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“Just Play What You Hear” – Chick Corea in India

The thing about true genius is, you can’t possibly hope to grasp it in its entirety. You’re humbled and pushed back and all you can do is hope to grow and evolve to a point where you can at least attempt to comprehend it from afar. Armando Anthony Corea visited India this November. A solo recital of sorts, it was to be an exploration of all the music he had been inspired by and in turn, his attempt to transform it. I was a fool to believe that to be all there was to the show.

If you’ve ever been around polyglots, you will have noticed that they inadvertently tend to utilize vocabulary and references from the other languages they speak. Now attempt to imagine what a conversation would be like if they were given the freedom to speak all of them, however and whenever with no bounds. This is me trying to give you a superficial analogy for Corea’s ‘style’since cross-genre doesn’t even begin to cover it.

He began the show with a cup of tea in hand, ‘tuning’ the grand piano by making the audience sing along to random notes and almost chromatic phrases. I was honestly impressed by the tone-rich audience that could sing every phrase note for note. Musicians, I tell you.

After warming up with 500 Miles High, the first part to the experience was the mashups. He explained that in his mind, he tended to associate different pieces and composers with each other by way of their feel and the emotion they incite. As such, we were given a glimpse of how Chick’s mind works when he went on to mashup Mozart’s sonata with George Gershwin’s Someone to Watch Over Me. We also noticed how hilariously impromptu his performance was when he said he was to play a sonata by Domenico Scarlatti, but forgot what he was going to mash it with. In a moment of pure childish revelation, he goes, “Oh yeah! Bill Evans!”, before going on to combine Waltz with Debby with the sonata. Finally, he told us that he had observed that Brazilian composers seemed to have been strongly influenced by Chopin, and then went on to combine his work with that of Antonio Jobim.

After that stunning exploration, Chick played a duet piece by him and the legendary Paco De Lucia, in tribute to the latter. He said that he called the composition Yellow Nimbus, because while playing with Paco there were times when he would literally see a cloud like halo surrounding Paco’s head.

The next and my personal favourite part of the show was when he spoke about his childhood, and how as a gigantic family with several cousins, aunts and uncles with a musical background, everyone would gather in their grandparents’ house which had an upright piano in the basement. They would make fun of each other by playing funny and entertaining melodies and phrases on the piano. This went on to influence him into creating ‘musical portraits’ of people. He then inexplicably and to everyone’s absolute astonishment, sat a chair next to his piano, called audience members up on stage and literally wrote music on the spot by looking at them.

With everyone still reeling from something that brilliant, he took it up a notch and explained how many family members would play the upright piano at the same time, before calling audience members up on stage to literally play with him on the same grand piano. This led to some beautiful musical conversations and to the absolute euphoria of some audience pianists.

Chick then brought the dynamics down a notch by playing a handful of compositions he wrote as ‘children’s songs’, inspired by the innocence and untouched joy of children. He explained that all his life he has dearly loved kids, and that the older he grew the more he cherished their emotions.

As an encore, he played a crowd favourite, Spain, but in a brand new fashion. He told us that the opening melody of the song is sometimes credited to him but is in fact an excerpt from Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez. He paid homage to the composer by playing a portion of the original concerto, before moving into the actual composition written by him, improvising feverishly throughout. As an absolutely massive finale, he made the audience sing the main phrases of the song, ending with the opening melody and an absolutely ecstatic crowd.

As everyone sang these complex melodies and completed phrasings for Corea, we all realized that we were touched by something far greater than a concert experience. We had been impacted far beyond vocal emotion. And that this man was truly the personification of the potential of music.

If there’s anything one can wish for, it’s that every human being be touched by something this powerful at least once in their lives. I for one know for certain, that I’ll never look at music the same way again.

The title of this article comes from Miles Davis’ advice to Chick Corea before he joined his band. “Nah, no rehearsal”, said Miles. “Just play what you hear”.

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