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 influences while the music of Beethoven and Mozart inspired his compositional instincts. 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.
Important sideman work with trumpeter Blue Mitchell, flutist Herbie Mann and saxophonist Stan Getz came before Chick made his recording debut as a leader in 1966 with Tones for Joan’s Bones. During these formative years, Chick also recorded sessions with Cal Tjader, Donald Byrd and Dizzy Gillespie.
After accompanying singer 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. This is the disc that cemented Corea’s place in the jazz firmament as a pianist of incomparable skill.
In the fall of 1968, Chick replaced Herbie Hancock in Miles Davis’ band with Ron Carter, Wayne Shorter and Tony Williams. 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 the historic Isle of Wight 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 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. Chick also recorded the trio album ARC with Holland and Altschul, before he 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, 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, his initial duet encounter with vibraphonist and kindred spirit Gary Burton.
By early 1973, Return to Forever added electric guitarist Bill Connors and thunderous drummer Lenny White, and the group was fully fortified to embrace the emerging fusion movement. In August 1973 “Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy” instantly elevated them to the status of other fiery fusion bands of the day like John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra and the Joe Zawinul-Wayne Shorter-led juggernaut, Weather Report.
By the summer of 1974, with the 19-year-old speed demon guitarist Al Di Meola replacing Connors in the RTF lineup, the transformation to a bona fide high-energy jazz-rock concert attraction was complete. 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, 1975’s Grammy Award-winning No Mystery and 1976’s Romantic Warrior, 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 jazz fantasy concept album The Leprechaun 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, who was also a member of Mahavishnu Orchestra, on vocals. Together they recorded 1977’s Musicmagic and the four-LP boxed set RTF Live, 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 Corea/Hancock and 1980’s An Evening with Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea, a two-LP set that featured renditions of Chick’s “La Fiesta” and Herbie’s “Maiden Voyage” along with expressive takes on Bela 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, 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, 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 (later 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 1979 outing.
At the beginning of 1981, Chick recorded Three Quartets, a classic swinging encounter with tenor sax great Michael Brecker, bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Steve Gadd.
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, released thirteen years after their landmark recording, Now He Sings, Now He Sobs. The year 1982 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).
The Echoes of an Era band, essentially an all-star backing band for R&B singer Chaka Khan’s first foray into jazz, was formed in 1982. With his former RTF band mates Stanley Clarke and Lenny White, augmented by jazz greats Freddie Hubbard and Joe Henderson, Chick 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.
There followed a string of eclectic offerings in 1983’s solo piano masterwork Children’s Songs, 1984’s Voyage (a duet project with flutist Kujala), 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 ‘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 five hard-hitting offerings that elevated fusion to a whole new level, 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, 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 boundaries and focusing more on freshness and creativity than on genre. 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, Stretch Records became a partnership with Concord Records and Chick began releasing his new music on his own label.
Chick’s first release for his new label 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 ‘50s).
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, followed on the heels of their first duet, 1991’s Play. 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. Also in 1999, Chick recorded two solo piano gems, Solo Piano: Originals and Solo Piano: Standards.
Chick ushered in the new millennium with 2000’s Corea Concerto, 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.”
In 2001, Chick unveiled his New Trio, featuring drummer Jeff Ballard and bassist Avishai Cohen, on Past, Present & Futures. 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 ten-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 earned two Grammys - remarkably his thirteenth and fourteenth. Chick’s latest score was inspired by Hubbard’s fantasy novel set against a backdrop of scenes and characters from the ancient tales, “The Arabian Nights”.
In 2006, there was no time for Chick to rest on his well- deserved laurels.
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. 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 genre-defying banjoist extraordinaire Bela Fleck.
The two had admired each other’s music for several years. Chick had previously recorded three songs on Bela’s 1994 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.”
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 chemistry, 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 their classic repertoire in an orchestral with the Sydney Symphony at the Sydney Opera House and as a duet captured in a sublime performance at the Molde Jazz Festival in Molde, Norway. 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 ten 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.”
In 2008 Corea released 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 Chelan, Washington in 2005). The new studio recordings featured French bassist Hadrien Feraud and drummer Richie Barshay.
