Chick Corea

I was on elliptical at the gym this morning, listening to Chick Corea Radio on Pandora. Lots of Chick, Gary Burton, Pat Methaney, Stanley Clarke. Happy music, is what I’ve called it since the late 1970’s.

Chick and I go “way back,” in a way. I “met” him in 1976 or 1977 in Burlington, Vermont. At the time, I was the Arts and Entertainment Editor for the UVM school newspaper, the Vermont Cynic. When Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke were scheduled to perform with Al DiMeola and Lenny White at Burlington Memorial Auditorium, it did not take me long to decide who got the assignment. I secured my front row seat and backstage pass, loaded up my crappy hand-me-down Minolta camera with a large roll of film, and headed off to my assignment.

Unfortunately, the band was late, so I didn’t get any pre-concert interview (or post-concert, as it turned out), but both Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke assured me as they were about to take the stage that, if I just paid attention, they would make it up to me. Chick nodded at the camera and said, “don’t put that down.” They then proceeded to burn the house down, and in doing so, they mugged for me like they were being paid for every face. I really remember only one picture (I long ago lost the negatives): As Chick was attacking his keyboard in one of his spectacularly melodic elegies, he turned toward me (sidestage), crinkled his eyes shut and stuck his tongue out between clenched teeth. SNAP!

I left that concert with one thought: that guy really, really loves what he does!

At the beginning of the pandemic lockdown in the Spring of 2020 (holy crap, a year and a half ago!), I was reminded of the concert (and the many times since that I have seen him) when Chick turned to Facebook every afternoon at about 4:30 or so to live stream his practice sessions. Just Chick and his grand piano, at his home, with piles and piles of sheet music on the piano. He would rummage through the pile, pull something out, explain what it was, when he wrote it, usually a little story about it, and then he launched into 10 minutes of what he does in a truly inimitable style that separates him from the field. Here’s a sample of him combining Mozart and Gershwin.

For several weeks, I tuned in daily, iPad in my lap, and allowed Chick Corea to wipe away the worry and strife of those horrible days, often with tears streaming down my face — HAPPY MUSIC, it was, and I remembered the look of pure joy on his face as he bit his tongue in Burlington 43 years ago.

Less than a year later, Chick Corea died of a rare form of cancer, and I wondered if he knew – if he chose this way to say hello and goodbye to his fans. Whether intentional or not, it was a fitting coda to the life of a man who loved what he did to the very end.

[Research note: I have been unable to confirm through any internet source the dates of the concerts I witnessed at Memorial Auditorium. The primary source, concertarchives.org, lists none of them. Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke, Gary Burton Quintet (with Pat Methaney), Billy Cobham and George Duke, all between 1976-1977. Prove me right!]

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