Bela Fleck on Chick Corea: "Sharing the stage with him is one of my life's sweet moments"

Banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck and legendary jazz pianist Chick Corea teamed up in 2007 for The Enchantment, an album of duets, but the two have been playing on each other's projects going back to Fleck's 1995 album, Tales From the Acoustic Planet, and Fleck appeared on Corea's Rendezvous in New York DVD. In advance of their three Colorado dates (the pair are touring together again for the first time since 2008), we spoke with Fleck about being inspired by Corea and working with the pianist.

See also: The best jazz shows in Denver in January

Westword: You've said that when you first listened to Chick Corea as a teenager, something about the way he played piano made you realize that there was a place in jazz for the banjo. Can you expand on that?

Bela Fleck: I think it was because he was playing in such a rhythmically intense way. The harmony was very interesting, and it made sense to me immediately. Banjo playing is part percussion, so musicians who play with tight rhythm are easier for us banjo players to relate to. In the past, most jazz I had listened to had a "back of the beat" kind of energy, which didn't translate as well to banjo.

What have learned from playing with Chick, and do you still learn from performing with him in a duet situation?

I have learned so much from him, mostly soaking up his approach, commitment, and integrity. Sharing the stage with him is one of my life's sweet moments. I am forced to respond and interact with him, so every night is different, and I must be on my toes.

How was that initial meeting when the two of you first performed together? Was that on Tales From the Acoustic Planet?

That was a pretty incredible day. Victor, Future Man, Edgar Meyer and I traveled to L.A. to the Mad Hatter Studios to record with Chick and Branford Marsalis.That one day, we recorded five of the coolest tracks I've ever been part of, and it was all done by 2 p.m.!

Is there any chance of recording a follow-up recording to The Enchantment?

We've been talking about that, actually. For one thing, there are sixty-plus live shows that are recorded multi-track, and there were so many magic nights. It's hard to even start choosing one for a live CD. And we also are discussing the idea of another studio CD. Something will happen -- I hope!

What's in store for these three Colorado dates?

The last show we did, which was in August, was one of the best we've done. So I hope we'll pick it up from there and keep on cruising. The material is far from worn, lots of juice left in these tunes, so we'll be squeezing it out!

You're quite well-versed in a number of genres, from bluegrass, folk and jazz to classical and world. Do you approach them any differently, or is it essentially all just music for you?

The truth is that I play like me, and try to fit into each situation as naturally as possible. So rather than thinking - how do I play this, I just play like me all the time! I do prepare, though. If I'm playing highly composed music, like my banjo concerto, or the music with Brooklyn Rider string quartet, I work hard on it before the tour.

With Chick, I make sure that I have a good understanding of all the chord changes, and search for the freedom within them. Everything I do on those shows will be very spontaneous and reactive. When I'm getting ready to play bluegrass, I crank on the metronome, and tighten up my time so I can drive it hard!

• BACKBEAT'S GREATEST HITS • - The fifty best rap lyrics of all time - The ten biggest concert buzzkills - Five more concert buzzkills - From Phish to Floyd, the ten best light shows

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jon Solomon writes about music and nightlife for Westword, where he's been the Clubs Editor since 2006.
Contact: Jon Solomon