NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

There are certain duets, certain collaborations that seemed perfect the second you hear about them - of course, destiny. Most of us would not put banjo and piano in that category.

We are fortunate that Bela Fleck and Chick Corea are not most people. And when you think about it a little bit, it's hard to imagine a challenge that these two would not accept. Both are renowned as virtuosos with exceptionally wide interests that collectively encompass jazz, bluegrass, Latin, country, rock, fusion, classical and more. And between them, they can boast a couple of shelf-fulls of Grammy awards.

Their new CD is called "The Enchantment." It hits the stores today. And Chick Corea and Bela Fleck join us to perform a few tunes and take your calls. So if you have questions about how and why they do what they do, about their individual careers or about the collaboration, our number is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. Email is talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation.

Chick Corea and Bela Fleck are with us from the Village Recording Studio in Santa Monica, California. And thanks so much for both of you being on the program today.

Mr. CHICK COREA (Musician): Hey. Yeah. Welcome.

Mr. BELA FLECK (Musician): Nice to be here.

Mr. COREA: Yeah.

CONAN: And after that intriguing introduction, why don't we give people a test to hear how this sounds and begin with a song.

Mr. COREA: Ah.

Mr. FLECK: Yeah.

Mr. COREA: Should we try "Senorita?"

CONAN: "Senorita."

Mr. FLECK: Nice idea.

Mr. COREA: Why we go straight into the tempo or...

Mr. FLECK: Okay.

Mr. COREA: Yeah. This is a little rehearsal on "Senorita."

(Soundbite of song, "Senorita")

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Chick Corea and Bela Fleck on the tune of "Senorita." They're with us live at the Village Recording Studio in Santa Monica, California. That's a tune off their new CD "The Enchantment." Chick Corea, let me ask you. You wrote that tune. When you sit down to write something for banjo, what did you start to think?

Mr. COREA: Well, I actually never wrote anything for the banjo. I wrote it for Bela...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. COREA: ...because I wasn't that familiar with the banjo. The sound if it, yes. And then I listened to, you know, I've been listening to Bela's playing and we've been playing together for quite a while. So it was really more of the musical challenge of it rather than the instrument itself.

CONAN: So not the sound of it but the musician's capabilities?

Mr. COREA: Well, secondarily the sound of it. I said to Bela: Hey, man, what's the lowest note on the banjo?

(Soundbite of banjo)

Mr. COREA: And what's the highest note on the banjo?

(Soundbite of banjo)

Mr. COREA: Cool. I got it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: And you figured he could play anything in between.

Mr. COREA: That's right.

CONAN: And Bela, I know that you were - we heard a clip of tape and you've said this many times over the years, that Chick Corea was one of your childhood idols. And you've now had the chance not merely to play with him on a couple of tunes, but a collaboration. This is something else.

Mr. FLECK: Yeah. It really is fun. It's one of the most fun things I've ever gotten to do. And I sort of have to pinch myself every once in a while that it is really happening.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get some...

Mr. COREA: We're having a blast, actually. It's real, real fun.

CONAN: Well, it's not just CD, you're going out on tour.

Mr. COREA: Actually. That was - that's actually more fun to me, because in live concerts what we do is we take the material that we composed for the recording and we stretch it out and we improvise, which is what brings joy to both of us.

Mr. FLECK: Yeah, really fun. It's crazy. The record was, you know, we put together this record. It was really a great way to learn the material and create a way to play together as duo partners. And it really came together and we made a real effort to keep the tunes really concise and straight to the point. But we don't feel that way when it comes time to do a live performance. That's the place to explore the details and the different opportunities that they present. So that's what we do and we just take it out.

CONAN: The CD, as I understand, was recorded in five days, which, from an outsider's vantage point, well, that seems like breakneck speed. Doesn't it to you, Bela Fleck?

