Corea and Burton, Live in Seoul

Well, last weekend Lime and I went to the concert to which she got me tickets for my birthday. That show was the Chick Corea and Gary Burton live show in Seoul, March 10th.


The show was pretty good, really, but there was something about it that was a little underwhelming. I mean, let’s face it, Chick Corea knows what he’s doing at the piano. Yet some of it felt a little, I don’t know, phoned in, or maybe emailed in.

No, wait, that’s not quite fair either. It’s also just partly something about Chick Corea. He’s one of those musicians I’ve known about for years, but never really gotten into. The thank-yous to L. Ron Hubbard on the backs of his LPs put me off long before I even really knew about Scientology — I knew Hubbard’s fiction fit into the category in my head labeled “crap”, and anyone who thanks a crap artist is guilty by association, for me.

Still, knowing that this is a little unfair, I’ve given him a try on occasion and found that he plays best when he’s working with someone who pushes him to new artistic heights. For example, when he played with Bobby McFerrin, some of what they did really blew me away. I gained a new respect for McFerrin not only because of how well he did in those performances I heard, but also because of the kind of energy and playing he summoned out of Corea on the album Play.

For me,  Burton isn’t someone who summons that kind of energy from Corea, or at least, he isn’t anymore that kind of a duo partner. He, too, was extremely skilled at playing his instrument, but the wows he got from me were mostly technical ones, over cold feats of ability. The passion, well, there wasn’t so much of it, not for me. That was unfortunate.

It’s funny, the difference between music and writing. Both musicians and writers manipulate audiences using technique. I mean, a passionate saxophone player isn’t always feeling completely passionate things when he or she is playing, after all. Stravinsky’s old romance-buster of a statement, “There are no emotions in music,” is true because the emotions are in the listener. That much I can agree to… though thee’s a degree to which it is also in the performer, who is emulating the experience to some degree and even experiencing it from self-listening to some degree. There are no emotions in music, but there are emotions in listeners and performers. Emotions are conveyed by the way the music is played, and are generated by the listener who is open in ear and heart.

While there is, on the other hand, such a thing as passionless writing — most definitely, and it’s something I warn my students away from continually — there’s a sense where one cannot get as emotional in one’s writing as one can in playing a saxophone solo. There’s a certain room for romanticism and sentimentality in a jazz solo, where the same degree of explicit, overt sentimentality would murder a poem or cripple a story. In writing, the Beethoven mode of telling people — nay, commanding them — in terms of emotions you’re seeking to elicit — just is not acceptable, whereas in music, people seem not to mind it. (Not the way I do, anyway.) In nonfiction, passion is often associated with the intensity of one’s argument, the power with which one wields logic and structure in order to write connvincingly.

Yet even in fiction, there is a thing called passionless writing, and passion is conveyed by many other means than just sweet melodies with certain formulaic harmonizations. Loving attention to details,  care and concern for the quality of the prose, the choice of themes and of metaphors, the power of the voice that is expressed in the text… these things are what embody passion in fiction, I think.  It’s like a five- or seven-pronged balance bar shaped like an asterisk, and walking the tightrope, one works just as hard to balance the various arms on it as one has to work not to fall off the rope.

Ah well, whatever. I saw Chick Corea and Gary Burton, and though over-priced, the concert was still pretty good, and I am still happy we saw it. Scratch one more pair of names off the list of musicians I’ve wanted to see live. I am grateful to Lime for the wonderful present, and the chance to see live music, which is a much more important present than the details of any one concert. The desire to see more live music has been awakened in me, now, and for resuscitating that in me, I am more than happy, more than thankful, more than overjoyed.

Now, to pick the next show to attend. So many to choose from!

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