Considering the staggering volume of his recorded output over the past 40 years, it is no overstatement to call Chick Corea one of the most prolific composers of the second half of the 20th century. From avant-garde to bebop, from children’s songs to straight-ahead, from hard-hitting fusion to heady forays into classical, Chick has touched an astonishing number of musical bases in his illustrious career while maintaining a standard of excellence that is simply uncanny.
Chick’s extensive discography boasts numerous “essential” albums, beginning with his 1968 classic, Now He Sings, Now He Sobs (Blue Note), and continuing with several critically acclaimed albums released recently, including his duet with banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck (the Grammy-winning CD, The Enchantment) and The New Crystal Silence, the brilliant 35-year-anniversary recording with vibraphonist Gary Burton.
“I decided when I was a young man to make it as my primary policy to always keep myself interested and challenged with music," says Chick. "I've managed to avoid falling into the habit of doing the same thing over and over again, and it’s really proved to be a good thing for me. I don’t care about the other things, I care that I’m having a lot of fun and creating. So I feel honored and lucky to be able to continue to do that and be able to make a living doing it.”
Born Armando Anthony Corea in Chelsea, Massachusetts on June 12, 1941, he began studying piano at age four. Early on in his development, Horace Silver and Bud Powell were important piano influences while access to the music of Beethoven and Mozart inspired his compositional instincts. An interesting, little-known fact is that Chick’s first major professional gig was with Cab Calloway, which came before early stints in Latin bands led by Mongo Santamaria and Willie Bobo (1962-63).
There followed important tenures with trumpeter Blue Mitchell (1964-66), flutist Herbie Mann and saxophonist Stan Getz before Chick made his recording debut as a leader in 1966 with Tones for Joan’s Bones (which featured trumpeter Woody Shaw, tenor saxophonist and flutist Joe Farrell, bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Joe Chambers). During these formative years, Chick also recorded sessions with Cal Tjader (1966's Soul Burst, on Verve), Stan Getz (1966's What the World Needs Now: Stan Getz Plays Bacharach, on Verve), Donald Byrd (1967's Creeper, on Blue Note), and Dizzy Gillespie (1967's Live at the Village Vanguard, on Blue Note).
After accompanying Sarah Vaughan in 1967, Chick went into the studio in March of 1968 and recorded Now He Sings, Now He Sobs with bassist Miroslav Vitous and drummer Roy Haynes. That trio album is now considered a jazz classic. In the fall of 1968, Chick replaced Herbie Hancock in Miles Davis' band. In September of that year, he played Fender Rhodes electric piano on Miles' important and transitional recording Filles de Kilimanjaro, which pointed to a fresh new direction in jazz. Between 1968 and 1970, Chick also appeared on such groundbreaking Davis recordings as In a Silent Way, Bitches Brew, Live-Evil and Live at the Fillmore East. He was also a key player in Davis' electrified ensemble that appeared before 600,000 people on August 29, 1970 at the Isle of Wight Festival in England (captured on Murray Lerner's excellent documentary, Miles Electric: A Different Kind of Blue).
Shortly after that historic concert, both Chick and bassist Dave Holland left Miles' group to form the cooperative avant-garde quartet Circle with drummer Barry Altschul and saxophonist Anthony Braxton. Though its tenure was short-lived, Circle recorded three adventurous albums, culminating in the arresting live double LP Paris-Concert (recorded on February 21, 1971 for the ECM label) before Chick changed directions again. His excellent Piano Improvisations, Vol. 1 and 2, recorded over two days in April 1971 for ECM, was the first indication that solo piano performance would become fashionable.
Toward the end of 1971, Chick formed his first edition of Return to Forever with Stanley Clarke on acoustic bass, Joe Farrell on soprano sax and flute, Airto Moreira on drums and percussion and Moreira’s wife Flora Purim on vocals. On February 2 and 3, 1972, they recorded their self-titled debut for ECM, which included the popular Corea composition "La Fiesta." A month later, on March 3, 1972, Chick, Stanley, Airto and drummer Tony Williams teamed together as the rhythm section for Stan Getz's Columbia recording Captain Marvel, which featured five Corea compositions, including "500 Miles High," "La Fiesta" and the title track. By September of that year, Chick was back in the studio with Return to Forever to record the classic Light as a Feather (Polydor), a collection of melodic Brazilian-flavored jazz tunes including new versions of "500 Miles High" and "Captain Marvel" along with Chick's best-known composition, "Spain." In November of 1972, Chick also recorded the sublime Crystal Silence (ECM), his initial duet encounter with vibraphonist and kindred spirit Gary Burton.
