This pianist, who began by studying classical music, is the most important keyboard player of his generation, along with Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett. He is one of the rare few to gain prominence on the acoustic and electric piano alike. After working with Miles Davis in the late 1960s, he rose to fame in the jazz fusion combo Return to Forever. Being versatile and curious, he subsequently presided over many encounters with musicians of all backgrounds. He has also written a number of classical compositions, among them Spain and La Fiesta.
Armando Anthony Corea was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts on May 12, 1941. His classical piano studies began at the age of four, but it was his father Armando, a jazz trumpet player, composer and arranger in the 1930s and 1940s, who provided the rudiments of his early musical education.
The pros and the cons
Throughout high school, Corea played in several different school bands, discovering Latin music, which would later become one of the vital elements in his work. He auditioned for Juilliard, the celebrated music school for classical musicians, and was accepted. However, disappointed in the formal style of training, he ended up leaving school to forge his own path as a professional musician.
His decision turned out to be worth the risk. One of his first gigs was with Cab Calloway, and from then on, things only got better. He started playing with Mongo Santamaria, then Willie Bobo and the list of subsequent band leaders reads like an A-list of jazz greats: Herbie Hancock, Sarah Vaughan, Blue Mitchell, Stan Getz, and of course, Miles Davis.
Chick Corea's star began to rise when he played with Miles and first discovered the electric piano. Corea is featured on the legendary album, Bitches Brew, a landmark album of fusion and electric jazz released in 1969.
Parting ways with Davis and the jazz-rock sound of that era, he started experimenting with the avant-garde group, Circle, alongside Dave Holland and Barry Altschul. In 1972, Corea formed Return to Forever.
The third (and most popular) edition of the group featured Al Di Meola, Lenny White, and Stanley Clarke. Throughout the 1970s, Return to Forever was at the forefront of the jazz-fusion movement, enjoying remarkable popular success outside jazz circles.
Change of pace
Never content to stand still too long, Corea continued to explore beyond the fusion movement and take on all different kinds of musical and compositional challenges. From working on solo improvisation to piano duets with Herbie Hancock, he experimented with electro-acoustic music, and also recorded his famous duets with Gary Burton. His body of work is considerable and the range so diverse that it is difficult to categorize since it includes everything from pop ballads to high-energy jazz-rock, not to mention his lighter orchestral compositions and free jazz explorations.
Since the outset of his career, each of his albums has been carefully thought out well in advance and made as efficiently and quickly as possible to capture his ideas while they're still fresh. To this day, he continues to enjoy both critical and popular acclaim around the world, thanks to his unique musical vision, eclectic technique, and the intelligence of his compositions.
In 1980, Corea was at the first edition of the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, taking the stage with vibraphonist Gary Burton at the Théâtre des Nations. The two performed pieces from their 1979 album Duet, which saw them establish the special rapport and complicity that has thrived and flourished over the years.
They teamed up once again at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal in 1982 when Corea and Burton replaced Dexter Gordon at the last minute.
At the beginning of the 1980s, Corea got together with his old friends, Miroslav Vitous and Roy Haynes to record the classic album, Now He Sings, Now He Sobs, followed up by Trio Music, a series of improvisations paying tribute to Thelonious Monk.
"This project came to light because I wanted to pay tribute to Monk after his death in 1982, since it seemed that his passing went unnoticed. He had always been one of my biggest influences. The economy of means he used to express more complex ideas had always fascinated me so I wanted to achieve this with a simple, stripped down formula."
With the Elektric Band he formed in 1985, Corea plunged back into the world of jazz fusion. The core of the group revolved around drummer Dave Weckle and bassist John Patittuci. Guitarists, Carlos Rio and Scott Henderson joined up as well, expanding the trio. They released a self-titled effort, winning album of the year for The Chick Corea Elekric Band, and helped to put electric jazz on the map. Festival fans were treated to a live concert of Corea's electric group in 1986.
As counterpoint to his electric project, Corea started up the Akoustic Band in 1989, which paid the Festival a visit that summer. Then, the pianist completely changed directions once again and revived the Elektric Band in 1990, releasing the album, Inside Out. At the Festival that summer, Corea and his band shared top billing with guitarist Al Di Meola.
After an absence of a few years, Chick Corea returned to Montreal in 1996. He masterminded the concert "Remembering Bud Powell," a tribute to the legendary pianist who was a major influence from the bebop era. Corea led an all-star quintet of fresh talent, featuring Joshua Redman on saxophone, Christian McBride on bass and Wallace Roney on trumpet.
Normally all leaders of their own groups, these exceptional players were joined by none other than Roy Haynes on the drums, a pioneer of the bop sound and former bandmate of Bud Powell.
It's an Invitation
In 2004, Corea gave four special concerts for the Invitation series. The first evening, he reconnected with the audience, playing an intimate solo piano concert. Then he was back onstage with old friend and accomplice, Gary Burton, and even played a few tunes with Québec pianist, Lorraine Desmarais. Two additional performances rounded out the programme: one with Corea's Akoustic Trio, the other with his Elektric Band.
In 2008, Corea came back to the Festival stage, reuniting with his former bandmates from Return to Forever: Di Meola, Clarke and White. With a new CD anthology in hand, the mythical group got back together again for a world tour, much to the delight of old and new fans like.
The following year in April, he played in Montreal with the group he co-leads with guitarist John McLaughlin, the Five Peace Band. The two musicians had previously played together on the legendary Bitches Brew sessions with Miles Davis in August of 1969 before McLaughlin went on to form the Mahavishnu Orchestra and while Chick Corea joined Return to Forever, both examples of the influence of jazz-rock fusion.
In 2009, the pianist teamed up once more with vibist Gary Burton, this time for a live double set: The New Crystal Silence saw the pair revisiting some of the material from their seminal 1972 release Crystal Silence. Corea also put together The Freedom Band, with saxman Kenny Garrett, double bassist Christian McBride and drummer Roy Hanes, and toured with a trio comprised of McBride and Brian Blade.
September 2011 saw the release of Orvieto, a concert date recorded with Italian pianist Stefano Bollani.
In January 2012, Corea launched Further Explorations, a tribute album to Bill Evans. Featuring bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Paul Motian, this double set was recorded live at the Blue Note, in NYC, in May 2010.
Shortly after, the ever prolific musician and composer released the ambitious double set The Continents: Concerto for Jazz Quintet and Chamber Orchestra, which he described as his "musical dream".