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Chick Corea gets intimate at Hopkins

May 22, 2013
By

Chick-Corea“I want to take you into my practice room,” Chick Corea told the audience at the Hopkins Club on the Johns Hopkins University campus Monday night. He wanted to take us away from the big stages where he performs on a battery of electric and acoustic keyboards with Return to Forever or his other groups and usher us into the afternoons when he’s alone with a piano. It was a rare and rewarding opportunity

A Yamaha concert grand stretched nearly the length of the central room in the four-room, T-shaped club. Wearing an unbuttoned, black, epaulet shirt over a white shirt, the short, slender pianist in the wavy salt-and-pepper hair sat down and played the kind of show tunes, jazz standards, classical pieces, and original compositions that he practices on when he’s by himself, as he was this evening.

On a tune like Irving Berlin’s “How Deep Is the Ocean,” Corea applied a succession of treatments to the theme—swing, bop, stride, avant-garde—as if testing how the melody and changes might be altered in each setting. On “Some Day My Prince Will Come,” Corea played a ballad-tempo intro, then sped up into a jaunty improvisation, the melody always hovering nearby. He pulled out the sheet music for Alexander Scriabin’s Opus 11, Part 1, No. 4, played the piece as written, improvised on it for a while and then returned to the theme. He finished the evening by playing five of his own compositions from his 1984 album, Children’s Songs.

The evening’s highlight, however, was a back-to-back pair of Thelonious Monk numbers, “Trinkle, Tinkle” and “Blue Monk.” In each case he briefly stated Monk’s original theme with the composer’s unexpected rhythm accents and chord extensions. When he began to improvise, Corea used those same tools to create brand new variations. It was a revelatory example of how Corea can borrow someone else’s style and create his own results.