The banner year of 2008 also saw the release of the two-CD Duet: Chick & Hiromi.
The album featured Chick’s collaboration with Japanese jazz pianist Hiromi, recorded live at the Tokyo Blue Note.
Their repertoire of originals and standards showcased tremendous rhythmic and melodic interplay, on tunes by Thelonious Monk (a bouncing “Bolivar Blues”) and Lennon & McCartney (a riveting new take on “The Fool on the Hill”).
The album became the Number One-selling jazz CD of the year in Japan.
As a result, the two performed a duet at the Budokan that attracted a sold-out audience of 5,500 people.
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, Return to Forever: The Anthology, which gathered together for the first time the best of RTF’s classic albums, completely remixed and remastered.
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. The resulting double live album, Return to Forever: Returns, captured every bit of the band’s powerful, unique brand of virtuosity.
Another monumental 2008 event was the Five Peace Band group, founded 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 took a new musical leap, presenting highly creative music with Kenny Garrett on saxophone, Christian McBride on bass and Vinnie Colaiuta and Brian Blade on drums.
On the resulting double-album Five Peace Band Live, the band offers intricate acoustic jazz, burning jazz/rock/funk, and intimate duets.
John’s “Raju” and “New Blues, Old Bruise” are blues for the 21st century, and Chick’s dynamic 28-minute suite “Hymn to Andromeda” is one of his most elaborate compositions to date.
The album earned Chick his 16th Grammy Award, taking home the honor for Best Jazz Instrumental Album of 2009.
Inspired by working with Stanley Clarke (bass) and Lenny White (drums) on the RTF tour, Chick enlisted them to form a trio for a worldwide tour. Actually, the trio is another reunion, harking back to a weeklong stint in 1973 at the heralded San Francisco jazz venue Keystone Korner, where the three developed the electric-jazz ideas that led to the development of RTF.
The impromptu encounter in Germany between Chick Corea and Gary Burton marked the beginning of a musical partnership that has lasted for four decades not only on the performance stage but also over the course of seven recordings. Despite the years that have come and gone since that fateful European gig, the duo of Corea and Burton have not lost their ability to generate their unique brand of what could best be described as cool heat. This highly creative and prolific team celebrates forty years of great jazz with the release of Hot House.
“Though we often go for months at a time between duet tours while we are playing music on our own,” Burton says, “within about ten minutes of getting together again, the old communication snaps back into place. I can guess what Chick is going to play next from two blocks away, and he is the same with me. Certainly, the principal reason we have continued to work together all this time is because we have this natural reaction.”
That natural reaction is alive and well on Hot House (2012), a collection of ten songs that draws from the work of some of their favorite composers from the 1940s through the 1960s. “After exploring several genres of jazz and standards, we eventually settled on eight composers, most from the jazz world,” says Burton. “But we chose songs that are generally not that well known; the composers’ names are probably more familiar than the songs to most listeners. The final result feels very fresh and different to us.”
Although the source material is indeed eclectic, the set as a whole is seamless and undeniably rich. It starts with the lighthearted “Can’t We Be Friends,” what Burton calls a rather obscure standard first recorded by Art Tatum, a piano hero to both Burton and Corea. The track intentionally maintains some of Tatum’s flourishes and stride swing feel. The duo then makes the unlikely shift from Tatum to Paul McCartney’s decidedly darker “Eleanor Rigby”, a cover that adds a sense of up-tempo urgency to the original song s poignancy.
After four decades of collaboration, the Corea-Burton team continues to look forward to the next big idea. “Throughout our 40 years of making music together, there has never been a downside with our duet,” says Corea. “Each concert and recording we have done has always been a great pleasure and a personal inspiration. This new set of duet music is no exception. Until this recording, we never focused on standards with our duet, but it was natural to do as these songs are from the era we grew up in.”
Burton adds: “I used to think that someday we would run out of ideas and get bored with our duet. When we crossed the 20-year mark, I wondered if we might come to the end sometime soon. But at the 30-year mark, I began to think it might last, after all. And now after four decades, we are as excited as ever about the music we’re playing and how much fun we have on stage every night.”