By early 1973, Return to Forever had taken a different course. Following the addition of electric guitarist Bill Connors and thunderous drummer Lenny White, the group was fully fortified to embrace the emerging fusion movement with a vengeance. Their August 1973 recording, Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy (Polydor), instantly elevated them to the status of other fiery fusion bands of the day like John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra, Larry Coryell's Eleventh House and the Joe Zawinul-Wayne Shorter-led juggernaut, Weather Report. By the summer of 1974, with the 19-year-old speed demon guitarist Al DiMeola replacing Connors in the RTF lineup, the transformation to a bona fide high-energy jazz-rock concert attraction was complete (see the official Return to Forever Web site: Return2Forever.com). Hordes of rock fans embraced the group and were able to enter the world of jazz through such important albums as 1974's Where Have I Known You Before (Polydor), 1975's Grammy Award-winning No Mystery (Polydor) and 1976's Romantic Warrior (Columbia), which became the best-selling of the RTF studio albums.
During this same period, Chick also turned out two highly personal recordings in 1975's jazzy showcase The Leprechaun (Polydor) and 1976's flamenco-flavored My Spanish Heart.
A third edition of RTF featured a four-piece brass section along with bassist Clarke, charter RTF member Joe Farrell, drummer Gerry Brown and Chick's future wife Gayle Moran on vocals. Together they recorded 1977's Musicmagic (Columbia) and the four-LP boxed set R.T.F. Live (Columbia), which captured the sheer energy and excitement of the full ensemble on tour.
Shortly after disbanding RTF, Chick and Herbie Hancock teamed up in early 1978 for a tour playing duets exclusively on acoustic pianos. Their chemistry was documented on two separate recordings: 1978’s Homecoming (Polydor) and 1980's An Evening With Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea (Columbia), a two-LP set that featured renditions of Chick's "La Fiesta" and Herbie's "Maiden Voyage" along with expressive takes on Béla Bartok's "Mikrokosmos" and the Disney staple, "Someday My Prince Will Come."
Also in 1978, a year marked by a flurry of activity, Chick released The Mad Hatter (ECM), with original RTF saxophonist Joe Farrell, drummer Steve Gadd and former Bill Evans Trio bassist Eddie Gomez, and followed up with the wide-open blowing date Friends (Polydor), featuring the same stellar crew. Before the year was out Chick also managed to record the provocative Delphi I: Solo Piano Improvisations.
Secret Agent introduced a fresh new rhythm section of drummer Tom Brechtlein (currently a member of the Touchstone band) and France's fretless electric bass wonder, Bunny Brunel. Vocalist Gayle Moran and saxophonist Joe Farrell were also featured on this solid 1979 outing.
At the beginning of 1981, Chick recorded Three Quartets, a swinging encounter with tenor sax great Michael Brecker, bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Steve Gadd that included a piece dedicated to Duke Ellington and John Coltrane. Later that year he toured in an all-star quartet with saxophonist Joe Henderson, bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Roy Haynes. Their near-telepathic post-bop chemistry was documented on the exhilarating Live in Montreux. That same year, Chick also had a reunion with bassist Miroslav Vitous and drummer Roy Haynes for the double LP Trio Music (ECM), released 13 years after their landmark recording, Now He Sings, Now He Sobs.
The year 1982 was again marked by a flurry of creative activity that yielded such gems as the Spanish-tinged Touchstone (featuring flamenco guitar great Paco de Lucia and a reunion of Chick's RTF band mates Al Di Meola, Lenny White and Stanley Clarke on the aptly-titled "Compadres"), the adventurous Again and Again (a quintet date featuring the remarkable flutist Steve Kujala), Chick's ambitious Lyric Suite for Sextet (a collaboration with vibraphonist Gary Burton augmented by string quartet) and The Meeting (a duet encounter with renowned classical pianist Friedrich Gulda).
