Considering the volume of his recorded output, 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 uncanny. A restlessly creative spirit, he continues to explore and generate new material for many different vehicles, including his dynamic Elektric Band and his flamenco-flavored Touchstone band. Other recent projects include a new piano concerto which he premiered in Austria on July 1, 2006 (shortly after his 65th birthday) as part of the gala Mozart Year festivities in Vienna.
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. An interesting, little-known fact is that Chick’s first major professional gig was with Cab Calloway, before early stints in Latin bands led by Mongo Santamaria and Willie Bobo (1962-63). 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.
After accompanying Sarah Vaughan in 1967, Corea 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. He played Fender Rhodes’ electric piano on Miles’ Filles de Kilimanjaro, which pointed to a fresh new direction in jazz. Between 1968 and 1970, Corea also appeared on such groundbreaking Davis recordings as In a Silent Way, Bitches Brew, Live-Evil, and Live at the Fillmore East.
Shortly after that historic concert, both Corea and bassist Dave Holland left Miles’ group to form the cooperative avant-garde quartet Circle with drummer Barry Altschul and saxophonist Anthony Braxton. Circle recorded three adventurous albums before Corea 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.”
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 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. A third edition of RTF featured a four-piece brass section.
Shortly after disbanding RTF, Chick and Herbie Hancock teamed up for a tour playing duets exclusively on acoustic pianos. Their chemistry was documented on 1978’s Homecoming (Polydor) and 1980’s An Evening With Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea (Columbia).
Through the remainder of the ’80s and into the early ’90s, Corea returned to the fusion arena with a vengeance with his Elektric Band, which recorded a string of five hard-hitting offerings. To balance out his forays into electric music, Chick also formed his Akoustic Band.
By 1992, Corea had realized a lifelong goal in forming Stretch Records, a label committed to stretching musical boundaries and focusing on freshness and creativity. 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, Stretch Records became a subsidiary of Concord Records and Corea decided to be part of the artist roster. His 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 Grammy-winning recording, 1991’s Play (Blue Note). That same incredibly productive year (1977), Corea unveiled his acoustic sextet Origin and also teamed up with old partner Gary Burton on Native Sense – The New Duets, which earned Chick his ninth Grammy.
Chick ushered in the new millennium with 2000’s Corea Concerto (Sony Classical), a grand encounter with the London Philharmonic Orchestra that featured the premiere of his Piano Concerto No. 1. In 2001, he 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. An exotic blend of passionate flamenco melodies, North African and Middle Eastern grooves, and adventurous improvisation, Corea’s latest score reunites him with key colleagues from the past, including Hubert Laws, Airto Moreira, and Steve Gadd.