Chick Corea: Keyboard Workshop
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(Jan 07, 2003)
One of the most influential keyboard players and composers in the history of jazz, Chick Corea provides insights into practicing, composing and improvising. Featured is a brand-new piece composed, developed, and performed by a trio including John Patitucc
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I've purchased a number of music instructional videos over the years. Each has given me at least a couple of new ideas or a fresh perspective. Considering the fact that when Alfred Music published this video Corea had been playing piano/keyboards for over 30 years, I figured I'd pick up at least a few scraps of inspiration from him!
I'm happy to report that I actually found this video exciting. Chick's on-air personality is definitely low-key. What I liked so much was his idea of `Gradient.' It's his philosophy that "a gradual approach to something, step by step, level by level, easily surmountable, leads to achieving difficult activities with ease." What's really cool is that after he describes the `Gradient' approach, you get to watch him apply it to help him tackle parts of Bach's Goldberg Variation #1.
Here's a guy who `has forever changed the face of jazz and fusion music' and is `one of the most prolific and influential artists of our time' (per the glossy advertising phrases on the back of the case) being challenged by numerous fingering dilemmas. Watching him experiment with alternative fingerings, jot down notes, and then play through the passage again, was to me, almost revelatory. It made me feel much less tiny as a musician!
The booklet included with the DVD is enormously helpful. You can easily refer to it to check out actual notation of drills, or songs like `Mood Indigo', `Children's Song #16', etc. If you want a really in-depth understanding, a harmonic analysis of `Easy to Love' is provided. A musical geek like me can easily spend an entire afternoon soaking this up.
The fact that he acknowledges L. Ron Hubbard for the idea of `Gradient' doesn't bother me. As a first year piano student (having played guitar and other instruments for a long time), if an idea is both inspirational and applicable, especially regarding motivation and practicing, I say `Thanks'! The only complaint I have is that he goes too fast sometimes!
Let me say that I am not a Chick Corea fan. I don't really have and of his records but I do have a few concert videos with him and while his technique is great and he is up there on a level with Keith Jarrett, his music and playing just leaves me cold. But I did see this video on sale for $10 at a local music store and decided to check it out since maybe I could learn one or two good tips.
As an instructional DVD this thing stinks. I mean other people are on his case for the Hubbard speak (and I ain't talkin' 'bout Freddie, but L. Ron) but I can't get on him for it basically he just uses the L. Ron lingo to tell you that when practicing and learning you should only attempt what is manageable. Like if you are learning Bach, break it down into two or far bar sections and work on it at a slow enough tempo to where you can execute it. Eventually you'll be able to play the whole piece without being overwhelmed and frustrated if you tried from the get go to play the whole piece at tempo. That is good advice that any teacher will give you but Chick throws in the "gradient" and "wins & loses" Scientology lingo. So what. Get off Chick's case.
Now what really makes this thing stink is not what Chick plays but his commentary and explanation. Like he does some nice stuff with Cole Porter's Easy to Love and an F Blues. On the F Blues he starts out by saying that the Blues is like its own voice, then he plays some really nice stuff for five minute while dropping comments like "I can hear a sax playing this line," "you could put lyrics here" and after finishing he says "I like expressive music." That is freaking it. No description of what he is playing or how to voice the chords or what scales or approach he is using to improvise over the changes nothing. Just, "I like expressive music."
On the Cole Porter tune he pretends like he is going through it for the first time figuring out what chord voicings to use where to move the inner voices to counter the melody and where he wants to use some harmonic substitution. Again no discussion of the original changes that are in his Real Book only stuff like, "I think that dominant chord here sounds wrong I like it better with the minor 7th chord." "It feels like I need a passing chord here" and stuff like that. He doesn't describe what he is doing at all. You just get to see his process. He plays through slowly stopping when he thinks he can add something different rhythmically or harmonically working on it a few times over to iron it out then moving on and playing the entire worked out section of the tune.
This is the way the whole video is. Good shots of Chick playing with no real explanation. Only general tips like "I like to think of how the drummer plays and play off of that when I try to add some rhythmic interest to the rhythm of the melody." After watching the video, I like Chick better than I did before. He plays some beautiful stuff when he plays Easy to Love and Mood Indigo. But the only real way this video would be useful is that if you just want to see what he is doing when he plays through these tunes, like how he is voicing and stuff. The camera work for the most part is over the shoulder so you can see exactly what he is playing and he plays through some of the tunes slowly enough so that you can pick it up by pausing the video and rewinding a lot. You could probably learn a lot by doing this with Easy to Love. That would be a good lesson.
Overall the video and audio quality is good but the instructional content is tremendously weak with no explanations given for anything really. Just some general tips and Chick playing some nice and interesting stuff. At the current $35 - $40 price I would say no way Jose. I say if it were $10 to $15 and you were advanced enough in your playing to be able to pick up and understand what someone is playing just by watching slowly and pausing the video then you can probably learn some things here. But explanations would be better. If Chick explained what he was doing with Easy to Love for example, yeah it would've taken him the hour to do it and he wouldn't be able to get to anything else but it would've been a much better video.
As for me, does it go in the attic or stay on the shelf? Well I think that I am going to do the pause and slo-mo shuffle on my DVD player and figure out what he is doing on Easy to Love. It was really beautiful and can be applied to almost all standards so there is something worth taking the time to learn "the hard way" here.
The section where he takes you step-by-step through his production process is more valuable then the multitude of play-by-numbers instructional videos. Layering of synth sounds is something not many talk about or understand the value of.
This isn't an instructional in the traditional sense but insteads gives a keyboard musician with existing skills a process for building tunes. A valuable insight into a functioning proven work-flow.
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