by Scott Yanow
It would not be an exaggeration to say that Chick Corea had a remarkable career. Beyond the fact that he formed his own recognizable styles on piano, electric piano, and synthesizers, that he sounded very much at home no matter what the musical setting, and that he was a major bandleader for 50 years, Corea was always enthusiastically open to new musical challenges, as much in 2019 as he had been in 1969. He never lost his inspiration or his joy at making music.
Born June 12, 1941 in Chelsea, Massachusetts, Corea began playing piano when he was four (and drums at eight), inspired by his father (who played trumpet), Bud Powell and Horace Silver. He performed locally (including a week with Cab Calloway), studied briefly at Columbia University and Juilliard (dropping out of both schools because he felt that he could learn more on the bandstand), and then got to work.
While Corea’s kindness to a countless number of musicians, fans, and strangers will not be forgotten, and there is plenty of film footage of him from various stages of his career, it is his recordings (a countless number of gems in many different musical situations) that will be his greatest legacy. His earliest recording was a brief one-minute solo piano version of “I Don’t See Me In Your Eyes Anymore” from 1949 when he was eight that is included in the excellent five-CD retrospective Music Forever & Beyond (GRP) from 1996. Here is a listing of most of his other recordings with a very brief summary. Not everything he recorded is here, particularly sideman appearances after the early 1970s, but this list will give one an idea of his huge body of work. There is not a single dud.
Mongo Santamaria – Go, Mongo (Riverside, 1962) – This is Corea’s first official recording, made from a time when he was best-known as a skilled Latin jazz pianist.
Sonny Stitt – Stitt Goes Latin (Roost, 1963) – Bebop master Stitt used Willie Bobo’s band (with whom Corea was working) for Latin-tinged bop.
Dave Pike – Manhattan Latin (Verve, 1964) – Vibraphonist Pike utilized a Latin octet with Willie Bobo and bassist Cachao. For the first time Corea and Hubert Laws are heard together on record.
Hubert Laws – The Laws Of Jazz (Atlantic, 1964) – Laws and Corea in an inventive quartet.
Montego Joe – Arriba (Prestige, 1964) – While percussionist Montego Joe is the leader, this Latin set mostly features a group led by drummer Milford Graves that also includes bassist Eddie Gomez.
Blue Mitchell – The Thing To Do (Blue Note, 1964) – Heard for the first time in a straight ahead setting, Corea is in Horace Silver’s spot in Mitchell’s quintet, playing “Fungi Mama” and a number called “Chick’s Tune.” Corea is also on Mitchell’s Down With It (Blue Note, 1965)
Herbie Mann – Monday Night At The Village Gate (Atlantic, 1965) – One of three albums that Corea recorded with Herbie Mann when he was a member of his group.
Mercer Ellington – Mood Indigo (Doctor Jazz, 1966) – Corea fares quite well on a little-known set with Duke Ellington sidemen: Ray Nance, Johnny Hodges, Paul Gonsalves, Harry Carney, Aaron Bell and Louie Bellson.
Cal Tjader – Soul Burst (Verve, 1966) – Back to Afro-Cuban jazz, this time with Tjader playing Oliver Nelson’s arrangements.
Hubert Laws – Laws’ Cause (Atlantic, 1966-68) – Most notable for the debut of Corea’s “Windows.”
Tones For Joan’s Bones (Atlantic, 1966) – Corea’s first album as a leader, a quintet set with trumpeter Woody Shaw and tenor-saxophonist Joe Farrell that ranges from hard bop to freer sounds.
Stan Getz – Sweet Rain (Verve, 1967) – Corea and Getz always made for a mutually inspiring combination. This set includes the pianist’s “Litha” and a version of “Windows.”
Dizzy Gillespie – Jazz For A Sunday Afternoon (Solid State, 1967) – Corea jamming standards with Gillespie, baritonist Pepper Adams and violinist Ray Nance.
Donald Byrd – The Creeper (Blue Note, 1967) – The pianist is heard in a hard bop sextet with Byrd, Pepper Adams and altoist Sonny Red.
Now He Sings, Now He Sobs (Blue Note, 1968) – A trio classic with bassist Miroslav Vitous and drummer Roy Haynes.
Miles Davis – Filles de Kilimanjaro (Columbia, 1968) – Corea is only on half of this album (sharing it with his predecessor Herbie Hancock) but makes his recorded debut on electric piano, playing next to Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter and Tony Williams.
Miles Davis – In A Silent Way (Columbia, 1969) – Corea is one of three keyboardists (along with Hancock and Joe Zawinul) on this early fusion classic.
