Chick Corea, Colossus Of The Jazz Keyboard
Armando Anthony 'Chick' Corea, a giant of Jazz, passed away on February 9th, aged 79, suffering from a rare form of cancer, only recently discovered.
Few jazz pianists or, indeed, jazz musicians ever played - or created - a broader style of music, albeit distinctively with a Latin inflection, which ranged from progressive jazz to electric fusion.
In Corea’s world Bach and Bebop could happily coexist, Bartók rubbed shoulders with the Blues, Mozart met the repetitive rhythms and riffs of Montuno, Ravel frolicked with the rumba, and Stravinsky did the samba. It was a musical world like no other, a slightly surreal odyssey round its unexplored outer edges. He was the jazz virtuoso’s virtuoso, perhaps the most instantly recognisable of all the great modern canon, which includes Erroll Garner, Art Tatum, Thelonius Monk. Seemingly, he was able to play in any style, effortlessly and, most importantly, without obtruding virtuosity for its own sake.
He was born in 1941 in Chelsea, Massachusetts, across the river from Boston, where his father Armando, a trumpeter, led a very popular dance band. He began playing as a four year old and, in his youth, came under the influence of Bud Powell, Monk, Horace Silver and, not least, Bill Evans. After moving to New York in 1959, he studied Bartók and Stockhausen at the Juilliard School, the world famous performing arts’ conservatory.
He made his first recording, Tones For Joan’s Bones
, in 1966, the same year he started touring internationally with tenor saxophonist, Stan Getz, who recorded his compositions Litha
. In 1968, after a summer tour with Sarah Vaughan, Corea recorded music much acclaimed for its originality with bassist, Miroslav Vitous, and drummer, Roy Haynes, on Now He Sings, Now He Sobs
, a modern classic that it is no exaggeration to say has influenced all future piano greats.
Corea went on to replace Herbie Hancock in the Miles Davis Quintet and was heavily involved on the transitional albums In A Silent Way
and Bitches Brew,
seminal works in the Fusion movement.
In 1972, he recorded the album Return To Forever
, which gave its name to the Latin-inflected Fusion band for which he composed such as Spain, La Fiesta
and the well-known 500 Miles High.
He later formed a second version of Return To Forever
along with such luminaries as Bill Connors and Al DiMeola, on electric guitar, while recording the Funk Rock classics, Hymn of The Seventh Galaxy
, Where Have I Known You Before, No Mystery and Romantic Warrior.
In 1976, Corea , arguably at the height of his creative powers, threw off his masterpiece, My Spanish Heart,
a fusion of Jazz and Flamenco, with Jean-Luc Ponty on electric violin, vocalist Gayle Moran and drummer Steve Gadd.
In 1981, he recorded Three Quartets
with tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker, bassist Eddie Gomez and Gadd, and in the following year cut three double piano improvisations with Friedrich Gulda, the Austrian jazz virtuoso and Mozart specialist on The Meeting.
It is easy to merely list such albums but all of them had unique success and inspired cult followings. Between 1986 and 1991, Corea recorded six albums with the Elektric Band, whose members included bassist John Patitucci, guitarist Frank Gamble and drummer Dave Weckl.
Throughout the 1990s, his music continued to progress and his recorded output was prodigious. In 1997, he assembled a group with Kenny Garrett, Joshua Redman, Wallace Roney, Christian McBride and Roy Haynes to play his arrangements of music by Bud Powell, culminating in the album Remembering Bud Powell
. In 1999, he formed the Origin Sextet with members of bassist Avishai Cohen’s band, which included saxophonist Steve Wilson, trombonist Steve Davis, drummer Jeff Ballard and Cohen, himself. The group also included woodwind players, Tim Garland or Bob Sheppard. Out of this fertile collaboration came a quantity of harmonically sophisticated music combining Spanish, North African, and Pan-American styles with Blues and Bebop.
In the new Millenium, Corea recorded solo piano CDs of standards and original music, piano duos and trios. In 2011 he celebrated his 70th birthday in fine style at the famous Blue Note Club, in Greenwich Village, with ten different bands, generating material for The Musician
, a 3-CD release. Five years later he upped the ante, marking his 75th birthday by performing at the same venue with 15 bands over an eight-week period.
Sadly we will never now know just how the veritable keyboard colossus that was Chick Corea would have celebrated his eightieth birthday had he lived a few more months. He is survived by his wife, the vocalist, keyboard player and songwriter, Gayle Moran Corea.