Returning to Forever
I'll be heading north to Rutland this weekend to catch Chick Corea at the Paramount Theatre in Rutland to see. My memories of his masterful piano work were formed in the 1970s, when together with bandmates like bass player Stanley Clarke, guitarist Al DiMeola, drummer Lenny White and percussionist Airto Moreira, Corea made some of the most adventurous, out on the edge music of the time. Known as jazz-rock fusion, Corea's "Return to Forever" bands spun out one album after another, each one pushing forward to new frontiers.
Whether it was the melodic Brazilian-flavored "500 Miles High" with Flora Purim on vocals, or the hard crunch of the electric-heavy "Romantic Warrior," or the light fantasy inducing sway of "Light as a Feather," Chick Corea is part of my 1970s soundtrack. He worked as background music on a party-fueled Saturday night, or for a mellow unwinding on a Sunday afternoon, back in a time when there were actually spare hours on a Sunday afternoon to wile away.
But like all of us, Corea has moved on since those days. You don't win 20 Grammy awards by standing still, and he hasn't, producing several dozen more albums and bodies of music with an astonishing variety of other artists.
The prelude to all of that was pretty remarkable too. Born in Chelsea, Mass. in 1941, the son of a trumpet player who led his own bands during the 1930s and 40s, Armando Anthony Corea began studying piano at the age of 4, according to his website, breaking into professional music with Cab Calloway, then the playing with the Latin jazz star Mongo Santamaria. But it was his collaboration with legendary jazz trumpeter Miles Davis on the breakthrough album "Bitches Brew" -- which can be fairly said to have launched the entire jazz rock fusion genre in the very early 1970s, that put him on the map and paved the way for the first Return to Forever album, released in 1972.
But now its 2014, and Corea and I will meet up again. He will performing Saturday, April 12 in a theater that has also seen its share of history, rebirth and regeneration.
The Paramount Theatre opened in 1912, known then as The Playhouse Theatre of Rutland. That was back in an era when such entertainment halls were decked out with a few more decorative flourishes than the present versions, with their economy-minded functionalism. Ornate tapestries covered the walls, and the ceilings contained gold leaf flourishes. The playhouse evolved into a movie theater in the 1930s, and became a popular venue for generations of Rutland-area residents, until harder economic times struck in the 1970s and the theater shut down.
It reopened in March 2000 and has once again assumed a leading role in the town's arts and cultural scene. The past few years in particular have seen a parade of top name acts, from The Chieftains, the ageless Irish instrumental group, to Gregg Allman, he of the also legendary Allman Brothers Band (and also part of my1970s soundtrack memory). More established acts are on the way, said Eric Mallette, the theater's programming director for the past 10 years.
"The first few years after reopening we were finding out what worked and what didn't," he said in a recent interview. Quality is what sells, and what people want, he added.
The typical concertgoer today, who may have to arrange for childcare and drive a certain distance to the concert venue, is more likely to pay a higher price for a performer they know and have liked, than a more modest price for an entertainment act they are unfamiliar with, he said.
Music fans tend to know the performers who are at the top of their respective niches, whether it's jazz, classical or something contemporary, and the goal is to attract an artist at or near the top of their respective niche, he said.
Like Chick Corea.
"If you are a fan of music, someone like Chick Corea is someone you'd want to see," he said.
Corea will be performing solo on piano when he arrives for the Rutland concert, something he enjoys doing, he said in an email.
"Sometimes I like to experience playing alone for audiences -- just to see how I'm doing without other help and influences," he wrote. "Plus the piano is my favorite instrument and it gives me a chance to spend more time playing it and developing ideas just for it."
He's played in Vermont many times, adding that he likes this part of the country.
"I think the world is rich in creative artists," he said, when asked what contemporary recording artists he admires today. "Although I would like to see even more people involve themselves with the Arts. I'm attracted to artists who pour themselves into their creations and am inspired by observing the hard work that joyfully goes into the making of what they do."
Chick Corea's concert at Rutland's Paramount Theatre starts at 8 p.m., Saturday April 12, For more information, call the theatre's box office at 802-775-0903, or visit their website at paramountvt.org.
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