Mr. FLECK: It did feel that way to me, actually. Yeah. I thought we were going to do the whole record in seven days and then mix it another time. But Chick said, hey, let's record and mix it in seven days. So that meant recording a lot faster. But the truth is I'm used to, like, maybe taking too much time sometimes to make records and getting obsessive about the details. And sometimes, a situation like this can bring out your best and force you to be spontaneous in ways that you don't always allow yourself, or I should say I don't always allow myself to be.

But those are things, when I look back at my life, they're the things I'm the most proud of, is those moments when I had to rise to the occasion. And so for me, this was like that.

Mr. COREA: I felt we had a real happy - we stuck a real happy medium, because I grew up actually the opposite in recording, which is, you know, come to the studio pretty well prepared. A lot of the music is very improvisational. I do one or two takes and get out.

Mr. FLECK: That's it. Yeah. A lot of great stuff happens that way.

Mr. COREA: And usually, I find with great improvisers like Bela, first takes are really, you know, the first time you play something has all the original impulses, all the original ideas that come to mind, and they're the freshest and sometimes get disregarded.

But we found a happy medium, because Bela really took charge of making the recording become concise and have good arrangements and...

Mr. FLECK: Oh, we did it together. It was kind of fun. We alternated. If it was Chick's tune, he was the boss. If I was - if it's my tune, I was the boss. But it wasn't a - it was just because somebody had to make a decision. And it went quicker that way, (unintelligible). But everybody contributed a lot to each other's tunes. So it was just a great experience.

CONAN: Let's get some listeners in on the conversation: 800-989-8255, 800-989-talk. Email: talk@npr.org. Bill is on the line - Bill with us from Cleveland.

BILL (Caller): Hi. How are you?

CONAN: Very well. Thanks.

BILL: I really enjoyed that first piece you played. And as fascinated as I was by the arrangement, it wasn't very far into it when I started to realize that there is a very almost tenuous balance between the two instruments, and that one could've easily overpowered the other. How did you come to that balance in the studio?

CONAN: Chick Corea, why don't you start that out first?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. COREA: Okay. Well, you know, like I said, when I was talking about writing for Bela or the banjo, it's the same thing. It's like when two musicians like us are in good rapport and in - we're in good communication with one another. We balance each other's instrument just naturally, you know. Like I try and use the lower parts of the piano and the upper parts of the piano, long notes and short notes in order to let Bela's banjo sound do what I think he wants it to be doing. And I have a feeling that he's doing exactly the same for me.

CONAN: Is that what you're doing?

Mr. FLECK: Yeah. I think - well, you just - I have a theory that whatever number of musicians or whatever combination of instruments is, you're trying to make the music sound complete. So if there's two people, you play it differently than larger groups. You play a lot less in larger groups. And then you just use your ears and your consciousness to figure out what's needed and what you can supply. And that's, I think, what we both tried to do.

And you might really - it was particularly spontaneous, because that's the first time we've seen each other since February - was the last time we played. And we just met here and we're trying to remember some of these arrangements. So we're relying a lot on spontaneous, you know, a lot of good listening to each other in figuring out what's - what would be good to do. Thanks for those observations.

CONAN: More spontaneous combustion when we come back from the break. Bill, thanks very much for the call. We're talking with Chick Corea and Bela Fleck about their new CD, "The Enchantment," and listening to some tunes. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

We're talking with two giants of the music world: Chick Corea and Bela Fleck. Their new album, "The Enchantment," melds a variety of musical influences, from ragtime blues and classical to bluegrass, country and Latin music. We're talking and listening to them perform this hour. And, of course, you're welcome to join the conversation.

If you have questions about this collaboration, give us a call: 800-989-8255. Our email address: talk@npr.org. And you can check out our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation. And we promised some more music, and I think it's probably Bela's turn for a tune.

Mr. FLECK: Okay. I'll send this out to a special friend of mine. This is called "Waltse for Abby."

(Soundbite of music, "Waltse for Abby")

CONAN: Bela Fleck on banjo, Chick Corea on piano. The tune: "Waltse for Abby" from the CD, "The Enchantment". Bela Fleck and Chick Corea are with us from Santa Monica, California. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan.