1982 also marked the formation of the Echoes of an Era band (essentially an all-star backing band for R&B singer Chaka Khan's first foray into jazz). This stellar group, featuring Chick on piano with his former RTF band mates Stanley Clarke on upright bass and Lenny White on drums, augmented by jazz greats Freddie Hubbard on trumpet and Joe Henderson on tenor sax, recorded Echoes of an Era with Chaka and followed up with the all-instrumental studio recording Griffith Park Collection and the live double-LP, Griffith Park Collection, Vol. 2, all for the Elektra/Musician label.
Chick followed up with a string of eclectic offerings in 1983's solo piano project Children Songs (ECM), 1984's Voyage (a duet project with flutist Kujala for ECM), 1985's Septet (an ambitious five movement suite for piano, flute, French horn and string quartet) and 1985's Trio Music: Live in Europe (another ECM outing with Vitous and Haynes).
Through the remainder of the '80s and into the early '90s, Corea returned to the fusion arena with a vengeance with his Elektric Band, featuring drummer Dave Weckl, saxophonist Eric Marienthal, bassist John Patitucci and guitarist Frank Gambale. Together they recorded a string of five hard-hitting offerings for the GRP label that ranked with the best fusion of the latter half of the '80s, including 1986's Elektric Band, 1987's Light Years, 1988's excellent Eye of the Beholder, 1990's Inside Out and 1991's Beneath the Mask.
To balance his forays into electric music, Chick also formed his Akoustic Band, a highly interactive trio with Elektric Band members Patitucci on upright bass and Weckl on drums. They recorded 1989's Akoustic Band and 1990's Alive, both on GRP. The second edition of Chick's Elektric Band, featuring bassist Jimmy Earl, guitarist Mike Miller, drummer Gary Novak and original EB member Eric Marienthal on saxophone, released 1993's Paint the World on GRP. That same year, Chick also recorded a set of solo piano jazz standards, Expressions (GRP), which he dedicated to jazz piano legend Art Tatum.
By 1992, Chick realized a lifelong goal in forming Stretch Records, a label committed to stretching musical boundaries and focusing more on freshness and creativity than on musical style. Among its early releases were projects by Bob Berg, John Patitucci, Eddie Gomez and Robben Ford. After Chick’s ten-year relationship with GRP ended in 1996, following the release of Time Warp, his swinging acoustic jazz quartet recording with saxophonist Bob Berg, drummer Gary Novak and Patitucci on upright bass, Stretch Records became a subsidiary of Concord Records and Chick decided to be part of Stretch's artist roster.
Chick’s first release for his new label, which he had formed with manager Ron Moss, was 1997’s Remembering Bud Powell, an all-star outing that featured young talent like tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman, trumpeter Wallace Roney, alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett and bassist Christian McBride, along with jazz drumming legend Roy Haynes (who had performed on the bandstand beside Powell in the early ‘60s). Also in 1997, Chick released a recording with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra with Bobby McFerrin as conductor. Their second collaboration, entitled The Mozart Sessions (Sony Classical), followed on the heels of their first duet, 1991’s Play (Blue Note). That same incredibly productive year, Chick unveiled his acoustic sextet Origin (the band’s self-titled debut release was a live recording at the Blue Note club in New York) and also teamed up with old partner Gary Burton, rekindling their chemistry from the ‘70s on Native Sense–The New Duets, which earned Chick his ninth Grammy Award.
In 1998, Chick released the six-disc set A Week at the Blue Note, documenting the high-flying Origin sextet in full stride in all its spontaneously combustible glory over the course of three nights. He followed that up in 1999 with Origin’s third outing, Change, which was recorded within the relaxed confines of the home Chick shares with his wife and singer Gayle Moran in Florida. As he explained at the time, “The first record was a mishmash of all kinds of stuff-—old tunes, standards, jam-session tunes and new written music-—whereas Change is focused on music specifically written for a known group that has become an entity. With this record, I wanted to try more thorough writing with the band. Everyone responded to it very well.” Also in 1999, Chick recorded two solo piano gems, Piano Originals and Piano Standards, both on Stretch.
