Interview: Gary Burton

The jazz vibraphonist discusses his collaboration with Chick Corea ahead of Saturday's show

Two of America's finest contemporary jazz artists, pianist Chick Corea and vibraphonist Gary Burton, come to Prague Saturday, March 26, celebrating the 39th year of their amazing musical partnership. They established new standards for jazz duets with their first release, Crystal Silence, in 1973, and have played to enthusiastic audiences around the world every year since.

Before departing on their current tour, which will also take them through Istanbul, Bratislava and Moscow, Gary Burton took time to answer questions via e-mail.

Most collaborations run their course and have a natural end. What keeps pulling you and Chick back together -- the music, friendship, or a combination of the two?

It's definitely the music. The friendship is fine, too, and we would stay friends even if we stopped playing together. But so far, the music works so well for us that we are always drawn back to working together every year.

You and Chick have been playing together for longer than some of your fans have been alive. How do you keep it fresh?

One reason is that we don't play all year long. We set aside a couple of months, usually, to tour and get back into the music. So it tends to stay fresh that way. And we have a very strong rapport that has never left us, too.

How did you feel when The New Crystal Silence, the double-disc update of your seminal first album together, won a Grammy Award?

It was very affirming to see our record honoring 35 years of playing together win a Grammy. Maybe next year, when we reach 40 years, our new record will have a chance for a Grammy, too.

Aside from possible favorites like Señor Mouse and Crystal Silence, you aren’t playing music from that release on this tour. What can we expect to hear?

We decided to choose well-known composers, but not necessarily well-known songs. We have pieces by [Dave] Brubeck, [Antonio Carlos] Jobim, Kurt Weill, Paul McCartney, Dizzy Gillespie, [Thelonius] Monk.

You toured Central and Eastern Europe, even Russia, during the Cold War years. What is it like when you play here now? Is the atmosphere different? Do the audiences react differently?

Playing in the Eastern countries now feels so different, I can hardly describe it. Visually, everything is colorful and attractive instead of plain and drab. The people are more enthusiastic and comfortable with the concert experience. It's like everything came alive.

Any particular thoughts or feelings about playing in Prague?

I have had two very memorable experiences playing in Prague before, in '78 and '05. Now I get to come with Chick, a whole new experience. I’m looking forward to it very much.

• Chick Corea & Gary Burton play the Prague Congress Center (Kongresové centrum Praha) on Saturday, March 26, 2011 from 8pm; advance tickets are available through the Ticketpro network

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