And let's see if we can get another caller on the line to ask you questions. This is Josh. Josh is with us from San Francisco.

JOSH (Caller): Yeah. Hi. First, I'd like to say that I love the collaboration between the two of you on "Tales from the Acoustic Planet: Volume 1". And I'm just so excited about the new CD. My question was, Bela, how were you able to connect with Chick originally?

Mr. FLECK: Well, I used to go to his shows. And actually, a long, long, long, long, long time ago, I sent him a note saying I was a big fan. And he always returned letters to people that would write. I still have no idea how you managed to that, Chick, even back when I was 15 or 16. But I came to his shows and eventually, I came backstage - I knew somebody when he was playing at Vanderbilt - and I gave him a bluegrass record I was working on at the time called "Drive".

And then, over the years, when the Flecktones got started, I would start to run into Chick at places like jazz festivals. And one time, I even walked onto a bus that I thought I was - I thought was our bus, and he was on it. And our bus had pulled away and his had pulled up. But later on, we met at the Grammys when we were both nominated, and we got to talk a little bit and I got up the nerve to ask him to play on that record and he did, and we had a great time.

Mr. COREA: Yeah.

CONAN: Was that Merle Haggard's old bus?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. COREA: I don't remember, actually.

Mr. FLECK: Well, it was at the Jacksonville Jazz Festival. Flecktones pulled up. I took my stuff into the hotel and came back down and got on the bus to get more stuff, and you were standing there. And your bus had pulled up and ours had left. And you were like, what are you doing on my bus? And I was like, well, what are you doing on my bus?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. COREA: (Singing) Ah, memories.

Mr. FLECK: Very auspicious.

Mr. COREA: Yeah.

CONAN:

Mr. FLECK: Yeah.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Josh.

JOSH: No problem. Thanks so much.

CONAN: Let's go now to Ed. Ed's with us from Hartsville in South Carolina.

ED (Caller): Hello. Good afternoon to both of you.

Mr. COREA: Hi.

ED: Probably directing more toward Bela. And I'm new to Chick. Bela, I just - I followed you since, I reckon, back with Sam Bush in the New Grass Revival and on through and I just - while I'm a traditionalist, I love what you're doing, getting new audiences into bluegrass. And I'm honored to be able to speak with you and everything, but - just thanks for the good work. I will be buying some of Chick's CDs, you can bet, and then I'll start off with this first one. But thank you. You're doing the same thing that Mark O'Connor did with me with Yo-Yo Ma, and got me to buy Yo-Yo Ma's records, and I appreciate it. I'll take my answers off the air.

CONAN: Okay. And thanks very much. It prompts me...

Mr. FLECK: Thanks, man.

CONAN: ...it prompts me to ask, though - I wonder, you guys play such different kinds of music some of the time. Are your audiences the same? Are they different? How are they different, Chick Corea?

Mr. COREA: I think there's a little bit of crossover, but we're still experiencing what that's like. We've already been on a couple of tours. We played a number of concerts - lots and lots of fun. We're kind of looking at the audience, you know, I'm going, wow, that's - those are definitely Bela fans, I could tell.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FLECK: Well, I'm doing the same. I'm seeing people that I don't recognize also.

Mr. COREA: Yeah. So we're checking out - this also depends a little bit on where we play, on who shows up. But what I like about it is that once we get into the music, the audience becomes kind of like a unit, a group. They're listening and they're enjoying it and it's really cool.

CONAN: Let's see if we could get another caller on the line. This is Lisa - Lisa with us from Kansas City.

LISA (Caller): Oh, hi. I am delighted to hear the two of you together. My husband and I, who have been together for 11 years, part of the reason we are together is because he's a musician who plays French horn and stand-up base and base guitar. And he walked into my house and saw Chick Corea albums and Bela Fleck albums, along with (unintelligible) albums.