Chick ushered in the new millennium with 2000's Corea Concerto (Sony Classical), a grand encounter with the London Philharmonic Orchestra that featured a new symphonic arrangement of “Spain” as well as the premiere of his “Piano Concerto No. 1.” At the time he said of this mammoth undertaking, “For my concerto I chose almost the exact same instrumentation as the Mozart piano concerto orchestrations. I figured that I could perform the Mozart and my own piece with the same size orchestra, and that would be a good practical start for me. So, with the spirit and sound of Mozart’s piano concerto music, I wrote this piece and dedicated it to the spirit of religious freedom which, for me, is on the same level as the creative freedom that is the basic right of all people.”
Chick also explained why he chose to do a new version of “Spain.” “If there is any one song that listeners seem to know me best by, I guess that song is ‘Spain,’ as I get the most requests for it and hear it mentioned more than any of the others. I wrote the song in 1971 and played it frequently with RTF and many other bands of mine. I reharmonized the theme and made a brand new arrangement of it for the Akoustic Band trio in 1988, and have generally turned the song inside out through the years. This is a final visit to ‘Spain’ in grand fashion and a tip of the hat to the art cultures of Spain, Cuba, Brazil, Argentina and New York.”
In 2001, Chick unveiled his New Trio, featuring drummer Jeff Ballard and bassist Avishai Cohen, on Past, Present & Futures (Stretch). By the end of that year, Chick was engaged with his ambitious three-week career retrospective at the Blue Note, which yielded the two-CD set Rendezvous in New York and the 10-DVD set documenting nearly eight hours of performances with Origin, the Akoustic Band, New Trio, Now He Sings, Now He Sobs Trio, Remembering Bud Powell Band and Three Quartets Band, as well as duets with Bobby McFerrin, Gary Burton and Gonzalo Rubalcaba.
In 2004, Chick reunited his high-powered Elektric Band for a tour and subsequent recording based on L. Ron Hubbard’s science fiction novel To the Stars. And in 2005, he returned to Hubbard for musical inspiration, this time interpreting The Ultimate Adventure. Chick’s acoustic/electric tone poem was recognized with two Grammy nominations—remarkably his 49th and 50th. An exotic blend of passionate flamenco melodies, North African and Middle Eastern grooves and adventurous improvisation, Chick’s latest score was inspired by Hubbard’s romantic novel set against a backdrop of scenes and characters from the ancient tales, The Arabian Nights. This scintillating suite of world-jazz reunited Chick with key colleagues from the past, including flutist Hubert Laws (who played on 1969’s Is and 1978’s Tap Step), Brazilian percussionist Airto Moriera (drummer on 1972’s Light as a Feather and percussionist on 1978’s Tap Step and Secret Agent) and drummer Steve Gadd (whose precision playing fueled 1975’s Leprechaun, 1976’s My Spanish Heart and 1978’s Mad Hatter, and who also provided the swinging momentum on 1978’s Friends and 1981’s Three Quartets).
Together with more recent Chick collaborators like Elektric Band guitarist Frank Gambale, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, Origin saxophonist Tim Garland and Egyptian percussionist Hossam Ramzy, they joined members of Chick’s current Touchstone band—drummer and longtime collaborator Tom Brechtlein, percussionist Ruben Dantas, saxophonist-flutist Jorge Pardo and bassist Carles Benavent—for some high-spirited, tightly crafted ensemble playing that blended electric and acoustic instruments into one seamless, cinematic and organic whole. Flutist Steve Kujala, a frequent collaborator in the early ‘80s (Again and Again, Touchstone, Voyage, Septet), also appeared on a rendition of Chick’s classic “Captain Marvel” (a bonus track that appeared on the Japanese release only).
