By Robert Vale (Jazz Sketches, Wednesdays at noon)
The passing of American jazz pianist Chick Corea at age 79 was recently announced, leaving the jazz world a little poorer. He had recently contracted a rare form of cancer. He received 23 Grammy Awards, and was the major force in the emergence of jazz fusion. Raised in Boston, his father was a jazz trumpeter and band-leader. Young Corea took piano lessons from age four and also learned to play drums. In his early career he was influenced by Bud Powell and Horace Silver.
After working with Stan Getz and Herbie Mann, Corea made his debut recording in 1966. That was the start of a varied career involving projects each spread over many decades, some of which were at opposite ends of the musical spectrum.
One career highlight was Corea’s collaboration with vibraphonist Gary Burton. Their first recording, for ECM in 1972, was the highly acclaimed “Crystal Silence” which became the foundation of a forty year partnership. The duo toured extensively on the back of that and six more successful recordings, the last of which was made in 2012.
Spanish influences were often present in Corea’s compositions and are to be found in many albums including “My Spanish Heart”, “Touchstone” and his album from 2019 , “Antidote”. Those albums included respectively the flamenco guitarists, Jean Luc Ponty, Paco de Lucia and Nino Josele.
Another unexpected collaborator was banjo player Bela Fleck. He and Corea recorded four albums between 1995 and 2015, successfully merging Fleck’s blue-grass with Corea’s flamenco tinged melodies. As with the Burton recordings the resultant public acclaim under-pinned extensive world tours.
Based on Mozart inspirations Corea wrote the music for two albums, one performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra [“Corea Concerto”] and another by a jazz quintet and chamber orchestra [“The Continents”].
Perhaps remarkably while all of the above was happening Corea had a continuing interest in jazz/rock fusion. It first became evident when he played electric piano in the Miles Davis fusion band of 1968. Three years later Corea formed his own fusion group, Return To Forever which performed in various guises over the following forty years.
In his program Jazz Sketches at noon on Wednesday 24 February Robert Vale will present a selection of Chick Corea recordings.