Why Is It You Guys Sound Better Than Everyone Else?

So if you really want to understand my night last Wednesday, you merely need to look at the above picture. Oh, and imagine that Herbie Hancock, in his red and orange silk shirt, with his signature glasses and smile, was sitting at that $300,000 Fazioli in that $2,000 Fazioli brand bench, five feet from where I was sitting. You of course would have to realize that from where I was sitting, you could see only the eyes of the other master in the room, Chick Corea. A harrowing experience to be sure.

I believe that you all will one day get to share the experience. There were cameras set up everywhere, one of which had a better view than I did, an overhead of Herbie’s hands. I have no doubt in my mind that this will come out on DVD quite soon, along with the purported documentary that goes along with it.

I was first in line, and could have sat anywhere I wanted. I sat in front of Herbie because I have seen Chick one time more than I have seen Herbie, and as far as I can tell, one either has to be famous, heavy, or rich(and recently less so) to sit that close to Herbie these days.

The royalty was out in spades. From where I was sitting, I could have thrown my whiskey glass at Steven Spielberg, Geri Allen, Harold Mabern, Beka Gochiashvili(look him up), and of course David Miscavige(the American head of Scientology). I wouldn’t had to have thrown my glass at Elio Villafranca, I could have just kept it in my hand; he was sitting adjacent to me. Nice guy, and it was great to sit by someone who was more focused than I was.

Now I am no great fan of Herbie. I think that his playing is great, and every time I hear him I glow with respect, but he’s just not my cup. I rarely to never listen to his records, I’ve only lifted one thing of his(comping on Chief Crazy Horse w/ Wayne Shorter), and I would never want to sound like him. That being said, I acknowledge him as one of the greatest compers of all time, and think that since Hank Jones’ death, he knows more about jazz harmony and voice leading than any living musician, with the possible exception of Cedar Walton and Gunther Schuller.

I also have a massive love/hate thing going on with Chick. I love circle, I love his chops, I love his articulation, and I very much enjoy his uptempo swing feel(love is strong). However, I hate key-tar, his recent recordings, some harmonic things he brought to the music(that damn crystal silence ninth), and Hiromi.

That being said, it was eye-opening(unsurprisingly) to hear both of the most oft-copied pianists in Jazz together. It was like hearing 75 percent of the pianists that I’ve heard since coming to NYC at one time, after 50 years of shedding and with a shot of massive natural talent.

And it was magical to see him on the stage so close. I’ve been in the company of people that saw people like Monk or Bill Evans close up saying “he was right there”. Now I get it. The format of the concert seemed to be, someone starts playing something, and then the other accompanies, with the roles changing every five seconds on average. On paper that sounds like a Grade A wankfest, but when you have two guys that are as proficient on their instruments as those two, with the biggest ears I’ve ever seen on a pianist, who have been terribly aware of each other’s playing for about half a century, you get something amazing.

The live duo record from the 70s was one of my first five jazz recordings. I picked the two biggest piano names I knew, went to the store, and said(after buying three Oscar Peterson records and a Dexter Gordon album of course), do you have anything with either Herbie or Chick on it? When the clerk said that he had a record with both, I flipped out and bought it. This of course was fine, but it also means that I didn’t hear Now He Sings until I was 17, or Empyrian Isles until I was 16. Luckily I heard Herbie live at 13, and had been exposed to Maiden Voyage around that time.

Those records just aren’t good. They sound like a cash grab. They are missing all of the edge of early 70s Chick, and all the rhythmic power of late 60s Herbie. And if you ask me today if I’d buy the new Chick Corea / Herbie Hancock album, I’d say no. However, I’d pay twice as much money to have seen the first set on Wednesday. The process was amazing.

Chick was definitely more into the harmony of the experience. Chick’s own angle was very angular, a lot of b9/5/1 voicings, with bi-tonality abound. His precision was impressive as well, as always. He is definitely one of the most technically proficient pianists I’ve seen, although he definitely put it on more with Herbie that when I saw him two weeks ago with Wallace Roney, Gary Bartz, Eddie Gomez, and Jack DeJohnette. He has some hand-over-hand stuff together that few people have really checked out.