The Complete “Is” Sessions (Blue Note, 1969) – Mostly avant-garde jazz with a septet that includes Woody Shaw, Hubert Laws, Bennie Maupin (on tenor), Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette and drummer-percussionist Horacee Arnold.
Miles Davis – Live In Europe 1969: The Bootleg Series Vol. 2 (Columbia Legacy, 1969-70) – Corea did not make any full-length studio albums with the Davis quintet during 1968-70 but was captured on many live dates including this excellent three-CD set.
Miles Davis – Bitches Brew (Columbia, 1969) – Corea and the oversized Davis group (with Zawinul and John McLaughlin) made history with this influential double-album. Corea was also on other Davis recordings of the era including Live/Evil, At The Fillmore, Black Beauty, Live at the Fillmore East, and Big Fun.
Wayne Shorter – Super Nova (Blue Note, 1969) – Corea is heard on vibes and drums on this adventurous outing with Shorter and both McLaughlin and Sonny Sharrock on guitars.
The Song Of Singing (Blue Note, 1970) – Although still with Davis, Corea was exploring more avant-garde music on acoustic piano with bassist Dave Holland and drummer Barry Altschul.
A.R.C. (ECM, 1971) – Later in 1970 Corea left Davis, forming Circle with Holland and Altschul, the trio that performs on this chance taking acoustic set.
Paris Concert (ECM, 1971) – Multi-reedist Anthony Braxton soon made Circle a quartet and this double-Lp was their most rewarding recording including a unique version of “There Is No Greater Love.”
Piano Improvisations Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 (ECM, 1971) – While still with Circle, Corea had a growing desire to communicate with audiences. These two albums are mostly gentle music including the debut of “Sometime Ago.”
Return To Forever (ECM, 1972) – The original version of Return To Forever, a quintet with saxophonist Joe Farrell, bassist Stanley Clarke, Airto on drums and percussion, and singer
Flora Purim, only recorded two albums. Their first included “What Game Shall We Play Today,” the original version of “Crystal Silence,” and a medley of “Sometime Ago” and “La Fiesta.”
Stan Getz – Captain Marvel (Columbia, 1972) – Getz and Corea (with Clarke, Airto and Tony Williams) had a reunion in 1972 and, in addition to “500 Miles High” and “Times Lie,” this album has a very memorable rendition of “La Fiesta.”
Light As A Feather (Polydor, 1972) – The second recording by the original RTF includes the most famous version of “500 Miles High” and the earliest rendition of Corea’s best-known original, “Spain.”
Crystal Silence (ECM, 1972) – While in the process of forming the second version of Return To Forever, Corea recorded his first set of duets with vibraphonist Gary Burton. There would be many more.
Hymn Of The Seventh Galaxy (Polydor, 1973) – The one album that guitarist Bill Connors made with Corea, Clarke and drummer Lenny White, and arguably the most rewarding of the electric RTF recordings, highlighted by “Captain Senor Mouse.”
Where Have I Known You Before (Polydor, 1974) – Guitarist Al DiMeola’s debut recording with RTF.
No Mystery (Polydor, 1975) – RTF was at the height of its fame when they made this album.
The Leprechaun (Polydor, 1975) – Corea teamed up with Joe Farrell, a brass section, a few strings, Eddie Gomez, drummer Steve Gadd and his future wife singer Gayle Moran.
Romantic Warrior (Columbia, 1976) – The last recording by RTF before their breakup.
Return To Forever – The Anthology (Verve, 1972-75) – A two-CD set with highlights of the first two Return To Forevers plus four previously unreleased performances.
My Spanish Heart (Polydor, 1976) – The end of the second Return To Forever freed Corea to do any projects he wanted including this Spanish-flavored outing which includes violinist Jean-Luc Ponty on “Armando’s Rhumba.”
Music Magic (Columbia, 1977) – The third Return To Forever had Corea, Clarke and Gayle Moran joined by Joe Farrell, two trumpets, two trombones, and drummer Gerry Brown. This was their one studio album.
Return To Forever Live (Columbia, 1977) – A four-Lp set by the underrated and final version of Return To Forever.
Mad Hatter (Polydor, 1978) – Corea and many of his musical friends (including Farrell, Clarke, Herbie Hancock and five strings) have a good time on a set of his originals.
Friends (Polydor, 1978) – Corea stretches out in a quartet with Farrell, Gomez and drummer Steve Gadd.
Live At Midem (Who’s Who In Jazz, 1978) – Corea at a concert jamming with Lionel Hampton including “Moment’s Notice” and Hampton singing “I Ain’t Mad At You.”
