I spoke tonight to Chick Corea about my project writing about my teachers, and as we talked I realized he was becoming a possible subject. So, a few observations to save for future use:
He is thinking about his experiment at Tanglewood last summer where he taught four days of classes in jazz improvisation to a small number of students. The first day he lectured and felt attention wane. The second day each person played and he saw that the performers were all waiting for his critique. This was not the direction he wanted to go. The third day he asked everyone to bring up specific things that they were troubled by or felt lacking. So one student said he felt stuck in certain sequence or progression and was frustrated not to be able to discover some fresh path in the improvisation. Chick had him go back to the basic melody and play only that. Then he asked him to play it again, perhaps modifying it slightly. Chick continued in this mode playing accompanying bass and chords. Then at one point Chick saw a slight smile of satisfaction cross his face so he stopped and asked him, “Why did you smile just then?” The student answered, “I sort of liked that.” Chick then replied, “Ah, you were thinking for yourself.” So -- it’s not about me or criticism, but it’s about you listening, liking, and learning.
Chick is so supportive in his music making -- listening, liking, learning and embracing each of us in love by “comforting accompaniment,” i.e., sensitively balancing dynamics and tempi to achieve clarity and fluidity. Working with us as classical musicians playing exactly his written notes, he gently, gradually inserts inflections, embellishments, and even continues to allow the form to expand as he senses possibilities for the music to breath and bloom -- and therefore giving us more pleasure in performing freely.
Excerpted from ANFG, copyright Richard Stoltzman