The last time jazz titans Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock performed at Hill Auditorium would have been Jan. 26, 1978 , but winter conditions kept the duo from flying out of New York and, memorably, closed the University for the last time until 2014. The rescheduled concert, set a month after the first date, featured Miles Davis’ two former sidemen — and by this time widely renowned jazz musicians in their own right — in an intimate setting, pared down to two acoustic pianos. They elected such a performance just as they were fully immersed in the electronic experimentation of jazz fusion that defined the late ’60s and ’70s.

An Evening with Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea

Thursday, April 16, 2015, 7 p.m.
Hill Auditorium

It will be one of the most significant events UMS puts on this year as Ann Arbor welcomes the pair back for a performance that will feature the two pianists with just acoustic instruments between them on the famous Hill stage. For two careers that have been defined by groundbreaking experiments in electronic media and forms in jazz, it’s a special opportunity to see Corea and Hancock going back to basics.

“(The piano) is the instrument that they have gone through their career with and that has gotten them to this point,” said University alum Brendan Asante, who graduated from the University School of Music, Theatre and Dance program in Jazz and served as a former ticket associate for the University Musical Society. “From a foundational perspective, it signifies a lot of home-growing and ‘this is where we started.’ ”

Audiences can expect a concert both historic and historical. It’s a big deal any time famous musicians perform in their hometown. But this concert will, further, be historical because Hancock and Corea themselves embody the history of avant-garde jazz since the early 1960s. Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea are “two of the major jazz piano voices to emerge in the post-Coltrane era” along with McCoy Tyner and Keith Jarrett, as Don Heckman of the Los Angeles Times describes.

“I think that these two phenoms of the piano … are joining forces to try to present a history – their playing styles and everything. They’re trying to present that in a duo format,” Asante said.

As Harvard Prof. Homi K. Bhabba says in his introduction to Hancock’s lecture, “The Ethics of Jazz” through the Norton Lectures series at Harvard University, “In the musical field alone, (Hancock) has ventured from post-bop to hip-hop, funk to film soundtracks, Miles Davis to Joni Mitchell, Lang Lang to P!nk.”

Hancock has also championed jazz in his humanitarian career as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador. Professor Bhabba develops Hancock’s view on the politics or ethics of jazz that play out in “the disjunctive terrains of a world that is in some aspects synchronized and simultaneous, while in other respects, dramatically out of sync with itself and others.” He emphasizes the “mutual cooperation” that, in Hancock’s ethics of jazz, allows musicians to “respect (their) neighbors” by “(working) and (playing) with them.”

Chick Corea’s career in music is no less illustrious as we track his involvement with Miles Davis for the latter’s foundational fusion albums Bitches Brew and In a Silent Way, his tenure with the fusion group Return to Forever and his work in classical music and Latin American music. Chick Corea is the fourth-most Grammy nominated artist of all time, counting 63 separate nominations, as well as an unprecedented trove of three “Best Instrumental Album” Latin Grammy awards.

Hancock and Corea’s performance this Thursday will animate a history of more than half a century of jazz, an expansive archive of the “idiom of jazz” (Asante’s phrase) unfolding in real time for Ann Arbor audiences through Corea and Hancock’s unquestionable historical import.

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