Chick Corea has attained iconic status in music. The keyboardist, composer and bandleader is a DownBeat Hall of Famer and NEA Jazz Master, as well as the fourth-most nominated artist in Grammy Awards history with 64 nods – and 22 wins, in addition to 4 Latin Grammys. From straight-ahead to avant-garde, bebop to jazz-rock fusion, children’s songs to chamber and symphonic works, Chick has touched an astonishing number of musical bases in his career since playing with the genre-shattering bands of Miles Davis in the late ’60s and early ’70s.
Yet Chick has never been more productive than in the 21st century, whether playing acoustic piano or electric keyboards, leading multiple bands, performing solo or collaborating with a who’s who of music. Underscoring this, he has been named Artist of the Year three times this decade in the DownBeat Readers Poll. Born in 1941 in Massachusetts, Chick remains a tireless creative spirit, continually reinventing himself through his art. As The New York Times has said, he is “a luminary, ebullient and eternally youthful.”
Chick’s classic albums as a leader or co-leader include Now He Sings, Now He Sobs (with Miroslav Vitous and Roy Haynes), Paris-Concert (with Circle: Anthony Braxton, Dave Holland and Barry Altschul) and Return to Forever (with Return to Forever: Joe Farrell, Stanley Clarke, Airto Moreira and Flora Purim), as well as Crystal Silence (with Gary Burton), My Spanish Heart, Remembering Bud Powell, and Further Explorations (with Eddie Gomez and Paul Motian).
A venturesome collaborator, Chick has teamed with artists from jazz legend Lionel Hampton to new-generation pianist Stefano Bollani, from banjoist Béla Fleck to vocal superstar Bobby McFerrin. Chick’s duo partnerships with Gary Burton and Herbie Hancock have endured decades.
In the ’80s and ’90s Chick continued to venture into new territory consistently, displaying his broad musical reach with his Elektric Band (which reunited in 2004) and Akoustic Band, as well as the exciting sextet Origin, whose Change album was called “a sparkling display for his lively post-bop playing” by Entertainment Weekly.
Chick’s 2014 release ranks as a new classic in his discography: Trilogy, a live triple-disc set with bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade. Winner of two Grammys, the album documents this trio interpreting classic Chick compositions (such as “Spain”), plus previously unreleased pieces by the pianist (“Piano Sonata: The Moon”), an array of jazz standards and even a Prelude by Alexander Scriabin. Reviewing a stop on one of the trio’s globe-trekking tours, All About Jazz noted: “This one certainly ranks among his most memorable trios… [Corea] has never been more active—and with albums as superb as Trilogy … clearly at the top of his game.”
Rare for a “jazz musician,” Chick received the Richard J. Bogomolny Award from Chamber Music America in 2010, and he broke new ground as a composer with The Continents: Concerto for Jazz Quintet and Chamber Orchestra, released in 2013 by a storied classical label, Deutsche Grammophon. Chick recorded his first album of solo piano in 1971, and he continued his intimate journey with the instrument on Solo Piano – Portraits.
For a sold-out international tour and live album in 2008, Chick reconvened his pioneering jazz-rock fusion band Return to Forever, which he founded in 1972. The core of the band – Chick with original member Stanley Clarke and veteran Lenny White – produced a Grammy-winning acoustic album in 2011 with Forever. Then a new version of Return to Forever – with Clarke, White, Jean-Luc Ponty and Frank Gambale – toured the world to acclaim, yielding the live CD/DVD The Mothership Returns.
In another celebration of kindred spirits, Chick co-led the Five Peace Band with guitarist John McLaughlin, a fellow Miles Davis alum. The group won a Grammy for Five Peace Band Live, and the New Zealand Herald praised the quintet live as “jazz without compromise, invention without fear.” In 2011, Chick celebrated his 70th birthday at NYC’s Blue Note in a big way, with a month-long run that encompassed more than 40 performances with 10 different lineups.
For the 2013 album The Vigil (Concord), Chick put together a new-era electro/acoustic quintet, featuring himself on keyboards and longtime associate Tim Garland on reeds, alongside some hot young players. A review in The Guardian is indicative of this artist’s questing path, no matter his accomplishments and awards: “Chick Corea sounds on scintillating form… This full-on set is all about celebrating and reinventing, not polishing silverware.”
Released in 2015, Two documented his constantly-evolving duet with Béla Fleck, the estimable banjoist. In an interview with NPR’s All Things Considered, recorded during their US tour celebrating album’s release, Chick said the duet is “like a friendly, very fast-moving ping-pong game… It opens up whole new ideas for me of how to integrate my phrases. I’m always thinking about accompanying. So that’s my pleasure in the duet, is to see how I can make the banjo sound good.”
Recently, Chick finds himself as active as he’s ever been. In 2015, he embarked on a hugely acclaimed world tour with fellow piano legend Herbie Hancock, reuniting for their first full-scale tour as a duo since 1978. In 2017 he released The Musician, a live 3-CD and Blu-ray set that captured his 70th birthday celebration at the famed Blue Note Jazz Club in 2011, where he assembled a staggering lineup of musical friends and fellow-travelers – among them Herbie Hancock, Bobby McFerrin, Wynton Marsalis, John McLaughlin and Stanley Clarke – for a month-long residency featuring 10 different bands, including triumphal sets by his own Chick Corea Elektric Band and Return to Forever.
Chick’s most recent release, Chinese Butterfly, reunites him with legendary drummer Steve Gadd, a friend and collaborator for more than 50 years. The album finds the two jazz pioneers co-leading a band for the first time, joined by Benin-born guitarist and vocalist Lionel Loueke, saxophonist and flutist Steve Wilson, Cuban bassist Carlitos Del Puerto, and Venezuelan percussionist Luisito Quintero. Stretching out across two CDs, Chinese Butterfly draws on the pair’s shared history and the wealth of styles and innovations it covers, while continuing to push forward into adventurous new territory with the aid of an inspired band of collaborators.
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