trombone concerto, by Chick Corea

Joan Miró, Untitled, 50 x 70 cm, metal engraving on paper.


Commentary on the world premiere of the play, in an OSESP concert

Despite the necessary restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, music insists on echoing in one of the most important concert halls in the country, Sala São Paulo. In early August, the São Paulo State Symphony Orchestra (OSESP) presented to the public the world premiere of Trombone Concerto, by Chick Corea, a co-commission by OSESP with the Philharmonic Orchestras of New York, Helsinki and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. Corea, who died at the beginning of the year from a rare cancer, had his last composition conducted by guest conductor Giancarlo Guerrero. The soloist was the experienced Joseph Alessi, principal trombone of the New York Philharmonic and for whom the work was specially written, upon request.

When asked in an interview for the OSESP Magazine about his forays into orchestral music, Corea said he enjoyed "experimenting with a wider palette of sounds". Although he has already worked with large musical formations, his jazz flair for experimentation and the search for new sound possibilities also predominates in his works for smaller ensembles and even in his compositions and improvisations for solo piano.

Throughout his career, his style remained elusive and unclassifiable, a tribute to his inventive genius. His music was one of recreation, of change and discovery, of flirting with the childish and playful universe, of receptivity to the rhythms and colors of Latin American and Spanish music, of praise for what is transitory – in short, music of a chameleonic. Of the many musicians he collaborated with, Miles Davis is perhaps the best remembered. It is also worth mentioning the weight of the influence of Brazilian music in his trajectory. Under the leadership of Stan Getz, Corea was able to go on stage many times alongside João Gilberto and Flora Purim. According to himself, Tom Jobim's music also played a fundamental role in his formation. Of his visits to the country, his presentation at the 3rd Free-Jazz Festival (1987), in São Paulo, stands out, where he shared the night with Hermeto Pascoal.

Full of comings and goings, Corea's journeys beyond the limits of jazz and his interest in concert music represent one of the most fertile moments of his production. In TheMeeting (1982), Corea invites pianist Friedrich Gulda to a conversation between Seinways, in an emblematic recording full of improvisations. In the following decade, in The Mozart Sessions (1996), we have the opportunity to hear, to the Korea, the Piano Concerto n.20 in D Minor (KV466) and the Piano Concerto n.23 in A major (KV488).

A few years later, in korea concert (1999), the pianist ventures into the world of orchestral composition with the London Philharmonic. On this album, he performs a symphonic arrangement of his hit spain, where he broke new frontiers. Finally, the musician launches The Continents (2012), with his Concert for Jazz Quintet and Chamber Orchestra. Here, we are faced with even more robust music, where melodies and rhythms overlap in order to weave a sound that is both unique and quite indebted to the entire hybrid tradition of jazz musicians who ventured into concert music.

In some of the passages of this album, we can draw parallels with the spectacular Skies of America (1972) by Ornette Coleman. Although they are separated by innumerable differences in relation to the material, orchestration and musical conception involved, it is noticed in both the complete lack of concern with pre-established forms, which allows a fraying of the limits until then placed. In this sense, they share a general uncompromising stance. By different means, but endowed with the same non-conformism, his music is constructed from an apparent contradiction. Debtors of musical notation, so dear to concert music, unfold through improvisation, structural to certain aspects of jazz. In the case of Corea, it is through these albums that the musician also reveals himself to be a composer of excellence, who, like few others, abstracts from abstract formal concerns and weaves the thread of his artistic work always aiming to develop, and not just resolve or cease, a “tension immanent and highly sensitive jazz music” (Berendt, 2014, p.346).

Since at least the end of the 1960s, one can see in Corea's work a tendency to favor unaccompanied improvisations, placing on the solo musicians, as a blessing or a curse, all the intensity of the momentum. In his works more restricted to the jazz language, Corea's music opposes some more radical tendencies, strongly marked by collective improvisations and by the decentering and hierarchical breakdown of the different melodies. On the other hand, when he flirts with concert music, Corea also remains original: although he always gravitates towards a cleaner sound through identifiable melodic lines, he distances himself from the tradition of symphonic jazz in which the sections, mainly those of the brass , reproduced, almost in unison, phrases devoid of complexity and inventiveness. By privileging solos, his composition tends to place in the foreground, at each moment, a particular element that already contains in the musical material that embodies a sign of the universal. In line with and in opposition to the other elements of the set, the parts progressively constitute the whole.

