The 1970s decade is often characterised as having been one of a musical wilderness, a barren land of popular music set against a background, in Britain at any rate, of urban decay and labour strife. The music, it has been suggested, reflected an uncharming decade, and as with any generalisation there is an element of truth but also a huge chunk of untruth. For every Bay City Rollers or Lieutenant Pigeon, there were the innovators - David Bowie, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, to name but three.
While punk, some of it anyway, came to define a ‘70s bleakness, there was still an abundance of creativity, joyousness, melody, harmony and the breaking of new ground rather than a retro two-fingers-up that was the marketing craft of Malcolm McLaren. Just as Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder broke free from the shackles with which Berry Gordy had bound them and combined issues such as the environment, inequality, race and spirituality with stunning musical invention, so the world of jazz realised that it had a new voice. Jazz broke free of the shackles of constraint, those of tradition. Miles Davis was the rebel supreme, altering a genre with a boldness comparable to that which Bob Dylan had achieved in the 1960s.
In 1969 Davis brought out ‘In A Silent Way’. The album marked the start of what is referred to as his electric period. Decried by some critics for having sold out to rock, it was to be crucial in changing the perception of jazz and in attracting a far wider audience. Jazz ceased to be marginal, and there were any number of Davis alumni who ensured that it wouldn’t be.
‘In A Silent Way’ was curious in that the album featured not one, not two but three keyboardists. They all played electric piano on the album, and each of them was to attain global fame. They were Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and Joe Zawinul, whose group Weather Report arguably became the biggest thing that jazz had ever known.
Of the three, Herbie Hancock is the only one still with us. Joe Zawinful died in 2007 as the result of a rare form of skin cancer.
Last week, Chick Corea passed away, also because of a rare cancer, and with his passing came the recollections of how he, like Miles Davis, had helped to give momentum to jazz in Majorca. In 1986, Davis and his band performed at the Festival of Jazz in Palma. The concert at the auditorium was defined as “the event of the decade”, but three years previously Chick Corea had appeared at the festival. “Phenomenal” was the reaction.
Born in Massachusetts, his father was from southern Italy, roots which may have been a factor in the Latin flavour that he cultivated. But it wasn’t Italy to which he turned for inspiration; it was Spain. A 1976 album, ‘My Spanish Heart’, was an exercise in jazz fusion with traditional Latin music. It was more electronic than his previous work, he having been less inclined to follow the synthesizer route that Herbie Hancock and especially Joe Zawinul took.
Three years earlier, there had been some electronic instrumentation on the album ‘Light as a Feather’, recorded with his band Return to Forever. The Latin feel was particularly evident, the stand-out track having simply been entitled ‘Spain’. The introduction to this track was taken from a classical Spanish work - ‘Concierto de Aranjuez’ by Joaquín Rodrigo, who was credited as co-composer along with Corea.
‘Light as a Feather’, with ‘Spain’ almost a signature tune, has been heralded as one of the greatest jazz albums of all time, and it firmly established Corea as one of the essential drivers of the new jazz that came to have such widespread popularity in the ‘70s.
‘Spain’ received two Grammy nominations, and in 2001 it was reworked as ‘Spain for Sextet and Orchestra’.
This received the Grammy for best instrumental arrangement. But there were other tributes to the country, such as one that was sandwiched between the two incarnations of ‘Spain’. Perhaps it had been that concert in 1983 which inspired it, as the first track on his 1985 album ‘Voyage’ was entitled ‘Mallorca’.
A collaboration with flautist Steve Kujala, this was a stripped-back Corea without the band. Recorded for the legendary German ECM label, it was symptomatic of the often haunting productions that the label came up with.
There was another Mallorcan connection when he duetted on a 1980 album with pianist Tete Montoliu, who though he was from Catalonia was a regular performer in Majorca and another important influence in the development of jazz on the island.
And there were also his collaborations with guitarist Paco de Lucia, who lived in Mallorca and who was cited, along with Miles Davis, as having been one of Corea’s greatest influences.
The 1970s were in fact rich with rare talents. Another one has sadly passed away.