Commencement 1997

Chick Corea Delivers Commencement Address

I'm very excited right now to be here. It's kind of like a completion of a circle in my life because Boston is my hometown. Actually, when I went out on the road from Boston I left after high school in 1960, and I've been traveling constantly since then. So I kind of lost touch with Boston for awhile. And recently I've been coming back and touching my roots again. Being invited here by Berklee completes my reestablishing my touch with Boston. I'm very happy about that, and that Berklee becomes a focal point of creativity here in town. I'm very happy to finally accept [Berklee's invitation] to come here and be here with you all.

My uncles aunts and cousins are here—so we've all come here to congratulate you. All of us—the whole Corea clan.

This is a very unusual thing for me to do—to express my sentiments in words and just speak to you...but I do have a couple of sentiments, so I'm going to make an attempt to express them. How much time do I have? (Looks at Vice President Gary Burton, chuckles.) Just kidding.

One of my overall sentiments is the sentiment of congratulations and, really, acknowledgment for the accomplishments. Accomplishments, to me, are on a lot of different levels. The ones that I really want to acknowledge in you all are the ones that mainly that you know that you've achieved.

The thing that binds us all together here, I think, is that we all love to put creativity and music into the world and brighten each other up, and brighten the environment up with what we do. And basically, I think if we surveyed each other, we'd probably word it differently, but we'd come up with a similar reason why we all got into it in the first place.

Like, "Why did you become a musician? Why do you want to pursue the life of art? What's the attraction?"

I'll betcha that we'll all come up with very similar answers, very simple ones, that maybe sometimes you don't state because they seem inconsequential. But I don't think they are. It's a desire that we have, one way or another. Something that we saw at one point in life attracted us to pursue the life of creating music. We started to do [create] it, and it was fun, and joyous, and brought wonderful feelings all around us and we just kept going.

Now every time you make a step toward that—by practicing, performing, and finally accomplishing one little thing that you wanted to accomplish—whatever the success is in your minds, you build on it. That's what I want to congratulate you all on, and the college on, and all of us on—in pursuing that intent of putting beauty out into the environment, which I think, is the thing that gives all of us incredible pleasure. So congratulations.

Now that I've congratulated everybody, I have one other sentiment that I'd like to share with you. I think that one of the things we probably could agree upon is that advice is cheap. So I'm going to give you some cheap advice.

I selected one piece out of the sea of advice, that I thought was a pretty cool piece of advice. There's knowledge and there's second-hand knowledge, I think. What you gain, when you make an accomplishment—and you know what you can do musically, and it comes out in an action—that's knowledge that's yours, that you can build upon, and that's what you build your skills and confidence on. Only you know that.

So this other thing that we all call knowledge, which comes in the form of—books, study, me "yacking" at you today—whatever comes at you through the newspapers and media, data and opinions, it's all data. You could call it knowledge, but the real trick, is your own selection of what you consider important and what you like to try out and test.

So you take the piece of knowledge, or whatever it is, and you test it out. If it works for you—if it gets you "grooving"—if it gets you toward that thing you want to accomplish, then you know that it's a valuable piece of knowledge for you. So, my piece of cheap advice is that the most valuable quality that we all have is the quality of freedom of choice—the idea that out of all of the sea of information that comes toward you, there you are, and you really do have the freedom to choose what you want to do and what you think about what's coming your way.

What kind of music you want to play, who you want to associate with, what things you do and don't want to do, down to every little choice you make when you're writing your music and acquiring your skills—you discard that piece, and keep this piece—I just want to remind you that you've got it [the freedom to choose]. It's a freedom we all have, and it's something I feel should be incredibly cherished and understood and valued.

There's this subject that's developed in the past hundred years or so called human rights. We have the Bill of Rights. We try to state what our natural rights are. Over and over again, no matter how it's stated, it comes down to, "We want to keep this freedom to decide what we like, what our tastes are, and apply them to our lives." So, that's my little bit of cheap advice. I don't know if I'm getting my point across, or stating it the way that I feel it, but, there you have it.

I think you should cherish that freedom, and go out into life and really accomplish everything that you want to accomplish

There's one other thing.

I want to promote the idea of being and artist, and being a musician, because I know you can come through school and gather up a bit of this and that, and [make it through] an incredible bit of training, and developing your skills. But I can tell you from the viewpoint of having been out on the road for a lot of years now, playing music, that being involved in the arts, being a musician, playing for people, is a very, very fulfilling life. It really is kind of a magical life, because we live on a planet that's not really conducive to what we do. It's not easy to go out and just be have to survive. You have to make money, you have to keep the body healthy—you have to do all these various things. The planet is not, to put it mildly, at peace with itself, so we live in an environment that's kind of shaky.

But as artists, and musicians, we've sort of played a trick on the rest of the world. The rest of the world wants everybody to conform to the beat, to be a nine-to-fiver, to get up and do your job and not get too excited about anything, and just agree with everything that's going on. But in music and art, there's this little window that we've got that the whole planet agrees upon is a cool thing to do. It's all right to make music. It's all right to be yourself. In fact, the more yourself you are, the more money you make, I think, anyway. [Students applaud.]

So you see what I mean? We're in this little niche that is a really cool niche to be in...I want to encourage you to really go for it and do it, and accomplish it. Don't buy these opinions of, "Oh it's really hard, really difficult, man. I can't find anyone to play with and nobody's into my thing, and it's hard to get a gig," and this and that—just throw all that out the window. All that is no good.

So I'm trying to give you this picture of the fact that we really have rigged it so that in music and the arts the whole planet agrees that it's okay to create. Isn't that wild? I'm continually amazed...Gary [Burton, VP. of Berklee/jazz vibraphonist] and I went to Switzerland the other night and played a couple of concerts. I was just thinking about the concerts. We'd walk out into the hall and we'd play this wild music, and have an absolute blast for two hours, and people loved it. They sit there and applaud, and take it in, and smile...and then we get paid. We actually get money for it.

And it's amazing. There's this "agreement"—the human race needs to be can't exist without it [being uplifted]. We'd lose ourselves...become robots. So, I see it that it's our job, in a sense, to keep on reminding people of this creative nature that everyone's got. Not just us [artists]. All human beings are innately creative. So when we play, they wake up, and it's inspiring. It takes their mind off of troubles and war and when we put each other in a state like that, we're more able to enjoy life, to do something creative, to make a right decision and do right things.'ve chosen probably the only thing on the planet that you can do where you have the agreement to be yourself and do your thing and be creative. You're encouraged to be creative. You have to be creative. You have to be yourself. [Sarcastically] What a terrible thing to be. I encourage you to carry it the whole way. Don't get stopped by barriers and the kind of [talk] that makes it seem like it's going to be difficult [to be a musician]. I believe that you can accomplish what you want if you just continue to do it.

So that's my cheap advice. I'm again very pleased to be amongst you all, I feel we're friends in music. We're doing the same thing. The school is here as a focal point to bring us all together, to bring young people to a place to learn techniques and share ideas, and it's really great. So, class of 1997, go out and kill. Thank you very much.