O Concerto for Trombone embodies a moment of this musical conception. Alessi's excellent interpretation does justice not only to the protagonism expected of a soloist in a work of this nature, but also exercises a position Sui generis.From the first to the last measure, the power and intensity of the phrases that echo from its bell are only realized in the multifaceted game that they compose with the other timbres and sections of the orchestra. In a succession of rhythms and cadences, Corea achieves the unit of multiple. Never overlapping the others in order to erase them, the flashy trombone, with all its wide and expansive gestures, puts itself on stage with the aim of laying the groundwork for what comes from there onwards, at the same time that, beforehand, it already awaits your turn to chant your reply.

The first movement of the work, Stroll Opening (Opening Walk), practically develops in this constructive alternation between the soloist and the other parts of the ensemble. At the beginning, the orchestra joins the audience as attentive spectators of an improvisation by Alessi. Filled with glissandos, so characteristic of the trombone, the soloist opens the curtains and invites the others to join in his tour. Soon after, we find ourselves entangled in a lively threefold conversation between the trombone, the harp and the percussion instruments, in an exchange of ideas that sometimes takes on the tone of an embarrassed whisper and, in the end, seems to border on an inflamed discussion. As it couldn't be different coming from Corea, the soft melody that emerges from the piano then becomes the center of gravity of the entire sound construction. In a rearrangement that now involves the entire orchestra, the trombone then resumes its position, now eager to counterargument.

When the second movement – The Stroll (A Walk) – if it begins, we are already facing another setting. According to the composer, this tour is not just any wandering, without direction or direction. For Corea, the different colors, sounds and timbres that are revealed throughout this movement build the image of a stroll through New York. leaving the Harlem, to the north, Corea imagined going down the Broadway until reaching the extreme south of Manhattan Island, in the Battery Park. Along the way, different communities, lifestyles and cultures cross the path of the passer-by. From the first to the last moment of this route, we are facing a very luminous example of the exchange of ideas previously exposed between the soloist and the orchestra. Instead of competing for the hegemony of the sound, they cooperate in a movement that sometimes approaches, sometimes distances from their voices.

In a growing tension that seems to cross the center of the metropolis, the timbres are mixed in the midst of urban chaos, to take refuge in a quieter street in the next instant and, from there, resume their conversation again. In this movement, more than in any other, it is evident how Corea translated in a very particular way in his music the schema call and response (call and response), so dear to the jazz language. from the spirituals and the chants of African Americans, this two-dimensional structure of sound construction seems to find a new reformulation in this long conversation between the trombone and the other elements of the orchestra. Through this scheme, the voices never silence each other, but cooperate with each other. Between verses and choruses, it is possible to hear them all without diluting each one into a homogenizing collective. Translated into new terms, the language of jazz remains there, encrusted as a creative power – and it is symptomatic that this has the character of this inaugural voice the trombone, whose timbre is sometimes so close to the hoarseness of the human voice.

Intimate enough to be an invitation to dance, the different parts now participate in an even more integrated way in a single rhythm, sometimes syncopated, sometimes more melancholy, in which Alessi agrees to accompany the steps, in an exquisite interpretation. In the third movement, not for nothing called waltz for joe (Waltz for Joe), the soloist's virtuosity comes out most prominently. Around the dance, his phrases become lyrical and sensitive. Using the full extent and intensity of the gesture, the musician manages to interpret Corea in a surgical yet original way. In the meantime, we remember the reasons why, throughout the history of jazz, the trombone was considered “the most difficult instrument to domesticate” (Berendt, p.256). Despite its slippery and sliding mechanics, he masters it without muffling the sounds that necessarily escape the notation. The tenuous balance between composition and improvisation reappears in the gaps of each phrase in this waltz.

The empty streets of New York during the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic undoubtedly translate into the general climate of Hysteria (Hysteria), the fourth movement of the work – an excerpt composed, according to Corea, precisely in the most difficult period of the health tragedy. Throughout its execution, we noticed that the walk through the city, before taken with sure steps towards the south of the island, is now in a state of daze. The music takes on a tone that maximizes the previously sketchy melancholy, but adds a layer of tension, translating the ever-disturbing emptiness of the streets into the edgy, fast cadences that Alessi executes so well. If at the beginning of the work we hear the conversation between the trombone and the harp, the latter now surreptitiously reappears in the general theme, in an insertion that gradually erupts and becomes present.

