Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Dr. Bob Prescribes: Chick Corea and Béla Fleck

Pianist Chick Corea
Chick Corea

My Dr. Bob Prescribes post of December 25, 2018 was dedicated to one of my very favorite jazz pianists, the late, great, Dave McKenna. During the course of that post, I offered up a short list of those jazz pianists who have most powerfully influenced my own playing. (I am a designated Steinway Artist based on my abilities as a composer and as a jazz pianist, and certainly not based on my abilities – what that they are – as a concert pianist.) That short list featured, in no particular order, Erroll Garner, Dave Brubeck, Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Armando “Chick” Corea, Phineas Newborn Jr., Roger Kellaway, Lennie Tristano, Sal Mosca, and Dave McKenna. For our information: sooner or later, I will write posts on all of these wonderful pianists.

As I pointed out on December 25, two things distinguished the jazz pianists on my list. The first is that they are all two-handed pianists who use the entire keyboard when they play. The second distinguishing factor is that these pianists are, in my opinion, at their very best when playing solo.

Now don’t get me wrong: playing with a good bassist and drummer is great fun, but – pianistically – it is, in a word, cheating. The bass obviates any need for a pianist to play on the bottom third of the piano keyboard and thus reduces the pianist’s left hand to a simply chord-comping machine. The drummer provides a rhythmic underpinning that cannot be manipulated or toyed with for effect.

Bela Fleck and Chick Corea
Bela Fleck (born 1958) and Chick Corea (born 1941)

Having pontificated here long enough about who-and-what-I-like and don’t-like (as if it makes any difference), I’d make one more assertion before getting to the meat-and-potatoes (finally!) of this post: among my very favorite jazz albums are duets between the piano and some other instrument (other than a bass or drum). That’s because such albums feature all the conversational and collaborative elements that make jazz so awesome, but also require that the piano player be a complete, two-handed pianist.

Among such albums are Spirits, with its duets between Lee Konitz (alto sax) and Sal Mosca (piano); the two miraculous albums made by Tony Bennett and Bill Evans; You Must Believe in Swing made by Buddy DeFranco (clarinet) and Dave McKenna; Inside & Out by Ruby Braff (trumpet) and Roger Kellaway; and the album I’m sharing today on Patreon

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