Survival on the Road - Rotten Pianos
By Ralph Burnett
Long before Jazziz published it's first issue back in 1983, Chick Corea was already an icon new-breed jazz musician and influential jazz-rock pioneer. And although his musical career is captured candidly on a myriad of recordings dating back to the '60's, it is the live performance that truly captures the heart and personality of Chick Corea. On his tour bus, snaking its way through the mountains of Connecticut to a show in upstate New York, Chick gave me a glimpse into two of the more memorable gigs of the past, which he calls "survival on the road - rotten pianos":
"About five years ago" recalls Chick, "we arrived in Martinique in the afternoon for a solo piano concert that I was to give that evening. I thought, 'you know, I better check the piano out' because in these islands I'm not sure how well kept these piano's are. I saw some activity around the piano and I walked over and I saw this white piano sitting there and a technician busily working on it. It was about three hours to the gig and I asked him if I could just touch a few notes, and played one or two notes and the sound of the piano was beyond recognition--it didn't even sound like a piano--yet the parts inside the piano looked like they were newly placed, and the technician was turning red 'cause he didn't think I'd turn up. And actually, the piano was completely unplayable. I finally got the story out of the promoter that this particular Boesendorfer had been under water in a flood for a month. This French technician sold the promoter a bill of goods and said for ten-thousand dollars he could totally restore it. And that's what he was there busily trying to do, having already taken the money from the promoter. So we ran around the island for about two hours trying to find another piano, and couldn't. So, I couldn't play the gig that night and we ended up calling that piano the 'Boat-endorfer'."
This, however, was not to upstage what happened to Chick several years earlier: "I turned up to play a solo piano concert in Sicily to a sold out audience--fifteen-hundred people--outdoors . . . no piano. . . at all. So when I was urging the promoter to find me a piano, the best thing they could come up with was this old, dilapidated concert grand with no legs, which got delivered to the joint in a donkey cart. They lifted it up on the stage, put it on milk crates, and it was totally, again, unplayable--not a note in it. So then I forced them to take me down town to the music store and we found a little Yamaha upright, which I got him to put on the donkey cart, take up on the stage, and I had these two piano's up there--little Yamaha upright and a totally destroyed concert grand on milk crates, and played a concert to fifteen-hundred people and basically just had them sing tunes all night."
"Now we bring our own Boesendorfer with us" said Chick wryly. "We make sure we dry it out every night."