With artists who operate at a certain level, it is somewhat of a misnomer to say upon their death that they have left us; as the work remains. And with the work, an aspect at least, of the artist continues to reside within. The best works regardless of medium offer up new things upon repeated revisits. It is akin to the familiar voice a longtime friend telling us of new ideas or the seemingly magical occurrence of inspiration being seen in a place of one’s usual everyday environs. Chico’s work is always like that.
I first became aware of his work when given the opportunity to interview him for All About Jazz in November of 2007. He was one of the first big interviews that I had done. I have always tried to not just use stock questions but come up with questions specific to each artist with whom I interacted. In doing my research for the Chico interview I found myself becoming even more of a fan.
I was calling him at home on the East Coast from California. I was punctual calling him at the exact time but he had a schedule change and had just gotten back from some traveling. I offered to reschedule and call him at some more convenient time. He asked my name again and then told me that it was all right, to go ahead. My nerves were not helped by the fact that for the first two questions I could hear him unpacking. By my third question he warmed up to me though. While discussing his work he was very serious but as the conversation went on it became punctuated with funny off the record asides. I had initially asked for twenty minutes of his time. As a general practice I always make sure to have more questions than I know I will need. We very quickly hit the twenty minute mark and I let him know. He asked me if I had more questions;
I was told that I could continue; with the stipulation that at any time if he needed to go all he had to do was let me know. Chico was very generous with his time, we covered my entire lengthy list. He was entertaining and gracious. While expounding upon his artistic philosophy and for the entire interview, he kept the tone conversational never merely pontificating. The interview would remain among the favorites that I have done.
For many years Chico’s work has found a home at Jeffrey Caddick’s Joyous Shout Records. There is within his Joyous Shout catalog an inherent freedom. Never is there the feeling that he had pressure to replicate new copies of past artistic triumphs. Connected with this freedom were interesting album programs. To mark the anniversary of his first date as a leader in the 50’s which happened to be a trio session, he once again cut a trio album. At this time my articles were often syndicated and his publicist sent me a copy. Of course it was a marvelous session.
I had no interaction at this point with either Chico or Jeffrey, nor did I expect to. The next Joyous Shout Record came to me in the mail with no liner notes or packaging. Momentarily I thought it odd but immediately began listening and enjoying it. I was asked if I would be interested in supplying liner notes for what would be the Twelve Tones of Love album. It was a great honor and pleasure for me. I would go on from there to supply the next three of Chico’s albums with liner notes. Chico never had any radical stylistic departures in his artistic evolution. It was a continuous and organic process, not forsaking his past but also not being trapped by it. It made for a subtlety which sometimes caused his newer work to be overlooked despite receiving many accolades including being a Kennedy Center award recipient and a NEA Jazz Master.
He had recently just completed his latest album Inquiring Minds which is out at the first of the New Year, for which I once again had the honor of supplying the liner notes. In listening, upon getting the sad news, to what would be his final album there is no elegiac sense of Chico closing accounts. It comes across as just the latest Chico album, which is saying a lot. There will be no more releases after this one but Chico remains, locked into the groove ready to once again engage us just by pressing the play button. I like, I am sure, many others thank him for all the great work.