Armando Anthony “Chick” Corea (b. 1941)

Although he is primarily known as a legendary jazz pianist, bandleader and composer, Chick Corea has a long tradition in classical music, as well. Born in Chelsea, Massachusetts, (a suburb of Boston), Chick Corea studied classical piano starting at the age of 8. His father was a band leader, so Chick grew up listening to be-bop greats like Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, and Thelonious Monk. After briefly studying music at Columbia University and the Juilliard School, Corea established himself as an important new artist on the New York jazz scene, first with Latin groups led by Willie Bobo, Mongo Santamaria, and Herbie Mann, and later succeeding Herbie Hancock in the piano chair of the Miles Davis quintet, where he performed on several classic albums like In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew. After leaving Davis, he formed several groundbreaking and popular musical groups such as Circle, Return to Forever, the Elektric Band, the Akoustic Band, Origin, and the Five Peace Band. He also formed several lasting duo partnerships over the years with Herbie Hancock, vibraphonist Gary Burton, vocalist Bobby McFerrin, and even banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck.

Chick Corea’s involvement in classical music is apparent even early in his career. One of his first albums includes a the chamber music piece Trio for flute, bassoon, and piano and featured classical/jazz flautist Hubert Laws. In 1972, he wrote his most famous piece, the Latin-Jazz classic “Spain,” which borrowed from Joaquín Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez for guitar. The 1980’s brought an increased focus on classical music in both his performances and compositions. He played duet recitals with pianists Friedrich Gulda and Nicholas Economou and recorded Beethoven and Mozart with the Concertgebouw Orchestra and the Philharmonia Virtuosi of New York. Around this time, Corea became highly interested and influenced by the works of Béla Bartók and Alban Berg and began incorporating a string quartet in many of his pieces, such as Isfahan, a guitar concerto written for his Return to Forever colleague, Al Di Meola. He then composed one of his most important pieces of chamber music, the Lyric Suite for piano, vibraphone, and string quartet. The title and string writing illustrate the influence of Berg’s own Lyric Suite. Corea followed this up with a Septet for flute, French horn, piano, and string quartet which was commissioned by the Chamber Music Society at Lincoln Center. Further string writing include his recent string quartet, The Adventures of Hippocrates, written for the Orion Quartet.

Chick Corea’s long interest in the piano and concerto forms have also produced an extensive performing history. He recorded a pair of Mozart concertos with Bobby McFerrin conducting and later composed and recorded his first Piano Concerto. (The recording also included an orchestral reworking of his earlier hit Spain.) Perhaps his most enduring classical composition is a set of 20 miniatures for piano, the Children’s Songs. Besides several recordings by Chick himself, they have been recorded by various artists including from pianist Leon Bates, guitarist Manuel Barrueco, and the Apollo Saxophone Quartet.

In his long career, Chick Corea has been nominated for over 50 Grammy awards as performer and composer (winning 16 of them), won countless magazine and critic’s polls, been named an NEA Jazz Master in 2006 by the National Endowment of the Arts and won the 2010 Richard J. Bogomolny  award for Chamber Music. At the age of 69, he shows little signs of slowing down or settling in any one style or genre. Recent compositions and recordings have explored jazz-fusion, acoustic piano trios, flamenco, world music, and more piano duos.

Suggested Listening:

Suggested Reading:

Chick Corea. A Work In Progress…On Being A Musician (Vol. 1).

Chick Corea’s Official Website: www.chickcorea.com

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