Saturday, February 13, 2021

Sharing some thoughts - and visuals - on Chick Corea

Has there been a more dominant, restlessly creative jazz explorer over the past 50 years than Chick Corea? I think not.

Chick Corea, Newport, 1998
The Clearwater FL-based pianist, composer, bandleader and educator passed away last Tuesday, February 9, from a rare form of cancer that his family said had only been diagnosed very recently. He was 79. Check out his Facebook posting, which includes a parting message.

The sheer variety of his compositions and band projects still astounds me. After he left trumpeter Miles Davis's band in 1970s to forge his own musical path, Corea's journey took many winding twists and turns. He continued exploring the electronic frontiers of jazz fusion with Return to Forever, and later, his Elektrik Band. 

He kept one foot in tradition but also aimed toward the future with his Akoustic Band, his powerful New Trio with bassist Avashai Cohen and drummer Jeff Ballard, his band Origin with Ballard, Cohen and other daring, young acoustic players, and his Chick Corea & Friends tours with a variety of jazz all-stars. One of the latter, was his 1996 tour and recording with drummer Roy Haynes, bassist Christian McBride, trumpeter Wallace Roney, and saxophonists Kenny Garrett and Joshua Redman celebrating the music of late bebop pianist Bud Powell.

Then there were his duo collaborations with fellow pianist Herbie Hancock, vibraphonist Gary Burton (Crystal Silence), and singer Bobby McFerrin (Play). More recently, 2020's recording Antidote with his Spanish Heart Band won a Grammy for Best Latin Jazz Album. It was his 23rd. He was named an NEA Jazz Master in 2006.

His longtime yearly residencies at New York's Blue Note Jazz Club were legendary. He'd perform for three or four weeks straight, changing the roster and context of his band every night or two. Every time he took to the stage, wherever he played, was a musical adventure. 

Chick at Chick Corea Way
Corea always was creative, right until the end. And all of us were shocked by his unexpected passing. I heard Chick live more than a dozen times over the years. Seven were at the Newport Jazz Festival. Others were in Boston (clubs and festivals), at JazzFest in New Orleans, and Freihofer's Jazz Festival in Saratoga Springs NY.

One of those memorable Boston concerts was his 1985 duet tour with Burton. Another Boston-area opportunity to see and hear Chick, without piano, was on May 20, 2001. His hometown, Chelsea MA, honored him that day by renaming one block of Everett Avenue between Arlington and Walnut Streets as Chick Corea Way. Chick was there for the dedication, along with scores of relatives and longtime friends.

Here are some favorite images taken over the years.

Newport 2013, from Jazz in the Key of Light

The New Trio with Avishai Cohen and Jeff Ballard
Saratoga Springs NY, 1998

With Elvin Jones backstage at Newport, August 1982

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