A masterful jazz pianist, Chick Corea is a celebrated performer whose influential albums have found him exploring harmonically adventurous post-bop, electric fusion, Latin traditions, and classical. Initially emerging in the 1960s, Corea gained early notice for his solo albums (including 1968's Now He Sings, Now He Sobs) and sideman work with Willie Bobo, Blue Mitchell, and Stan Getz. He joined Miles Davis' first electric ensemble and appeared on the landmark 1969 album Bitches Brew. As a leader, he founded his own innovative fusion group, Return to Forever, and penned the jazz standards "Spain," "500 Miles High," "La Fiesta," and "Windows." A prolific artist, he has issued a steady stream of acclaimed albums, and earned over 20 Grammy Awards, including for 1977's No Mystery, 1990's Chick Corea Akoustic Band, and 2012's Forever.
Born Armando Anthony Corea in 1941 in Chelsea, Massachusetts, Corea was first introduced to the piano around age four by his father, a Dixieland-style trumpeter. By age eight, he was also playing drums. Immersed in jazz at home, he listened to an array of artists including pianists Horace Silver and Bud Powell, who were early influences. Another influence was pianist Salvatore Sullo, with whom Corea studied classical piano and composition. As a teenager, he was a member of the local St. Rose Scarlet Lancers drum and bugle corps, and started playing his own jazz gigs. After high school, he studied briefly at Columbia University and Juilliard, before leaving school to pursue his jazz career.
He picked up important experience playing with the bands of Mongo Santamaria and Willie Bobo (1962-1963), Blue Mitchell (1964-1966), Herbie Mann, and Stan Getz. He made his recording debut as a leader with 1966's Tones for Joan's Bones, and his 1968 trio release (with Miroslav Vitous and Roy Haynes) Now He Sings, Now He Sobs is considered a classic. After a short stint with Sarah Vaughan, Corea joined Miles Davis as Herbie Hancock's gradual replacement, staying with Davis during a very important transitional period (1968-1970). He was persuaded by the trumpeter to start playing electric piano, and was on such significant albums as Filles de Kilimanjaro, In a Silent Way, Bitches Brew, and Miles Davis at the Fillmore. When he left Davis, Corea at first chose to play avant-garde acoustic jazz in Circle, a quartet with Anthony Braxton, Dave Holland, and Barry Altschul.
But at the end of 1971, he changed directions again. Leaving Circle, Corea played briefly with Stan Getz and then formed Return to Forever. Debuting with 1972's Light as a Feather, Return to Forever started out as a melodic Brazilian group with Stanley Clarke, Joe Farrell, Airto, and Flora Purim. Within a year, Corea (with Clarke, Bill Connors, and Lenny White) had changed Return to Forever into a pace-setting and high-powered fusion band; Al DiMeola took Connors' place in 1974. While the music was rock-oriented, it still retained the improvisations of jazz, and Corea remained quite recognizable, even under the barrage of electronics. When RTF broke up in the late '70s, Corea retained the name for some big-band dates with Clarke. During the next few years, he generally emphasized his acoustic playing and appeared in a wide variety of contexts, including separate duet tours with Gary Burton and Herbie Hancock, a quartet with Michael Brecker, trios with Miroslav Vitous and Roy Haynes, tributes to Thelonious Monk, and even some classical music.
In 1985, Corea formed a new fusion group which debuted on the eponymous The Elektric Band and featured bassist John Patitucci and drummer Dave Weckl. To balance out his music, he also formed his Akoustic Trio (Chick Corea Akoustic Band) with Patitucci and Weckl a few years later. When Patitucci went out on his own in the early '90s, the personnel changed, but Corea continued leading stimulating groups (including a quartet with Patitucci and Bob Berg). During 1996-1997, Corea toured with an all-star quintet (including Kenny Garrett and Wallace Roney) that played modern versions of Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk compositions as heard on Remembering Bud Powell. There were also notable sessions with vibraphonist Gary Burton, including 1997's Like Minds with Pat Metheny. Two years later, he issued his first studio album with his Origin ensemble, Change.
Corea began the 21st century by releasing a pair of solo piano records, Solo Piano: Originals and Solo Piano: Standards, in 2000, followed by Past, Present & Futures in 2001. Rendezvous in New York appeared in 2003, followed by To the Stars in 2004. The Ultimate Adventure was released in 2006. That same year, Corea released Super Trio with drummer Steve Gadd and bassist Christian McBride. In the spring of 2007, Corea released an unlikely but ultimately satisfying duet album with banjo master Béla Fleck entitled The Enchantment on Concord, followed by a Japan-only six-disc box set called Five Trios in 2008 that showcased the pianist in a handful of different trio settings. The same year, Corea and vibraphonist Gary Burton released their fourth offering together, The New Crystal Silence.
The year 2008 was a busy one for Corea. He and John McLaughlin got together for the first time since they'd played together on Miles Davis' seminal Bitches Brew album. They pulled together a band with saxophonist Kenny Garrett, drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, and bassist Christian McBride for the recording Five Peace Band: Live (with another former Miles collaborator, Herbie Hancock, guesting on "In a Silent Way/It's About That Time"). Concord re-released Return to Forever's four albums issued between 1973 and 1976 (with Corea, White, Clarke, and DiMeola) -- Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy, Where Have I Known You Before, No Mystery, and Romantic Warrior -- as a precursor for a reunion tour. This resulted in both a live album, entitled Returns, and a concert DVD. In 2009, Corea teamed with Japanese piano sensation Hiromi for Duet, followed by a live trio album entitled Forever with Clarke and White, culled from their "RTF Unplugged" tour. The two-disc set, issued by Concord in 2011, featured guest appearances by Chaka Khan, original RTF guitarist Connors, and violinist Jean-Luc Ponty.
In 2012, Corea was busy from the start. He delivered a trio recording on Concord in January entitled Further Explorations; his sidemen were Eddie Gomez and Paul Motian (both members of various Evans ensembles). Corea: The Continents Concerto for Jazz Quintet and Chamber Orchestra was issued by Deutsche Grammophone in February. In September, another duet recording with Burton, Hot House, was released by Concord. In the summer of 2013, Corea debuted his new electric band with the album The Vigil. Its members included bassist Christian McBride (though Hadrien Feraud often plays with the group live), drummer Marcus Gilmore, Tim Garland on reeds and winds, and guitarist Charles Altura. The expansive three-disc Trilogy, recorded live at stops all over the world and, with bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade, appeared in 2014.
The pianist then reunited with longtime friend Béla Fleck for the 2015 duet album, Two, which was compiled from over seven years of their live performances together. The following year, Corea celebrated his 75th birthday with a six-week stint of shows at the Blue Note in New York city. Joined by a bevy of guests including Herbie Hancock, Bobby McFerrin, Wynton Marsalis, John McLaughlin, Stanley Clarke, and others, the performances were released in 2017 as part of The Musician album and documentary project. Also in 2017, he joined longtime associate drummer Steve Gadd for Chinese Butterfly, which also featured Lionel Loueke, Steve Wilson, Carlitos Del Puerto, and Luisito Quintero. Trilogy 2, Corea's second collection of live recordings with bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade, arrived in 2018. ~ Scott Yanow & Thom Jurek