Chick Corea was a protean musician. Like Miles Davis, with whom he worked on the seminal 1969 album “In a Silent Way,” he explored many different types of music: straight-ahead piano with his band “Return to Forever,” the electric band with bassist Stanley Clarke, duets with Bobby McFerrin. Throughout his long career going back to the 1960’s, he was always a formidable keyboard artist much admired by his many peers.
Corea visited Morning Becomes Eclecticon Sept 24,1982 and chatted with host at the time, Tom Schnabel. The interview was recorded when KCRW was located in a two room classroom at John Adams Middle School before moving directly across the street to our basement studios situated at Santa Monica College proper on Pico Boulevard.
Schnabel had the good sense to record his interview on cassette tape and keep it in his vaults, which he recently unearthed. This is the first time since 1982 that we are able to share this long forgotten interview between Schnabel and Corea.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Tom Schnabel: I just want to ask you, what are your current plans aside from touring, and everything else. [What] sort of a dream do you have? Writing for a symphony orchestra, writing a piano concerto? Is there sort of a big goal that you have out there that you want to find the time for hopefully, before you retire, whatever, I don't imagine you're gonna retire forever.
Corea: “Actually, I am looking to find a four week or six week period, possibly next year, some time to write a lengthy work for the piano and orchestra. I've had the idea of a piano concerto in mind for years. Now, I guess every composer who's a pianist does.I've got some plans via the possibility of doing a TV show that is the series called ’Great Performances’ that I may be doing as a composer, in which case I'll be writing some new music for that next year. But there are lots and lots of projects that I have on the horizon in the category of new works to compose. One of the most recent, soon that I'm going to be doing is composing new music for Stanley Clarke, Lenny White, Al DiMeola and myself for some concerts we're going to be doing next year.”
Schnabel: We've been premiering a new work by Chick Corea called "From Nothing"
Corea: “‘From Nothing.’ That's the name of the whole work, this part of the work is called ‘Synthesis.’”
Schnabel: This is an all composed piece.
Corea: “No, no, no, that was completely improvised. The second section of the piece that you heard the electronic sounds was improvised as well, but it was done with a different process in the studio using tapes and different electronic techniques. But part one where, which is the pianos in part three with just the pianos it was just improvised.”
Schnabel: For the finicky listeners, was that in real time, or was that prepared, so to speak?
Corea: “Well, part part one and part three, was done by putting a piano track down first, I improvised an initial piano track and then went over it and overdubbed a second piano track that was done to the first piano track and then a third piano track that was done to the first two, so it's in ‘fake time.’”
Schnabel: Okay. Look for it in your fake book. You won't find it in your fake book. Right now we're listening to what Chick is up to currently. And the next piece that we have queued up, Chick, is you playing with Gary Burton and a string quartet. Could you please tell us a little bit about this work? You've been playing with Gary Burton for some time. Now you had the duet records for ECM.
Corea: “Yeah, we have. We have three of them. And this, this is actually our fourth recording for ECM. It won't be released until next year sometime. But it's an idea Gary and I have had for some years which is for me to compose some music, adding a string quartet to a duet. So this piece is called ‘Sextet,’ because there's six of us and it's in seven parts. We just finished a tour. We never did get to the Greek Theatre like we were talking about before, but we finished about a month tour of all over the US and we're going to take the sextet to Japan sometime next year. But what we're going to hear here is part one of this seven part work.”
Schnabel: Who were the performers in the sextet? It's the string quartet plus you and Gary?
Corea: “Yes, yes. The cellist is Fred Sherry from New York. The viola player is Karen Dreyfuss from New York. The first violinist is Ikhwan Bay from New York and the other violinist is Carol Schaaf and Carol's from LA and she's worked with me before and some of my other groups that have strings in it.”
Schnabel: Well, let's get right to it. This is definitely fresh off the recorders. Absolutely. And was this recorded in your Mad Hatter studios?
Corea: “This was recorded at Mad Hatter about about two weeks ago.”
Schnabel: A brand new work written by Chick Corea features Chick playing piano Gary Burton playing vibes with String Quartet -- does it have a name yet Chick?
Corea: “It's gonna be called ‘Sextet.’”
Schnabel: And it's nice, definitely a composed piece. Yeah, very, very tightly composed. What is it about Gary's playing that has a real affinity for you, there's so many vibraphone players that you could play with if you wanted to.
Corea: “Well, we've developed this rapport since about 1972, I think we began to play together. And it's just been one of the easiest, smoothest kind of rapports I've had, is just a natural kind of rhythm and flow that we get into when we when we begin to play, we've hardly ever rehearsed that much during during the years, we've played tunes that we both knew in one way or another. And this is really some of the first new music that I wrote specifically for the both of us, but I find Gary to be an incredible musician with that instrument. It's a very strange instrument, you know, I mean, it was originally just an orchestral instrument that's used for coloration. And I think Gary took the instrument to a completely other level. I mean, he turns it into a virtuoso engineer.”
Schnabel: And his formality, technique is, I think, really unparalleled. I would say.