Corea/Hancock (Polydor, 1978) – Just when Corea and Hancock were being typecast as fusion players, they teamed up to play some acoustic piano duets. This double-album including “Maiden Voyage” and “La Fiesta.”
An Evening With Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea In Concert (Columbia, 1978) – The better of the two double albums, this one even has Corea and Hancock playing stride piano (which they almost never did) for a bit on “Liza.”
Secret Agent (Polydor, 1978) – Corea and a group similar to the third Return To Forever performs his melodic originals with Al Jarreau guesting on “Hot News Blues.”
Duet (ECM, 1978) – Corea and Burton are featured on their second album of piano-vibes duets. They would also meet up for Lyric Suite For Sextet (ECM, 1982) which also includes a string quartet for a seven-part suite, and Native Sense (Concord, 1997).
Delphi I and Delphi II & III (Polydor, 1978) – A single album and a two-album set of mostly laidback and thoughtful piano solos.
In Concert, Zurich (ECM, 1979) – Corea and Burton duet again including n “Senor Mouse” and the original version of Corea’s “Bud Powell.” Other Corea/Burton albums include Native Sense (1997, Stretch),
Tap Step (Warner Bros. 1980) – A variety of musicians are heard on this Spanish-oriented set including bassist Bunny Brunel, drummer Tom Brechtlein, Farrell, Clarke, Laws and tenor-saxophonist Joe Henderson.
John Dentz – Reunion Band (Realtime, 1980) – Corea jams standards and a few originals in a quartet with saxophonist Ernie Watts (in top form), bassist Andy Simpkins and drummer Dentz.
Three Quartets (Stretch, 1981) – Corea meets up with Michael Brecker, Eddie Gomez and Steve Gadd.
Live In Montreux (Stretch, 1981) – A completely different quartet with Joe Henderson, bassist Gary Peacock and Roy Haynes.
Trio Music (ECM, 1981) – A reunion with Miroslav Vitous and Roy Haynes which has a CD of free improvisations and one of Thelonious Monk songs. They also recorded Live From The Country Club (Stretch, 1982).
Again And Again (Elektra Musician, 1982) – A short-lived but stimulating quintet with Steve Kujala on flute, soprano and tenor.
Touchstone (Stretch, 1982) – On various pieces Corea meets up with guitarist Paco de Lucia, altoist Lee Konitz and, on “Compadres,” the members of the second version of RTF.
Children’s Songs (ECM, 1983) – 20 short solo piano pieces.
Voyage (ECM, 1984) – Duets with flutist Steve Kujala.
Trio Music/Live In Europe (ECM, 1984) – Corea, Vitous and Haynes together again on a European tour.
The Chick Corea Elektric Band (GRP, 1985-86) – The earliest version of this group with bassist John Patitucci, drummer Dave Weckl, and sometimes Carlos Rios or Scott Henderson on guitar.
Light Years (GRP, 1987) – The real debut of the Elektric Band with Patitucci, Weckl, altoist Eric Marienthal and guitarist Frank Gambale.
Eye Of The Beholder (GRP, 1988) – The Elektric Band continued to grow in popularity and work regularly during this era.
Chick Corea Akoustic Band (GRP, 1989) – Corea, Patitucci and Weckl formed a long-running acoustic trio to play swinging standards and some Corea originals. They followed this release with Akoustic Band Alive (GRP, 1989)
Inside Out (GRP, 1990) – The Elektric Band continued to be a big seller and would be active even after its prime years for nearly another 30 years. Beneath The Mask (GRP, 1991) was its last recording from this period.
Paint The World (GRP, 1993) – Billed as by Elektric Band II, this set has Corea and Marienthal joined by guitarist Mike Miller, bassist Jimmy Earl and drummer Gary Novak.
Expressions (GRP, 1994) – Solo piano by Corea on standards plus his “Armando’s Rhumba.”
Time Warp (Stretch, 1995) – Corea in a quartet with tenor-saxophonist Bob Berg, Patitucci, and drummer Gary Novak.
Music Forever & Beyond (GRP 1964-96) – This well-conceived five-CD box set has some of the highpoints from the first half of Corea’s career and some unreleased material including a full quartet set with Bob Berg.
Remembering Bud Powell (Stretch, 1997) – The pianist leads a group with trumpeter Wallace Roney, altoist Kenny Garrett, tenor-saxophonist Joshua Redman, bassist Christian McBride, and Roy Haynes on modernized versions of Bud Powell’s compositions plus his own “Bud Powell.”
