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Jazz Profiles from NPR
Chick Corea
Produced by John Diliberto

Chick Corea  

Since his professional debut in the early 1960s, keyboardist and composer Chick Corea been a mainstay at the leading edge of jazz. With a style that embraces hard-bop, Latin jazz, avant-garde and fusion, he remains -- in his 60's -- a productive an influential part of the scene.

Listen to guitarist Al DiMeola, writer Howard Mandel, and vibraphonist Gary Burton talk about Chick's music

Born Armando Anthony Corea on June 12, 1941, in Boston, Massachusetts, Corea grew up in a music-filled household -- his father was a professional trumpet player. Chick began studying classical piano at age 4 but jazz was always close at hand, especially in the form of his father's expansive jazz record collection.

There were always musicians around. My dad would come home from a gig...he'd bring the band back, they'd have their tuxes on and they'd loosen their ties and my mother would cook some pasta.
-- Chick Corea  

Influenced most by Bud Powell, Corea decided to move to pianist's home town to pursue his own passion for jazz. Accepted into the liberal arts program at Columbia University in the late 1950s, Chick promptly immersed himself in New York's active jazz community. He soon transferred to The Juilliard School to devote himself full time to music studies.

Art Blakey CD cover  

Corea's studies at Juilliard didn't deter him from the jazz nightlife, and he eagerly sought opportunities to sit in with his hard bop idols -- among them trumpeters Maynard Ferguson and Kenny Dorham and drummer Art Blakey (left).

Chick's first studio gig was on conguero Mongo Santamaria's 1962 album, Go, Mongo!. The session is notable as it was one of Corea's earliest flirtations with Latin music. His second high-profile gig was recording with hard bop trumpeter Blue Mitchell and the remainder of the '60s saw Chick moving between hard bop and Latin music.

Listen to Chick describe his experience recording with Mongo Santamaria

Corea also played in alto saxophonist Stan Getz's Brazilian jazz ensemble and met flutist Herbie Mann, who also was exploring the popular bossa-nova rhythms. Mann produced records for his boutique label, Vortex, and Corea was one of his first signings.

Listen to Herbie Mann describe signing Chick to his Vortex label

Joan's Bones CD cover  

Contrary to what he'd been playing for several years, Chick's 1966 debut album for Vortex, Tones for Joan's Bone (left), showed an abiding interest in free jazz more than it explored hard bop or Latin music. Chick recorded several influential albums that explored the concepts of "structured" and "free."

Listen to writer Howard Mandel discuss Chick's playing and his '68 album Now He Sings, Now He Sobs (Blue Note)

In 1968, Chick got a telephone call from destiny in the form of his friend and fellow Bostonian, drummer Tony Williams. Tony was asking if Chick could sub for Herbie Hancock in Miles Davis' group for an upcoming gig in Baltimore and Chick jumped at the chance.

As with his former sideman Keith Jarrett, Davis convinced Chick to play the electric piano and he chose Corea to record with him on several influential albums, inlcuing In a Silent Way, Bitches Brew, and Miles Davis at the Fillmore.

Listen to Chick describe his first gig with trumpeter Miles Davis

Davis' spacious electric jazz inspired Corea and bandmate bassist Dave Holland to leave the trumpeter and form Circle, a cooperative creative unit that included saxophonist Anthony Braxton and drummer Barry Altschul.

"I've always been attracted in one way or another to the challenge and freshening approach and the heightened awareness that can come from letting go of any predetermined structure, and starting out with nothingness."
-- Chick Corea  

Chick's next step was a move toward commercially viable fusion when he created Return to Forever, one of the most successful groups in jazz history.

Listen to Return to Forever vocalist Flora Purim talk about Chick's new approach for the band

Return to Forever went through many phases, venturing from softer-hued explorations to full-throttle explosions. With bass virtuoso and musical confidante Stanley Clarke as the only other consistent member, the group became a musical institution from which many great musicians passed through.

Like fellow pianist Herbie Hancock, Corea would swing back and forth between electric and acoustic instruments. Even though RTF is exemplary of most of his 1970s, Corea also recorded some solo piano albums on the ECM label and recorded a duet piano album with Hancock. Perhaps Corea's most popular duet recording is Crystal Silence (ECM) released in 1972 with vibraphonist Gary Burton.

Throughout the 1980s and '90s, Chick explored nearly all of his musical interests, delving into bebop, classical, jazz fusion and funk. After the breakup of Return to Forever, Corea created a younger fusion group, The Chick Corea Elektric Group, which literally ruled Billboard's contemporary jazz charts during much of the '80s.

Towards the close of the '90s, Corea returned to his hard-bop roots, recording a Bud Powell tribute album featuring legendary drummer Roy Haynes. His current ensemble, Origin, is a modern-bop ensemble that features some of today's most acclaimed jazz artists. Corea shows no signs of a creative slowdown, as evidenced by his 2001 trio album, Past, Present & Futures.


View the Chick Corea show playlist


ListenListen to the NPR Basic Jazz Record Library entry for Chick Corea's album Return to Forever

Browse the CD review for Chick's recent albums Originals and Standards

More InfoBrowse the NPR Jazz Web site --


More InfoBrowse the Official Chick Corea Web site