Chick and Me

I used to be a professional stalker.

Well, professional can be subjective lol.  But what I mean is, before I had a wife and kids and stuff to lose I would go to concerts and then attempt to meet the artist.  Never got close to Janet Jackson unfortunately, but ended up buying a glass of wine for Roy Haynes!

In the early 90’s I only knew the Akoustic & Elektric Band.  I didn’t know Now He Sings, Now He Sobs.  I didn’t know the Duet albums.  I hadn’t heard the masterful solo piano recordings.  All I knew was those Akoustic Band records changed my life.  But I’ll come back to that later.

On this day I was a stalker, sleeping on a bench in Fells Point, Baltimore.  I had a ticket to see Chick Corea’s Elektric Band II and I was going to meet him.  So I slept across the street from Max’s on Broadway the day of the show, waiting for some commotion to tell me the band has arrived.

To make a long story short, Chick brought his own piano (of course?) and the piano tuner saw me, obviously took pity on me, and brought me inside the in club to meet the Master.  And there he was: sitting at his newly tuned acoustic grand, practicing classical rep.  No one is in the club except random bar staff, the tuner, Chick and me.  Not even the band.

The tuner introduces us and Chick asks me who I like.  I tell him I very new to jazz but I love him and Herbie.  Chick says, “Herbie is The Best and a great friend of mine.  Here’s how Herbie would play ‘Round Midnight but I’d do something more like this…” and he plays.  And it’s like magic before your eyes.  In the early 90’s I sucked.  I mean I really could not play jazz well at all.  So to hear this master musician play just for me, sitting next to me on a bench, without an air of pretension or arrogance – it was all I could do not to cry, I was so moved by his invention.

The band comes for the soundcheck and he turns to me – to me! – and says “you got a ticket for tonight?”  I say “yeah.”  He says “great we’ll hang out after the show”.

We’ll.  Hang out.  AFTER THE SHOW!!!!???!!??

To be honest I can’t think of a single song the EB II played that night.  I’m sure they played the record that came out in ’93 but all I knew was I had a date with Chick Corea.  The man who’s Akoustic Band records changed my trajectory.  

The gig is over and everyone is kicked out – except me 🙂 .  The band leaves, the staff is moping the floor.  I’m by myself so I start to think Chick’s probably tired and wants to get out of this when he pushes a trash can towards me, places a Rolling Rock beer on it, and we talk.  It takes a long time to pack up to pack up – thank God – so we talk from about midnight to maybe 3am.  Me and Chick.  You wanna know what we talked about?

He wanted to know about me.

Who was I listening to, what was I practicing, what was my approach to music, why put a label on things, etc.  At some point during the conversation I said to him “Chick, I suck!  I’m never going to be as good as you!  I hear you play and I have no idea how you even came up with this stuff.  I can’t compete with that!”  The words just blurted out.  I was sounding like a whiney child and that’s when it happened:

Chick Corea said to me “Eric come outside with me.”

“What do you see?  Cabbies, people living lives, maybe feeling trapped in a life they don’t want.  You’re a musician.  You’re free!  The world doesn’t need another me.  The universe is waiting for people like you!  Be as good as you can be!  Don’t compare and don’t complain.  You can play.  Work on playing what you experience in your life!  Don’t be limited by what you think or what you think you know.  Be open to the possibilities.”

True story.

Over the years, Chick and I kept dating lol.  Literally, just running into each other.  He could never quite remember the city he met me in but there were a few years in there where he actually remembered my name!  What a thrill.  Goldie and I hung out with him for a trio gig at Blues Alley, he introduced Gayle to Goldie at the Grammys the one year we went as a sort of mini-vacation.  He even made me feel important at Kutztown U when the Time Warp Quartet played and he invited me backstage.  We joked with each other about each other’s jackets and I have a water damaged photo of Chick and I wearing each other’s clothes, making silly faces.

He played a solo piano concert at the Avalon Theater in Easton, MD and when he invited anyone up from the audience to play alongside him, I ran down from the balcony and we traded Autumn Leaves together for 10 mins.  Just like the vibe of the recordings I had.  Me and Chick, playing.  When it was over I cried.  I went to the restroom so no one could see or hear me.  But I cried.  For me, it was a return on the investment he made in me way back on that Fells Point walk outside.

The Eric Byrd Trio is The Chick Corea Akoustic Band.  At least, to me.  The piano trios I had heard (granted I had limited listening experiences back then) were demure, tipping, quieter, elegant but not explosive.  In 1989 when that first record came out I decided right there and then if I ever start a band of my own and I didn’t suck, that’s what I wanted to sound like.  Chick’s energy and fire. John Pattitucci’s ability to follow and take the lead.  Dave Weckl’s chops and inventiveness.   That’s what I wanted to do; that’s what I get to do with B and Al.  Don’t tell me modeling isn’t important: if I don’t see and hear the Akoustic Band, I’m doing something completely different today.

The Avalon show was the last time I can remember talking to him.  At that point I don’t think he remembered me.  I told him thank you for letting me sit next to him on the piano bench.  I told him he changed my life that early 90’s night in Baltimore and what he told me.  I could tell he wanted to remember what he said but he kinda didn’t.  But it’s ok.  I certainly remembered and I told him I kept the beer he got me all these years.  I also kept all the words he ever spoke to me, deep in my heart.

We took a picture together and he said “All I did was remind you what you were destined to do.  You are supposed to create.  Create away!”

Had every intention to sit at the piano yesterday but I didn’t.  Couldn’t.  Couldn’t create yesterday but I’ll get back at it today.  Got a big gig Sunday at the Midatlantic and my personal Akoustic Band has to create away.

I still have those words.  And the beer bottle.

Thank you Chick Corea for everything you did for all of us.  It was our honor.


#ericbyrdtrio #ambassadorsofgospelbluesandjazz #bmorejazz #vajazz #dcjazz #ericbyrdtrio20