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Playing in His Key

Q&A

As he turns 60, jazz pianist Chick Corea talks about his music, career and faith in Scientology.

August 18, 2001|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A: L. Ron Hubbard uses the word "communication" to identify the importance of people giving and sharing ideas--but in the way that they really do. A communications course in college is usually about the mechanics--satellites and computers and so forth. In Scientology, communication is the study of how actual people relate to one another, successfully or not. And you learn that communication is a skill that one can increase, and is not just part of one's fixed personality. It's something to really experience. And it's [liberating] when you can realize that ... you can improve your ability to communicate with people, and that life around can improve if you do it better, if you learn it better.

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Q: Nonetheless, you have been a Scientologist long enough to realize that it is still viewed questionably by many, both here and elsewhere. And that a number of European countries refuse to recognize it as a religion.

A: Sure. And we found that out firsthand in the early '90s, when we began to have some pretty visceral experiences with the German government. That was a hard condition to confront, when people are saying they don't like you because [of what you are], and [engaging in] name calling. It's not an environment you feel comfortable going into. But the actual truth was that when I confronted it and went into the environment, I found that the audiences themselves were not really part of it. Sure, they had the [negative] PR from the newspapers and the government. But when I got in front of them, they were totally there for me.

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Q: Still, you haven't returned to Germany to perform since 1993.

A: No. But the good news is that I'm going back in October to play 13 solo piano concerts all throughout Germany. And that's happening because I persevered in approaching the situation by doing a really positive, straight-ahead, friendly sort of protest. By going to the U.S. government, appealing to the basic principles in human rights that are written not just into the U.S. Constitution, but the German constitution. For that period of time, every time I'd go to D.C.--three or four times a year--I'd go around and connect with congressmen. And it actually produced effects--dialogue between the State Department and the German government. And good things resulted. Then, when the Kohl government changed, things seemed to calm down in relation to me and Scientology, anyway.

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Q: In December, the Blue Note Club in New York City is planning a three-week celebration of your birthday in which you will perform with different musical associates from your career, with a new ensemble every few days. Among the names I've seen in the program are Herbie Hancock, Gary Burton, Bobby McFerrin, Joshua Redman. That's quite a lineup.

A: It is. And it came about after a lot of resistance from myself about doing anything resembling a reunion. I've turned down--you can't imagine how many--offers to do reunions with Return to Forever, with the Elektric Band, with other ensembles. There's nothing wrong with any of that, of course, it's just that it's always been my interest to make something new. But this time it came from a slightly different angle--not so much a musical angle, but a celebratory angle. So I put out a couple of feelers to some of my friends, and the responses came back so quickly, that it really got me going. I realized it could actually be fun.

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Q: So if you had to describe what you expect to be happening once the celebrations are over, and you finally arrive on the far side of 60, what would you say?

A: I plan to make my life in the next few years an example of all the basic principles I've been talking about. I'm going to restructure things. You're going to see me working on my piano concerto, taking a vacation, keeping everything nice and balanced. Of course, that's a dream right now, but if you print it, it'll be public, and I won't have any choice but to stick to it.

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