And so anyway, this will be a great gift for him for his birthday, which is coming up in June, if I can just make sure he doesn't get it for himself ahead of time.

(Soundbite of laughing)

Mr.COREA: Keep it a secret. The whole nation is going to have to keep it a secret now.

Mr. FLECK: That's very cool. Happy birthday to him.

LISA: I'm certainly going try for a little while. Thank you so much for the program.

CONAN: Thanks very much.

Mr. FLECK: You're very welcome.

Mr. COREA: Thank you.

CONAN: Here's an email we got. This is for Bela. Dear Bela, from Tim. I have fun with the tenor banjo. Right now I'm working on some Chet Baker songs because they're fun to play. However, my banjo sounds more like a guitar than your banjo. Could you talk about what causes banjo voices to differ? Your help is appreciated.

Mr. FLECK: Sure. Well, a tenor banjo is a banjo that's played with a flat pick. It's got four strings and it is played more in a guitar fashion. Like where the five-string banjo that I play is - for one thing, it's got this weird short string, the highest string, which is right next to the lowest string. It's very confusing, but it's played in a style that I play it with, with three fingers that revolve around those five strings on the right hand and pluck out, you know, patterns.

So they have a very different sound. And a lot of the sound of the style of banjo that I play has to do with the notes ringing in to each other. And the choices of the open and closed strings and the way you let notes ring, where I think tenor banjo tends to be different, a lot of voicings up the neck what you strum up to, and very much about the flat pick and the sounds you get. Also, there's some great Irish music played on the tenor banjo, and a lot of cool music. So...

CONAN: Do you fool around with that?

Mr. FLECK: That's the shortest possible...

CONAN: Do you fool around with that instrument as well as your five-string?

Mr. FLECK: I really don't. And in fact, Edgar Meyer once asked me, why don't you have one of those? You should play that. In fact, the banjo that I play - I'm playing right now was originally a tenor banjo, but it has a five-string neck on it. It's an old Gibson from the '30s. And a lot of those were converted because they became very valuable to bluegrass players.

CONAN: We're talking with Bela Fleck, who you just heard. Also with us, Chick Corea. The two great musicians have collaborated on a new CD called "The Enchantment." They're going to be going out on tour as well - various jazz festivals and various cities around the country. They are with us today from a studio in Santa Monica, California, the Village Recording Studio.

If you'd like to join us, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. And this is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And we've got time, I think, for another tune.

Mr. FLECK: Okay. We got one.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. FLECK: This one kind of goes along with the conversation we're just having about the older styles of banjo. This is one that Chick is going to bring the jazz consciousness too.

Mr. COREA: It is one of my favorite tunes.

Mr. FLECK: It's called "Mountain."

(Soundbite of song, "Mountain")

CONAN: Chick Corea and Bela Fleck. Their new CD is "The Enchantment." More music from them live and more of your calls when we come back.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. 800-989-8255, if you'd like to join us.

(Soundbite of news)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Today we're talking with Chick Corea and Bela Fleck. Their new album is called "The Enchantment." And they've been with us this hour with their first major collaboration. If you have questions about this duo, about working together, join us on our blog. 800-989-8255, if you'd like to join us on the phone. The blog is at npr.org/blogofthenation. Email is talk at npr.org. You can also hear a few tracks from their CD at our Web site, npr.org/talkofthenation. So all of those options available. Or you can listen to your radio because we're going to have some more of your calls and some more music in just a minute.

But in the mean time, let's get David on the line. David is with us from Athens, Ohio.

DAVID (Caller): Yes, I'd like to ask Bela if there is a technical reason why the piano is not used in bluegrass more often. And I'll take my answer off the line.

CONAN: David, thanks for the call.

Mr. COREA: I don't think there's any piano in the mountains.

Mr. FLECK: Well, they're hard to carry around. That's one of the issues. And piano techs are hard to come by in the Blue Ridge.

Mr. COREA: It's hard to pluck a piano.

