The Making Of Chick Corea's "Now He Sings, Now He Sobs"

20-time GRAMMY winner discusses the inspiration behind his GRAMMY Hall Of Fame-inducted recording
  • Photo: Michael Putland/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
    Chick Corea
December 30, 2013 -- 12:00 am PST

(Since its inception in 1973, the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame has enshrined nearly 1,000 recordings across all genres. The Making Of … series presents firsthand accounts of the creative process behind some of the essential recordings of the 20th century. You can read more Making Of … accounts, and in-depth insight into the recordings and artists represented in the Hall, in the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame 40th Anniversary Collector's Edition book.)

"Now He Sings, Now He Sobs"
Chick Corea
Blue Note (1968)
Inducted 1999

(As told to Don Heckman)

The title Now He Sings, Now He Sobs comes from I Ching, an ancient Chinese book that I was into in the '60s when I was studying different philosophies and religions. It's also known as the "Book Of Changes." And it has a section named "Now He Sings; Now He Sobs — Now He Beats The Drum; Now He Stops." The poetry of that phrase fit the message of the trio's music on Now He Sings, Now He Sobs to me. You know, the gamut of life experiences — the whole human picture and range of emotions.

There were a lot of different directions in jazz being tried out at that time. It was a period of exploration with several great exploratory leaders like Miles, Coltrane, Ornette, Mingus, and many more. I was into that atmosphere of trying out new approaches. And I was also checking out Bartók, Stravinsky, Stockhausen, Alban Berg, and some other composers who were also trying new things.

The recording sessions had a concentration and intensity that was thick in the atmosphere of the studio. [Drummer] Roy [Haynes] and [bassist Miroslav Vitouš] were meeting for the first time and we had all these new tunes to deal with without any rehearsal. So it was tense for a while. But then, when Roy put his beat on things and added his humor and lightness as our "elder," things loosened up and the music started to fly.

When the recording continued to get attention, I knew some kind of special effect had been created — otherwise how are you to know the result of something except in your own head?

But if I had to look at Now He Sings… from outside myself, I see it as a natural part of the growth of the jazz culture which I've always been so happy — honored, really — to be a small part of.  Jazz musicians from Duke and Satchmo on through Bird, Diz, Miles, Trane, and Monk have kept a very important flame of freedom and individual expression alive and well in our world and I think it's really important. It's a culture of ways of life and tastes in art and living that continually got passed down, starting from the first Africans that hit the Western world and were nurtured first in America. Of course, now the stream of expression and attitude towards creativeness that they represented has spread over the world.

So I came along in the '60s having absorbed as much as I could up until then and added my own tastes and search into the equation. I guess that's how I see Now He Sings, Now He Sobs in relation to the development of jazz in general. And I'm happy to know that so many people thought that "Now He Sings, Now He Sobs" is deserving of an award like this. It inspires me to come up with something new.

(Don Heckman has been writing about jazz and other music for five decades in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Jazz Times, Down Beat, Metronome, High Fidelity, and his personal blog, the International Review of Music.)

Email Newsletter