The fact that jazz history is made at the Monterey Jazz Festival (MJF) isn’t particularly unusual. What is unique is how consistently and how frequently those moments occur. This year is no exception, in large measure to the appearance together of two of the most talented, accomplished, original and influential keyboard artists of their generation, Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea.
Both have performed on the Jimmy Lyons Stage many times—going back way before the venue was named in honor of MJF’s founder. Hancock has appeared at 11 festivals since to 1963; Corea’s first of seven was in 1969. Interestingly, both pianist’s initial outings here were as sidemen for the same bandleader: Miles Davis.
What makes 2017 historical is the fact that they are sharing that stage together Sunday evening in a program titled “Two Masters/Two Pianos.”
“Herbie and Chick have never appeared at MJF in the same year before, let alone on the same stage,” says Monterey Jazz Festival Marketing Associate Timothy Orr.
“Herbie and I have been friends and collaborators since we first met in the ’60s,” Corea says. “We were in our 20s then,” he adds with a laugh.
“When I met Chick, he was a new guy on the jazz scene in New York,” Hancock recalls. “He had come from Boston just a few years previously. We were the new kids on the scene then.”
The two have much in common.
“We have often anticipated one another’s creations through the years,” Corea explains. “We have a laugh when we bump into that sort of thing.”
“I think our careers have followed a very similar path,” adds Hancock. “We’re pretty close in age; I’m a little older but not much. We’re affected by the times we’re experiencing…It’s kind of a natural response in a way to similarities in our careers. We both played with Miles and Mongo Santamaria—as a matter of fact I replaced Chick in 1962 for a weekend with Mongo. Then years later, Chick replaced me with Miles.”
Later, both men were at the forefront of the jazz fusion movement, Hancock with the Headhunters and Corea with Return to Forever.
“When the fusion scene came about, we were both what I guess you would consider pioneers,” Hancock muses. “Not in exactly in the same way, but similar. Chick’s music was jazz rock, and mine was jazz funk. But we were also inspired by the avant-garde movement.”
Though this is their first appearance together at MJF, they have performed together many times in the past, including a highly successful 2015 world tour.
“It’s always a thrill playing with Herbie in duet,” says Corea. “So, I’m really looking forward to our next hit at the Monterey festival.”
So is Hancock. “When we work together, in our interactions and the directions we explore moment to moment, there’s an interweaving that happens, a kind of intuition,” he says. “It’s unique. In a way, that happens with myself and (longtime collaborator saxophonist) Wayne Shorter as well. It’s the very presence of that person you know so well. Chick is like a brother to me. He’s a pianist like me, so coming together and creating together is a special thrill. Our juxtaposition musically reflects the closeness and the kindred spirits we have for each other.”
Corea wholeheartedly agrees: “Our duet is a symbol of brotherhood and humanity in music and in life.”
Corea and Hancock both have a special place in their hearts for the MJF, and they are each looking forward to returning.
“Performing at Monterey is something I always look forward to,” Hancock says. “It’s a cornerstone in the annals of jazz history and many wonderful artists have appeared there.”
And it’s not just the music. “We get a chance to kind of hang out. It’s kind of a fair for jazz. We get to relax and blend in together with the crowd. They make it about as comfortable as you’d ever want it to be. You can create in a loving and caring atmosphere. That’s what all jazz musicians want. Those who come to hear get a chance to bask in that.”
“I’m glad the Monterey festival has continued presenting creative music through these decades,” adds Corea. “I’m always honored to be a part of the festival.”
Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock perform Saturday, September 17 at 9:40 pm on the Jimmy Lyons Stage.