It was March 1985, I was a wide-eyed student at the phenomenal Berklee College of Music in Boston Massachusetts, when jazz pianist and composer Chick Corea came to visit for a week of activities. At that time I was in my third year of studies and had been fortunate enough to experience lectures, masterclasses and performances from a dizzying procession of visiting artists who at the time were some of the best musicians in the world. Stan Getz, Kenny Garrett, Betty Carter, Cleo Layne, Johnny Dankworth, Michel Petrucciani, Branford Marsalis the list went on and on.
Chick Corea left us with astonishing memories of his dedication, virtuosity and… a piece of paper that I have kept to this day.
It’s titled “Cheap but good advice for playing music in a group”- This is what it says…..
1) Play only what you hear.
2) If you don’t hear anything, don’t play anything.
3) Don’t let your fingers and limbs just wander - place them intentionally.
4) Don’t improvise on endlessly - play something with intention, develop it or not, but then end off, take a break.
5) Leave space - create space - intentionally create places where you don’t play.
6) Make your sound blend. Listen to your sound and adjust it to the rest of the band and the room.
7) If you play more than one instrument at a time - like a drum kit or multiple keyboards - make sure they are balanced with one another.
8. Don’t make any of your music mechanically or just through patterns of habit. Create each sound, phrase and piece with choice - deliberately.
9) Guide your choice of what to play by what you like - not by what someone else will think.
10) Use contrast to balance the elements;
high - low
fast - slow
loud - soft
tense - relaxed
dense - sparse
11) Play to make the other musicians sound good. Play things that will make the overall music sound good.
12) Play with a relaxed body. Always release whatever tension you create.
13) Create space - begin, develop and end phrases with intention.
14) Never beat or pound your instrument - play it easily and gracefully.
15) Create space - then place something in it.
16) Use mimicry sparsely - mostly create phrases that contrast with and develop the phrases of other players.
There you have it! Great advice from a great musician.