Chick Corea: “Monk was not only an excellent pianist, he is also my composer north”

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Chick Corea’s career can be thought of as a permanent reinvention from minimal variations. Between jazz-rock, jazz fusion and tradition, the 71-year-old pianist has forged a work that finds it always renewed, even when he recovers old societies. One of them, the one who brings him back to Argentina to play tomorrow at the Gran Rex, is the one he formed with drummer Steve Gadd in the late 70’s. “We always said we wanted to play again and we finally did it “says Korea on the other side of the phone.

The Leprechaun and My Spanish Heart, both of 1976, and Friends, 78, are some of the albums they recorded together when they both lived the peak of their creative careers. Just as Korea had already demonstrated its full potential from the years when it formed jazz-rock under Miles Davis’ directives and had established itself as a leader in Return To Forever, Gadd had become one of the most sought- scene, with recordings ranging from Paul McCartney to Chet Baker. “Not only did these albums become very popular, it was also the beginning of a great friendship,” the pianist recalls about their work together.

Two years after his last visit, this time together with The Vigil, a formation of young musicians of whom he still keeps Carlitos del Puerto on bass and Luisito Quintero on percussion, Korea moves, as in his entire life, as a relentless fusionist.

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A five-handed concert
In his search for new sonorities, and always interested in composing, he has developed not only his own aesthetic, but also a modus operandi. “It’s my life,” he says. “I feel the natural need to look for new things all the time.”

“He could quietly turn to play his classics. How do you avoid the comfort zone after 50 years of running?

-Well, it’s a way of life, I like to sit down to write, my main love is composition and hence my interest in finding new things. And then one feels the urge to show them all over the world, let the people know them. And when I go on tour I understand that I have to take care and stay healthy, eat well, rest well … The music keeps me young, keeps me cool.

“Is that why you surround yourself with young musicians?”

-Yes. It is natural to look for young and creative musicians. It’s something jazzers do a lot. My generation is old and the youngest are the ones that bring you the news. I always seek to learn from them, they keep me interested. Miles Davis was a great example of that, he was a great leader and surrounded by young musicians, because they are the ones who teach you the new. I think it’s something to adopt for life in general. To feel alive you have to be awake, all music should be like that, not just jazz.

-It is recognized today as one of the standards of the merger, how did you get there and what did you find there that you like so much?

-When I was in high school I became friends with a Portuguese trumpeter who had a band, they did rumba, chachachá, merengue … all rhythms that I did not know. He invited me to play the piano and his conguero was excellent. When I moved to New York, he showed me those sounds, he took me to listen to Tito Puente and all that layer of percussionists. There I understood that I could add that to my influences, so I played with Mongo Santamaría, the great Cuban percussionist.

Alongside Gadd, Korea made three notable albums in the 1970s; tomorrow they will rise together to the stage of the theater Gran Rex
Alongside Gadd, Korea made three notable albums in the 1970s; tomorrow they will rise together to the stage of the theater Gran Rex. Photo: AP / Vaclav Salek
And then came Spain as his other great source of inspiration.

– Of course, in 1972 I met Paco de Lucía and I fell in love with flamenco. And “Spain” became a success, something unexpected because you never compose a song thought about how it will go. I am very happy that he has done well; in fact, I am now preparing a work inspired by Joaquín Rodrigo and his “Concierto de Aranjuez”, the idea is to think of it as a concert for guitar and orchestra, but to be able to play it from the piano and also with my band. I think that sums up my entire Afro-Latin universe (laughs).

“One of his great style marks is the way he plays the staccato, which gives him that shiny sound. Was it a deliberate search?

“Yes, I like the music to be rhythmic, to have a swing. One of my interests is to think of the piano as a battery of 88 drums. Each key is a drum tuned at a particular height and my fingers are 10 chopsticks. I like to play drums when I do not play the piano, and I feel that when you have a good rhythm, you give what you are playing another brightness, you reinforce the emotion you want to convey. Whatever the melody, it has to have a certain dancing spirit. So internally, I’m always fighting for that. Rhythm is what gives diversity to your music.

“Thinking the piano from its percussive side places it near Thelonious Monk and Cecil Taylor. Do you feel part of that lineage?

“Absolutely, they are two of my great masters and they were very influential in my sound. Especially Monk, because not only was he an excellent pianist, but he is also my composer north. He was one of the greatest creators of our time.

– Towards the end of the 70’s, the critic pointed to jazz-rock as something that had already gone out of style. How did you take it at that time?

“I think that was something of one or two critics, the rest loved what we did. There were few who criticized us. It’s always about a few, but that’s what you remember, and of course you have your right to say and do not like it. But if you look at it now, all that music survived the passing of time and will continue to do so. I never went to pay attention to those criticisms, I still play music, which is my main objective. And I measure it in the happiness of the audience that comes to see me. If they are with me, then it means that I am well. And I always like to take something new and creative, I do not care if it’s electric, acoustic, long or short. What matters is that it has a positive effect on the listener.

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