Review: The Chick Corea & Stanley Clarke Online masterclass


I was very, very, very excited about the FREE CHICK COREA & STANLEY CLARKE internet masterclass on 11 January at 3pm EST. I mean the internet’s an exciting space where anything happens. With great expectation on 11 January I clicked on the play button. The masterclass began to stream.

If you missed it well it’s still out there to be seen. And worth watching.

The highest level

I hope Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke have a duo recording in the works. Something they’ll be releasing as of yesterday. Because the level of musicianship and interplay between them as heard in their masterclass was the first thing all watching had to have noticed. It’s a level that isn’t really at the highest level. Rather, it is exactly the highest level–it defines the level. It’s virtuosic playing with supreme unworldly ease and humour. Check out the version of No Mystery they played in the workshop.


There’s the sound Chick Corea contributes to his partnership with Stanley Clarke. It’s warm, relaxed, and songful. To my ears it’s of a style that extends the tradition Bill Evans exemplified. Likewise there’s the sound Stanley Clarke gets from his bass with tons and heaps of tone, confidence, and artistry. I’ve seen and heard on a thumb piano, an mbira, that the instrument can be shaken back and forth to create a tremolo effect.

At one point SC did the same with his huge bass–he rotated it back and forth to make a tremolo effect–something I haven’t seen or heard before with an instrument of that size. That gesture, moving the entire bass back and forth to make a tremolo, spoke in miniature to exactly why Stanley Clarke is considered the great bassist that he is.

Don’t think too much

The big picture is CC+SC specialise in music making that just seems to happen spontaneously and naturally. It has the sound of “oh, yes of course, THAT’S how it goes–THAT’S how it’s done.” That’s a special class to be in–a class where things are clear and obvious in retrospect but totally unknown in advance. So when asked generally about how to make music and what think about while playing Stanley Clarke said don’t think too much. Ok. That’s simple.

Technical details

It’s true, there was a streaming video feed and truly it failed often. It’s also true that video and audio quality were excellent–when the stream wasn’t failing. It’s true that overhead and side-on views of the piano keyboard through a distorting special-effect fisheye lens added nothing to the overall presentation. But at least when the video stream failed easily it was easy to reconnect instantly.

In addition to the video feed there was a chat window to which viewers could post comments. As if the masterclass was happening right then at that instant. But more than a few comments in the chat window said the event wasn’t live–even though it appeared to be billed as a live feed. To the idea of “it wasn’t live” no one on the Chick Corea/Stanley Clarke side was monitoring the chat feed, apparently, or commenting on it much less routing it into the workshop. Probably the event wasn’t live.


What the workshop was, if it wasn’t live, was a window to a friendly hometown audience in a studio watching great performers play and banter. But there’s play and banter and there’s world-class Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke when they play and banter. Live and interactive or not, this was special play and banter.

The casualness of jazz

There’s a casualness to jazz. It’s a huge part of the music and how it’s often presented. So when Stanley Clarke said don’t think too much it was a profound piece of wisdom about how to go about doing what he and Chick Corea do–actually, a statement of mindfulness if there ever was one.

And more about casualness: Stanley Clarke explained how he learned from the great bassist Ron Carter to change the root notes of chords. Well, the idea is simple. For example put a C under a Gm chord and now we’ve got C7 with a 9th. Ok. nothing special that can’t live in Music Theory 101.

The profundity of jazz

But when Stanley Clarke substitutes one bass note for another the results are profound sonically and dramatically–much more so than in Music Theory 101. It’s profound sonically because there’s a huge difference between a minor third in a minor chord and the major third in a dominant chord. That’s easy to hear.

It’s profound dramatically because of the intent to reshape, to recast, how we might usually hear something that’s otherwise rather mundane. Of course the effect of intent, it’s outcome, is proportional to the level of musicianship generating it. In this case when Stanley Clarke’s the generator …

The call

But isn’t there either a contradiction or some sort of interesting relationship between on the one hand don’t think too much and on the other hand intent? For example, Stanley Clarke suggested Miles Davis could and should have given the same sort of workshop he and Chick Corea were now presenting. CC had a look of presumably mock horror when he heard that. It was a look of don’t challenge the master who is the tradition.

But then again why not do a little insouciant challenging? Don’t great musicians, Miles Davis included, have a responsibility to speak insightfully about their art? Because it’s not as if how they practice the art doesn’t pose obvious challenges to tradition. So did CC & SC answer to their responsibility–did they speak to or from tradition– through their workshop video?

The response

Or is it as Stanley Clarke demonstrated: Substitute C for G and watch–listen to–what happens. And at that leave all else where it belongs–outside of and external to the music. And as he said:

Don’t think too much.


The masterclass ended with a pitch in my email box asking me to check out and buy 9-hours of video instruction from Chick for $79.00 USD–a special price said the email. So the masterclass was an infomercial. Maybe that explains why it wasn’t interactive?

As for the product–9 hours of video instruction with Chick Corea. I went promptly to Chick Corea’s website to see what exactly was on offer. And then I subscribed. I mean, Chick Corea at $8.77 USD per hour? If there’s a better deal anywhere I can’t think of it or find it.

And if you missed the masterclass go to:

Addendum 2

Send email to mark@polishookpiano if you’re interested in lessons over Skype or in my studio in Leicester in the UK. I offer a comprehensive, thoughtful approach to jazz, improvisation, and the piano with unlimited extra help through email.