“A force that has come to the fore for these last two projects was my lifelong connection with L. Ron Hubbard’s works,” says Chick. “I had such an inspiring time doing the To the Stars project. There was such a synergy created with me writing musical portraits of his fiction work that I didn’t want it to stop. So one project followed on the heels of the other.” Chick’s richly appointed music on The Ultimate Adventure, the No. 1 jazz record on XM Radio, provided a kind of sonic landscape for Hubbard’s compelling story, continuing the creative streak he established with To the Stars.
In 2006, there was no time for Chick to rest on his well-deserved laurels. In fact, given the multitude of projects and the plenitude of awards, it seemed that he rarely eased up at all—an impressive achievement given that on June 12, he turned 65, the age traditionally associated with retirement. But with the true essence of play at the operative core of his life, Chick continued to have much to say musically.
In July in Vienna, he premiered his “Piano Concerto #2,” commissioned by Wiener Mozartjahr 2006, in celebration of Mozart's 250th birthday anniversary. He performed the piece with the Bavarian Chamber Orchestra and toured throughout Europe with the group.
In addition,Chick delivered Super Trio Corea/Gadd/McBride, featuring drummer Steve Gadd and bassist Christian McBride. The live set, comprising many of Chick’s compositional gems, was released only in Japan through Universal and is available as an import and through Chick’s website, www.chickcorea.com. It was named the jazz album of the year by Japan's Swing Journal, thereby winning the publication’s coveted Gold Disc Award.
In December 2006, Chick recorded The Enchantment, a remarkable duo outing with banjo extraordinaire Béla Fleck. The two had admired each other's music for several years. Chick had previously recorded three songs on Béla’s 1994 Flecktones CD, Tales From the Acoustic Planet, as well as on the group’s 1996 live CD, Live Art. Chick, in turn, had enlisted Fleck to perform with him and Bobby McFerrin on the 2002 Rendezvous in New York project.
Fleck said that The Enchantment was “one of my greatest experiences as a musician…playing with my hero, Chick Corea.” Chick returned the compliment by saying that the album broke new ground for him, with Fleck inspiring him to delve into “unfamiliar territory.” He said, “I love those kinds of challenges, and we had a blast on The Enchantment, which has a totally new kind of sound.”
The album, released in 2007, spawned an expansive tour. Also in 2007, the indefatigable artist stretched his creative reach further with The New Crystal Silence, the dazzling duo partnership with Gary Burton that celebrated the 35th anniversary of their first collaboration, documented on the 1972 ECM disc, Crystal Silence. That debut album not only forged their alchemic partnership, but also brought to renown the deep and insightful collaboration of the two virtuosic improvisers. (The duo recorded four more albums and never skipped a year performing together.)
Released on Concord Records, The New Crystal Silence was a double CD featuring the pair performing with the Sydney Symphony and as a duet captured in a sublime performance at the Molde Jazz Festival in Molde, Norway. The orchestral concert bears the fruit of an invitation from two symphonies in Australia, in Perth and Sydney, which offered the twosome the opportunity to perform and record their repertoire in an orchestral setting. As for the duo disc, Chick and Gary marked their long relationship onstage of anticipating each other’s musical ideas by embarking on a worldwide tour and then chose one of their best performances to document.
Burton said, “We both feel that our music has evolved in the last 10 years more than it did before. We play the tunes very differently, with fresh concepts and new inspiration.” Chick agreed: “The way we were approaching the music during our 35th anniversary concert tour was so different that I thought it warranted documentation.”
Writing in The New Crystal Silence CD liner notes, friend and collaborator Pat Metheny lauded the duo’s creatively vibrant history: “When Crystal Silence came out, there was a freshness about it…35 years later, that freshness remains, enhanced by three decades of shared life experiences. There is a sense of infinity and eternity here, as if Chick and Gary could take any worthy piece and play it forever, finding new things each time around. That sense of endlessness offers hope and inspiration. That is the message of this music to me.”
