betty Mabry to a song called “I’m A Down Home Girl”. She actually attended the session and Shorter called it ‘an emotional hook.’ The trumpet section with the echo effect is looped five times in five to 10-second intervals until Section 2 kicks in with Bennie Maupin grooving on the bass clarinet. Miles takes the first solo. Just a month earlier a new single “Spinning Wheel” by the rock group Blood, Sweat & Tears had reached #2 on the Billboard charts and was going to be nominated for three Grammys at the 1970 ceremony, winning the Grammy for Best Instrumental Arrangement. Inspired by the new radio hit, Miles’ solo seems like a psychedelic parody of “Spinning Wheel” with recurring fragments of the melody. At 6:32 John McLaughlin takes the tentative lead on guitar. Miles is back at 8:55 and there is the Spinning Wheel suggestion again. After a short saxophone solo by Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea gets his turn on the Fender Rhodes keyboard. With fragmented chord patterns and short melodic phrases, Chick paints a sonic landscape for us that accents the ongoing groove by the rhythm section. At 14:36 we hear the familiar emotional trumpet hook with the echo effect again – producer Ted Macero spliced it in here as an interlude. The bass clarinet groove returns and after one last trumpet solo before the original intro gets spliced back in as the coda section and concludes this nearly 27-minute track. None of the musicians in the studio could have imagined the final shape of the music after Macero’s extensive tape looping and splicing – a true revolution for jazz as a musical style making Bitches Brew arguably “The Most Revolutionary Jazz Album in History”