Melbourne International Jazz Festival: Chick Corea & Gary Burton Duet

If you closed your eyes for a moment at this amazing concert you could hardly distinguish between the two hands of Chick Corea, deftly mastering the piano keyboard, and those of Gary Burton, blending perfectly with two mallets in each hand on the vibraphone. You might have thought you were hearing two pianos. The 43-year partnership of these superlative musicians synchronises their musical compositions as brilliantly today as when they first recorded Crystal Silence and Return to Forever in the 1970s.

Chick Corea & Gary Burton Duets
Chick Corea & Gary Burton Duets

But the magic started before they hit any notes, as the two septuagenarians, looking at least 20 years younger, walked casually onto the stage, waving at the worshipping audience that they could see because the auditorium lights were on and remained on for the whole concert. I suspect it was a request by Corea, for whom it is important to have contact with his audience, which he and Burton did as they introduced each piece with interesting anecdotes and humour.

“Waltz for Debbie” by their one of their “heroes and a piano idol” Bill Evans; “Eleanor Rigby”, “written 50 years ago by some English guy”; and Art Tatum the “inspiration” for “Can’t We Be Friends”. The list was long and yet another shiver of excitement went through the audience at the mention of their “personal friend”, Dave Brubeck, but no, we wouldn’t be hearing “Take Five”, instead, a beautiful melody called “Strange Meadow Lark”.

Paco de Lucia was given the nod for “Allegoria”, which Burton said should have been called Allegoria Hawaii because it had been “composed during a vacation in Hawaii”. More importantly it was an opportunity for Corea, with his Spanish background, to incorporate the flamenco music he loved and which they began by tapping out the 12-beat rhythm on the sides of the piano.

As they asked to be excused some reminiscences –

who could object? – they recalled the 60s when both had played with Stan Getz’s quartet at different times. This was the impetus for a “credit to Stan” and a magnificent rendition of the Antonio Carlos Jobim classic “Chega De Saudade” or “No More Blues”.

The versatility of these two elite musicians took your breath away and their musical CVs are longer than the pages of the music Corea, jokingly, spread across the piano.

After starting on the piano at age four, Corea moved to include drums at age eight, which explained his removal of part of the piano towards the end of the concert so that he could pluck the strings with his left hand while playing some ragtime on the keys with his right. It was “Mozart Goes Dancing”, however, that reflected the classical training he had and the fact that he has also played with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Burton, who started playing marimba and vibraphone at age six, has guided many young musicians during his 33 years as Professor, Dean and Executive Vice President of the Berklee College of Music in Boston.

The evening couldn’t have been anything but a triumph with two multi Grammy Award winners placing their own distinctive interpretations and expertise on quality music that will, undoubtedly, go on forever. It was, simply, a feast

Thank you, Melbourne International Jazz Festival for such an exceptional festival.

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