Herbie was playing in his usual form, but two things were apparent to me. One, where Chick was interested in harmony(as most of his grunts of approval indicated), Herbie was interested in feel. None of the tunes swung, particularly, but the obligatory half-hour long Cantaloupe Island ended in Herbie standing up and applauding Chick, not knowing that he could pull off that “funky stuff”.

There was a lot of schtick as well, however. Twice Herbie began a monologue, once creating kind of a sampling effect with his voice while Chick responded(I had no idea what to think about this). The second time, Herbie went on a philosophical tirade, having all of his deep[read:deep?] thoughts punctuated by Chick.

Now Chick definitely plays to his audiences, and it was his birthday, so I don’t particularly mind the presence of some dinner theater. He was playing alongside his generations other reigning leader, however, so I would have probably preferred it to be all business all the time. There were flashes of extreme skill, however. First off, Chick actually did program his little punctuations quite well, creating something like extremely quick paced movie scoring. On one hand it was totally contrived, but on the other, that’s a skill, instantly analyzing the emotion and context in someone’s voice and recreating it musically.

The heaviest thing to occur all night was during one of these tirades. After one of Herbie’s metaphysical statements, one person way in the back of the bar began clapping. Herbie made a one hand clapping joke, as would be expected. Then, Chick played the opening riff of “One Finger Snap(EXACTLY like the record). Then Herbie laughed, and said, “Yeah, the one finger snap!”. And then, Chick played a bout 16 bars of Herbie’s solo from the tune(EXACTLY like the record. I thought it was a gimmick, that the piano track was being played over the PA.). Herbie couldn’t hide his being impressed, letting out a surprised “Oh!” after Chick did it.

The experience made me smile, for a number of reasons. First off, that Chick can sound exactly like Herbie makes me happy. Second, that Chick has obviously spent a lot of time(there’s a chance that he’s just supremely talented, but I’m chalking it up to hard work) on Herbie’s solo and that his ego let him play it on stage with the man at his 70th birthday was really nice. It’s good to know that some barriers just don’t exist once you reach a certain level, and even once you get to the top, the barriers don’t reappear, as I would have assumed they had done for Herbie and Chick.

The same thing happened once in a while when either made an obvious McCoy move. They both laughed every time, and the other played a complimenting McCoyism. Every time that happened, I was struck by the history going into the situation, and was in awe of what I was listening to.

The complete song list is:

Free Playing

Cantaloupe Island

What Is This Thing Called Love

Chick original that I recognized but can’t remember the name to

A whole bunch of free playing(history suggests that it was a classical theme that I’m not aware of.)

I Didn’t Know What Time It Was (briefly)

A ballad that I’m forgetting

And the encore was Someday My Prince Will Come

So even with his multi-thousand dollar hearing aid and arthritis, Herbie had pretty good technique and superhuman level hearing, and even with his troubled stylistic history, Chick had masterful technique and a edgy and avant-garde approach. Herbie seemed to be relying on some oft-practiced things, however. There was one octave cascade thing that he did about ten times.

I had seen these two many times before. However, in the midst of a silent crowd at the Blue Note, looking face to face with their most revered contemporary, these two giants actually played like themselves, no bullshit, no reservations, and no expectations.

Sorry for the long post. Brokeness dictates not too many posts in the next month, at least not about live music. Maybe I’ll ruminate on some recorded music now that I have my stash back. I’ve got some catching up to do.

Trust at least that I’ll be catching Abbasi/Iyer/Mahanthappa/Weiss at the standard on Tuesday, and Christmas Tree-O at Cornelia St on the 22nd. Can’t miss those.

Jacob Sacks: When you’re playing with him, [student’s name] IS the form.

Me: Heavy…

Jacob Sacks: Yeah, like a lead anchor…

—Jacob on an difficult student of his



~ by Martin Porter on December 5, 2011.

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