A Week At The Blue Note (Stretch, 1997-98) – One of Corea’s most bop-oriented groups, Origin featured trombonist Steve Davis, Steve Wilson and Bob Sheppard on reeds, bassist Avishai Cohen, and drummer Adam Cruz. This is a 6-CD set that never loses one’s interest. The single CD Chick Corea and Origin (Stretch, 1997-98) has some of the highlights.
Change (Stretch, 1999) – Origin, with Jeff Ballard on drums, is heard on a studio album.
Solo Piano Originals (Stretch, 1999) – Corea performs a lot of lesser-known material plus remakes of some of his hits, all of it sensitively played.
Solo Piano Standards (Stretch, 1999) – Monk songs and a few of Corea’s favorite standards.
Past, Present & Futures (Stretch, 2001) – Corea teams up with Avishai Cohen and Jeff Ballard, Origin’s rhythm section, which for a time also performed as an independent trio.
Rendezvous In New York (Stretch, 2001) – To celebrate his 60th birthday, Corea performed with nine different groups at New York’s Blue Note over a two-week period. Each is heard from on this two-CD set including the trio with Vitous and Haynes, the Bud Powell Tribute quintet, the Akoustic Trio, duets with Bobby McFerrin, Gary Burton and Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Origin, a quartet with Michael Brecker, and a trio with Cohen and Ballard.
To The Stars (Stretch, 2004) – The Elektric Band regroups with Steve Wilson added on reeds and Gayle Moran helping out.
The Ultimate Adventure (Stretch, 2006) – Every musical experience for Corea was an adventure including this set of new music performed with many of his alumni.
The Enchantment (Concord, 2006) – A set of duets with banjoist Bela Fleck that finds the duo constantly playing off of each other. Nine years later they did it again for the two-CD set Two (Stretch, 2015).
The New Crystal Silence (Concord, 2007) – Corea and Burton together again with the magic undimmed through the years. They would also record Hot House (Concord, 2011)
Duet (Concord, 2007) – Corea’s meeting with the virtuosic and powerful pianist Hiromi works as the two pianists push and inspire each other.
Return To Forever Returns (Eagle Records, 2008) – It looked like it might never happen, but the Corea-Clarke-White-DiMeola version of Return To Forever came back together for a tour in 2008 and this frequently exciting two-CD set.
Five Peace Band Live (Concord, 2008) – This is quite an all-star group, with Corea joined by John McLaughlin, Kenny Garrett, Christian McBride, and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta. Sometimes recalling Miles Davis’ early fusion band but also throwing in some bebop, this ensemble lasted for this tour and was fortunately recorded.
Forever (Concord, 2009) – On this two-CD set, the trio of Corea, Clarke and White from RTF are joined by Bill Connors (“Senor Mouse”), Jean-Luc Ponty, and singer Chaka Khan on some numbers.
Further Explorations (Concord, 2010) – Corea teams up with two of Bill Evans’ best sidemen (bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Paul Motian) and pays tribute to Evans while still sounding like himself.
The Musician (Concord, 2011) – To celebrate his 70th birthday, Corea performed at the Blue Note for a month, playing 48 shows with 10 different bands. Some of the highlights are on this three-CD set including performances by Return To Forever Unplugged (with Gambale in DiMeola’s place), the Five Piece Band, the Elektric Band, duets with Bobby McFerrin, Herbie Hancock and Marcus Roberts, a tribute to Miles Davis, and music from a flamenco-oriented band.
Trilogy (Concord, 2012) – Corea had a trio with bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade, going on tours and recording both this three-CD release and a two CD set called Trilogy 2 (Concord, 2016).
The Continents (Deutsch Grammophon, 2011) – One of several orchestral projects in his career, Corea and his quintet with saxophonist Tim Garland perform his “The Continents” on the first disc while the second features the quintet and Corea as a solo pianist.
The Vigil (Concord, 2013) – This lesser-known effort had new music that was a science fiction fantasy, featuring saxophonist Tim Garland and guitarist Charles Altura.
Chinese Butterfly (Concord, 2017) – Corea and his old friend Steve Gadd co-lead a sextet also featuring Steve Wilson and guitarist Lionel Loueke.
Antidote (Concord, 2019) – Corea’s last significant group, the Spanish Heart Band, featured three horns, Latin percussion, and music that reflected his love for Spanish music.
Plays (Concord, 2019) – Chick Corea’s final recording has him playing solo piano and talking about his music to an attentive audience, ranging from Mozart to Monk, Chopin, Bill Evans and eight of his children’s songs.
What more need be said?