Mr. FLECK: But the truth is bluegrass is a music that really came together around Bill Monroe and Flat and Scruggs, and some other great musicians around the Grand Ole Opry at a time when you stood and play in front of the mics. And it was built around a folk kind of music that really didn't have piano in it.

But as bluegrass really was considered country music at the time, there were times when bluegrass musicians would have pianos and drums and accordions and the other instruments that were around Nashville on records. It just wasn't really part of the music as Bill Monroe started it. But you know, it can be. And there's a lot of people that like to do it. Actually, Bruce Hornsby just did a record with Ricky Skaggs that's real cool, which is incorporating piano into it. So I think it's going to be the next big thing - bluegrass piano.

Mr. COREA: It's a good blend.

CONAN: Chick Corea, let me ask you. There are so many diverse interests in your background, from Latin obviously, jazz, classical music of various types. Was there any exposure to bluegrass when we were growing up?

Mr. COREA: Only through Bela, actually. Through the years that I've known him and we began to - I began to listen to the Flecktones and his music. And actually it wasn't so much the banjo that interested me as the music he was playing. But then through him, then I thought, especially on this project, actually, what happened is Bela brought this song that we played earlier on the show called "Mountain."

And I said, hey, you know, show me that exact lick. I want to play it on the piano. And so I tried to duplicate the banjo groove, sort of, on the piano. And I started getting interested in the groove and then he started showing me some other bluegrass music. I actually loved the groove and the feel of the music. So it's kind of like an introduction to me.

Mr. FLECK: One of the fun things about showing Chick that lick is just the stuff that came out of him. Because when he improvises on that song, he plays stuff - he kind of starts with the sound of that traditional banjo thing and then takes it on to the moon. So it's all the stuff that I wished I could think of to play. But then you can sort of see how it would work, you know. It's just cool.

CONAN: Well, one of the things that obviously collaborators do, in particular in improvisation, is throw out musical references to each other. And I wonder of you suddenly find yourself throwing out a reference that maybe Chick Corea is unaware of.

Mr. COREA: Who knows? When we're playing, we don't talk. And actually, I don't know if he's throwing references at me. I just hear, like, him throwing these ideas and we don't think about it too much. And that's where the fun comes in. We kind of bypass and transcend all of the associations with instruments and styles of music and just play music.

CONAN: One other question and then we'll go to another tune. And that is - I am in a studio in Washington. You're in a studio in Santa Monica. It sounds like we're all in one room if you're listening on the radio - at least we hope so. A lot of collaborations are now done that way, with one musician in one side of the continent and one on the other. Did you guys work that way or did you get together, and was it important to be in the same room?

Mr. COREA: I think we've always played in the same room, haven't we?

Mr. FLECK: We didn't get together much, which was why the recording process was intense. We got together for a couple of sessions, like, I don't know, three or four hours each when Chick was in town playing with Gary Burton. In Nashville we got together for an afternoon and another morning, and then the next time we met was the night before we started recording, but I was getting these great emails with new Chick Corea compositions embedded in them and...

Mr. COREA: Yeah. We were writing. Bela was writing, and then I was writing. We were talking to one another on the phone. It was basically, you know, put some creative ideas together and then bring them to one another at a pretty short rehearsal we had before we started recording.

CONAN: Well, with absolutely no chance to rehearse whatsoever, I gather, since February, how about one more tune?

Mr. FLECK: Sure. What are we going to do?

Mr. COREA: Want to try...

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. FLECK: Yeah, let's do that.

(Soundbite of song, "Brazil")

CONAN: "Brazil," the one tune that neither Bela Fleck nor Chick Corea wrote on their new collaboration CD, "The Enchantment," which arrives in record stores today. They're going to be going out on tour as well. They joined us live today from the Village Recording Studio in Santa Monica, California. Guys, thanks so much.

Mr. COREA: Yeah. It was a great pleasure.

Mr. FLECK: A pleasure, yeah. Thank you.

CONAN: Good luck with it.

Mr. COREA: Thanks, man.

CONAN: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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