At this point, the orchestra reveals itself as a “fragile totality”, a term used by Theodor Adorno in his considerations about the interrelations between the musical work and society. As the Frankfurtian reinforces, if taken as a microcosm of society itself, the orchestra can also be immobilized by the dead weight of its referent. Under the pandemic that has emptiness and absence as its scene, the previously constructive confrontation between the suits and the trombone slowly begins to translate a common lament. The agonizing tension present throughout the movement seems to try to point, even if timidly, to a later moment, that of filling this void and returning to socializing and conversation. In the images mobilized by Corea in his work, the orchestra begins to transfigure the real – the city under a pandemic state of siege – in its tragic duplicity, as a tragic assertion of the present and an indication of a still absent future. As Adorno says, in an image that matches the one used by the composer, “today, orchestras are like the skyscrapers of Manhattan, at the same time, imposing and destroyed” (Adorno, 2011, p.238).

The last movement of the concert, Joe's Tango (Joe's Tango) seems to deposit its strength in overcoming those melancholic ruins of the previous bars. In a rhythmic song with Latin influences, reminiscent of Miles Davis' version of Aranjuez Concert, Corea gives the last minutes of his work a cyclical tone, in which the trombone returns, now even more intensely, to that two-dimensional dialogue with the other parts. Also like at the beginning, we find Alessi soloing and taking up more and more space, as if he was bigger for having walked there.

Along the queue, already exposed ideas return in such a way that the color palette expands to the edge of chaos, but without abdicating that common and understandable conversation outlined from the beginning. Arriving at the end of the tour, already at the end of the Broadway Avenue, we come across the upper bay. Accompanied by the entire orchestra, the trombone then sounds as loud as the horns of the boats that transported millions in those waters at the beginning of the last century.

According to Alessi, the first version of the last movement ended serenely and peacefully. After some conversations with the composer, Corea altered the ending and gave it this almost heroic tone, in which he explores the entire romantic spectrum of the trombone. In his interview, he reveals that he composed the work with Alessi as his reference. When poring over the material, the composer set himself the task of providing the Joe an ideal environment so that, wielding his instrument, he could perform the art he knows so well. As in so many other moments in the history of concert music, the compositional impetus did not come from a concern with the instrument itself, but from the different possibilities of its execution by the soloist.

In this way, with each new trombonist who accepts this challenge, even more so in a work that allows improvisation, we will have a new Concerto for Trombone. In a homology with Alban Berg in his minimal transitions, Corea "took construction extremely seriously - though not as seriously". Under a scrutiny of a creative nature, it is also up to the composer to attenuate “humanly his rigidity” (Adorno, 2010, p.195), exercising his freedom within the very scheme he created.

With a wide and spacious gesture, the trombone once again demonstrates all its plasticity and versatility in this concert. At the origins of jazz in New Orleans, still at the beginning of the XNUMXth century, the instrument played the role of a “wind bass”, as it provided the melodic session, usually composed of the trumpet and clarinet, a base on which they could perform your flourishes. Concomitantly to this, the trombone also contributed to the rhythmic marking, as it accentuated the strong beats of bands that, until then, were very influenced by military marches.

Hired to participate in parades of the most varied kinds, these small jazz bands climbed into precarious trucks and, along the route through the city streets, animated passers-by and provided their ears with a new and syncopated rhythm, still in gestation. However, and here comes the anecdote, due to the large space that the trombonist needed to carry out his performance, he only had the back of the truck left, more spacious and without the sides so limiting to the trombone, which then allowed him to carry out the wide gesture of his instrument. Because of this, the playing style of early jazz trombonists became known as tailgate. There, squeezed between his colleagues in an already cramped space, this unlucky man always occupied that secondary position, back there, struggling to make himself present and heard. In his concert, Corea put him in the spotlight, ahead of everyone.

*Lucas Fiaschetti Estevez is a doctoral candidate in sociology at USP.


trombone concerto, by Chick Corea. Available in

ADORNO, Theodor. Conductor and orchestra: sociopsychological aspects. in Introduction to the sociology of music. São Paulo, Unesp, 2011.

ADORNO, Theodor. Berg: The Master of Minimal Transition. São Paulo, Unesp, 2010.

BERENDT, Joachim Ernst. The Jazz Book: From New Orleans to the XNUMXst Century. Revised and expanded by Günther Huesmann. Translation: Rainer Patriota and Daniel Oliveira Pucciarelli. São Paulo, Perspective / Sesc Editions, 2014.

COREA, Chick. From North to South Manhattan, along Broadway: Interview with Julia Tygel. OSESP Magazine. Sao Paulo, 2021.


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