I'm writing this particular post for one simple reason: I witnessed Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea playing piano together last night, and I want a record of it.
First, the basics: the concert was at San Diego's Copley Symphony Hall, I was sitting dead center in the highest balcony. The stage had two grand pianos with their lids removed, set up so the players would face each other, with an synthesizer set up at a right angle to each piano (both set up to the right of the musician's right as he played piano, which meant Corea was facing away from the audience when he played synthesizer). There was a sign in the lobby indicating that there would be no intermission. The program said "program to be announced from the stage".
Here's what my view looked like, just as the house lights were going down (I turned my phone off after this naturally):
The crowd greeted Hancock and Corea with a standing ovation. Normally I'm not a fan of this kind of knee-jerk effusiveness, but these two have earned it. The two of them walked out together from the same side of the stage, giving together the (probably accurate) impression that they'd just been hanging out and chatting until they got their cue. Hancock wore a sharply-tailored blue blazer and slacks - 100% the jazz elder statesman. Corea sported jeans and a denim jacket. I suspect he sometimes gets mistaken for Hancock's sound engineer. They stood at the front of the stage for the ovation, Corea giving three bowlegged curtseys, and then wordlessly sat at their pianos and started playing.
I have no idea what they were playing - they had sheet music out (Hancock's propped on the music stand built into pianos for that purpose, Corea's set directly onto his piano's exposed interior) - but I don't think they were paying it the slightest bit of attention. This was two guys riffing off each other, building singular creations together and then transmuting them, and, much of the time, playing fast as hell. I want to own the evening in album form. I'm aware that the ephemeral one-offness of the music is part of the magic, but I want it anyway.
After the second tune (or rather, the second shared improvisational journey - I'm looking for an unpretentious way to write it, but for the time being just take my word for it that it didn't feel pretentious in the venue) Corea got up, took off his denim jacket, and, in a gesture whose theatricality and opaqueness rivals Beckett's later work, pulled on a different jacket, this one with white sleeves, and sat back down again. Maybe the lights where hot but not quite tee-shirt weather, maybe this was just schtick. I have no idea.
Three tunes in, one of them started playing the underlying riff from "All Blues". You could feel the crowd relaxing into recognition, but the players were having none of it - they twisted the chords and the rhythm (I should mention that the evening hardly ever had a "time signature" I'd want to try to count, it just had a pulse - Hancock and Corea, it appears, never need to count off unless there's someone else with them). Finally, they came back, played through the head of "All Blues", and shortly after, got up to talk to the crowd. Hancock admitted he was exhausted after a gig in San Francisco and four hours of sleep. Corea said "the older I get, the less sleep I need". The two of them consulted a chart and decided to play it. "We'll tell you what it is after we play it," they said.
Hancock carefully set up the chart on his music stand, and the two of them tore into an extended improvisation that was DEFINITELY not charted out on two pages of sheet music. They finished, played something else, and then Corea said, "Oh yeah, we forgot to tell you, that was "Directions" by Joe Zawinul. It was a transitional piece for Miles's band. Herbie, when did you record it?"
Later on, Hancock told a story of calling Corea mid-recording session to play him a beautiful melody his band had just recorded, which he played for us on the piano, to illustrate the point. At the time, over the phone, he said "Chick, is that your tune?"
"I never recorded it."
"Oh, OK, it was after your time? I never played it back then, so I just play it my own way."