In the wake of the death of jazz legend Chick Corea, countless artists from across the stylistic and generational spectra noted the profound influence he had on their own musical journeys. But while Corea’s influence undoubtedly seeped into later generations, it’s important to also recognize the formative effect that Corea had on his own era and artistic contemporaries.
One such artist is Herbie Hancock, one of a handful of names, along with Corea, that has come to define electric jazz music and its far-reaching possibilities. Hancock and Corea famously met in 1968 when Miles Davis made the call to replace Herbie with Chick in his touring band. While that could have sparked a rivalry between the two pianists, instead it sparked a mutual respect and scholarly kinship that would continue for decades to come. After both men went on to be lauded bandleaders and composers in their own right, the two linked up in the late ’70s and early ’80s for a handful of experimental, dual-piano tours and various other projects.
Chick Corea & Herbie Hancock – “Malagueña”, Interview – 1985
[Video: Sebastian Galassi]
In a lengthy reflection on his personal and creative relationships with Chick Corea as told to Rolling Stone, Herbie Hancock offers up anecdotes about everything from their days in the studio with Miles Davis to their collaborative work onstage to a memorable, five-encore performance at Montreux Jazz Festival in 1980.
“[The news of Corea’s death] hit me like a ton of bricks,” Hancock explains of the sudden nature of Corea’s passing. “I couldn’t believe it when somebody from Chick’s office called me a couple hours before they were going to make the public announcement about his death. I knew nothing. I don’t know anybody that did know he was ill.”
Read a few highlights from Herbie Hancock’s eulogy for Chick Corea below or check out the full transcript here.
On Getting Replaced By Corea In Davis’ Band
[When I found out he had replaced me in Miles’ band], I knew he could play and I knew he could do the job. [Then when we started working together with Miles in the studio], I loved it — it was really great, because it just gave me more food to not necessarily duplicate or be influenced particularly by the notes that he chose, but the direction that Chick would choose at any given moment, it would open the door for something other than that, and at the same time, kind of complement it.
On Recording As A Three-Part Keyboard Section With Chick Corea & Joe Zawinul
So it was an interesting challenge for all of us because sometimes it was three keyboard players. There’d be [eventual Weather Report co-founder] Joe Zawinul playing on another keyboard, so we had to just improvise — I can’t really use the word accompaniment, but an environment, I would say. Create an environment where we’re all different flora and fauna in that environment, and to be a part of that kind of thinking and that type of direction was exciting to me because nobody else was doing that. … We all respected each other; we learned from each other. So there was never any kind of animosity.
Miles Davis – In A Silent Way (ft. Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Joe Zawinul On Keys)
On Playing With Chick Corea As A Piano Duo
I think [the ’78 duo tour] was Chick’s idea. I remember the first time that we got together to figure out what we were going to do. I went to his house [in Los Angeles] and he had two grand pianos there. And it was really funny because we started off to play something — I don’t know what tune it was, some standard or something — and we were both very careful. I didn’t want to get in Chick’s way; he didn’t want to get in my way. And little by little, we started taking a few more chances, and a few more, and nothing seemed to be in anybody’s way, so we just went and started to go for it. And we were both laughing; it was so much fun that we were having, just teasing each other with what came out of each other and stimulating each other in that same way. Before we even finished one of the tunes, we had to stop because we were laughing so hard, and then we both said, well, I guess we don’t need a lot of rehearsal [laughs].
Because as soon as he touched the keys, a light would go on somewhere inside my being of what to do next or what not to do next, and I guess he felt the same way. It just came off like it was supposed to be that way.
We fit together so well. It was so easy for me to take a solo within the duet, where Chick would be accompanying my going off and soloing on top. And the way he would accompany, what I felt was total support. And not just hanging in the background, but there was a sense of encouragement that was coming from him, and no matter where I went, he always had just the right thing for whichever direction I took. So I was free to fly wherever I wanted to go, and he would fill it in with all the necessary things to make it a part of what happened before and to give it substance and support harmonically and with the different lines that he would play maybe going in the opposite direction.
And it was always a joy. He made it so easy. That’s what I couldn’t understand — how is he doing this? Like he read my mind.
Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea (1978)
On A Memorable Duo Show At Montreux Jazz Festival In 1980
We played the Montreaux Jazz Festival — I think we played it twice, if not more, and it must have been maybe the second time we played the festival, we had to do five encores. People would not let us go. And by the way, one of the things that Chick would periodically do is go in the piano and either pull the strings or hold one down while he played the note for that string, which gave a different sound. And then I got into that game too, and maybe it’s the scientist in me, but I started to say, well, there are overtones in there; if I could get the right node with my finger on the string, I’d play one of the overtones of that note. It would be a different pitch.
So I started doing that, and I’ll never forget, during the same concert, I would end up under the piano, playing the wooden part of the frame of the piano. Chick was on top of the piano and he was doing something inside the strings, and the audience, they loved it; they were going wild. We had them in our pocket by that time. But it was fun for us and it was daring for us to go in those directions. We were playing and having fun but we were serious. We were getting paid and we had an audience out there that had paid their hard-earned money to see us. So it wasn’t just clowning around; we were trying to make music and trying to make fun at the same time. Why not?
You know what we did for the fifth encore? We walked offstage and said, “We’ve got to go back ’cause they’re still going crazy.” I said, “OK, Chick, why don’t we just put two chairs out in front of the audience and play games with them?” So we did that. We didn’t even go to the pianos. We sat there and we did anything that we could, from body sounds, striking parts of our body with rhythms, grabbing our throat in a certain way to make a [makes a wavering noise] sound. We tried to do it some kind of musical but fun way, and they loved all of that, too. [Laughs] And then we started, like, doing gestures without making sound, with our faces or with our hands. It was almost like a ballet, in a way. It got really crazy, but the audience loved all of that. So I’ll never forget that. That was a monumental memory that I have.
Chick Corea & Herbie Hancock – Montreux Jazz Festival 1980
[Video: Zvonimir Bucevic]
On Chick Corea’s Approach To Music & Life
Chick was always playful; there was this kind of joy in his playing, and almost a childlike playfulness, like we’re playing in a sandbox, and it brought joy to me and then I would feed something and it would bring joy to him. We were like two kids. That was so inspiring and encouraging. There was never one hint of competition; it was all inspiration. So I could get inspiration from two [places]: I could get it from myself and from him. And I think he felt the same way.
Most of our conversations were about music. We didn’t talk a lot about political issues or the news of the day. Chick had a funny thing about that. He didn’t seem to want to be bogged down by some of those things. And it wasn’t easy to talk to him about some of those things because he wasn’t following them in the newspaper or online. His primary focus, as far as I could tell, was always music and always about the heart and about the value of the arts, and how important the arts are as nourishment for the human spirit. And I totally agree with that.
The first thing that pops into my head right now [as I reflect on Chick’s personality] is the positive attitude that Chick had. I never saw him have a negative one. It was always positive, it was always encouraging, and he always wanted to have fun. And he cared about people. That’s it. And obviously he had courage, to take all the musical chances that he took and move into so many different directions, and he took on the challenge of being proficient in so many areas of music, whether it was pop or whether it was rock or of course jazz.
So when I think of Chick, I think of a person with a big heart. And that’s what we all need: We all need a big heart and to always be willing to share anything that we’ve learned, anything that we’ve discovered, so that everybody has a chance to move forward. That’s what Chick was really about.
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[H/T Rolling Stone]
[Originally published 2/16/21]