The biggest Chick news of 2008 was the reuniting of the classic Return to Forever lineup of guitarist Al Di Meola, bassist Stanley Clarke and drummer Lenny White. It marked the first time they played together as a group in 25 years. Before embarking on its eagerly anticipated world tour, Concord Records released the two-CD set, The Anthology: Return to Forever, which gathered together for the first time the best of RTF’s classic albums, completely remixed and remastered. The tunes on the compilation included “Dayride,” “Sofistifunk,” “No Mystery,” “Celebration Suite,” “Medieval Overture,” “Sorceress,” The Romantic Warrior,” “Majestic Dance,” “The Magician” and “Duel of the Jester and the Tyrant (Part I and II).”
Return to Forever graced the cover of DownBeat magazine and garnered the feature story, “Let Them Hear Fusion.” In the article, on the eve of the premiere reunion concert in Austin, Texas, on May 29, Chick said, “I can’t wait to see what happens. So many people—and that includes the members of the band—have waited so long for this. Playing the music again with the guys in rehearsals has been so much fun, but doing this for our fans is almost too good to be true.”
The RTF tour circled the globe before concluding in August. It was touted as the jazz tour of the summer of 2008.
2008 also saw the release of the Five Trios Box Set, a six-CD set of five different trios Chick recorded with, dating back to 2005. Also, there were new studio recordings. The box set was released in Japan only by Universal.
The trio discs featured Chick leading the following bass/drum bands: John Patitucci and Antonio Sanchez (for the disc named “Dr. Joe”); Eddie Gomez and Airto Moreira (for “The Boston Three Party,” a tribute to Bill Evans recorded at Boston's Berklee Performance Center on April 28, 2006); Eddie Gomez and Jack DeJohnette (for “From Miles,” a tribute to Miles Davis, recorded live in New York, 2006); and Christian McBride and Jeff Ballard (“Chillin’ in Chelan,” a tribute to Thelonious Monk recorded live in Washington D.C. in 2005).
The new studio recordings featured French bassist Hadrien Feraud and drummer Richie Barshay. Also included in the box set was a five-tune bonus CD, featuring two tracks from the Corea-Gomez-Moreria trio, two from the Corea-McBride-Ballard trio and one from the Corea-Patitucci-Sanchez trio.
The banner year of 2008 also saw the release of the two-CD Duet (Chick Corea & Hiromi), issued in Japan on Universal. The album featured Chick’s collaboration with Japanese jazz pianist Hiromi, recorded live at the Tokyo Blue Note in 2007. The album became the No. 1-selling CD of the year in Japan. As a result, the two performed a duet at the Budokan that attracted an audience of 5,500 people.
Writing on his Web site, Chick said, “I wasn’t sure how an audience that large in a venue that sprawling would receive our duet, which was conceived as an intimacy, largely improvised and for a jazz-wise public. Well, what a surprise when the audience calmly and appreciatively took in the almost two-hour concert with great interest and standing ovation approval. I was so happy to see that this could happen in this day and age, and then thought, ‘Well, the Japanese have such an artistic culture that it could only happen there.’”
The concert brought back memories of the only other time Chick played the Budokan. The year was 1979 and it was the first piano duet he had ever performed. His collaborator? Herbie Hancock.
“So big thanks go to the Japanese music fans for their support of jazz music through the years.” Chick said. “5,500 people attending a one-off concert of intimate piano improvisations, not part of any series or festival. Wow, pretty nice.”
Another monumental 2008 event is the Five Peace Band group—a new Chick project that he has created with the great jazz guitarist John McLaughlin. The two are truly kindred spirits, given their individual musical histories as well as their singular virtuosity on their respective instruments. As young jazz artists, they both did stints with the legendary Miles Davis and appeared together on the groundbreaking jazz/rock/funk classic Bitches Brew. They then ventured out to form their own revolutionary bands: Chick’s RTF and John’s Mahavishnu Orchestra.
Collaborating together for the first time, Chick and John have taken a new musical leap, presenting highly creative music with Kenny Garrett on saxophone, Christian McBride on bass and Vinnie Colaiuta on drums. As an eclectic all-star ensemble, 5 Peace Band offers music that features tunes played with a nod to Miles, intricate acoustic jazz, burning jazz/rock/funk, and intimate duets. Also in the mix are Corea and McLaughlin classics. This musical pairing is one of the most important collaborations for jazz in our times—promising concerts that will be evenings not to be missed.