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Remembering Chick Corea

I discovered jazz starting around the summer of 1974, during a summer internship in Wisconsin.  When I returned to college for my graduate year at RPI, I started looking for new jazz groups to listen to. In December 1974, I went to the Albany Palace and saw a relative new jazz group, Return to Forever, led by Chick Corea on piano.  The band also included the amazing Stanley Clarke on acoustic bass, a 19-year old flashy guitarist, Al DiMeola, and the solid Lenny White on drums. Later on I found out much more about the earlier versions of Return to Forever, but this particular group played a loud and intense version of jazz fusion which reminded me a bit of the Mahavishnu Orchestra. As a relative newcomer to electric jazz, I wasn't sure what to make of it, but I liked Chick's gorgeous stylings on electric piano and his fast synthesizer runs often dueled at supersonic speeds with DiMeola's distorted looping guitar runs.   

I'd already seen another very different jazz group a month before this--Gary Burton's Quintet--which played complex music, but with much more use of lyricism and clear melodies. Sometime after that, I borrowed the classic vinyl album, "Crystal Silence," from my local library and heard Corea and Burton play together in a mesmerizing mix of melody and harmonic structures.  I found this music was much easier to relate to and this was one of the groups that inspired me to take lessons over the next two years to learn more about how to play jazz and read the kind of intricate music which Corea composed.  

The late Seventies consituted my deep dive into jazz and I studied and listened to as much of it as I could. Hence, when I heard that Corea and Burton were playing live together at UConn in March 1978, I decided I had to see them.  Here's a portion of my ticket from that concert:  

Corea Burton

The concert was wonderful. Chick wore a strange bulky white outfit and joked that we probably all wanted to know who his tailor was.  No, we didn't, but Gary and Chick dazzled us with a variety of music from the "Crystal Silence" album and much more. By this time, I'd also dug into his earlier music, including earlier versions of Return to Forever, and I'd become a huge fan of his music. One thing was obvious--he was immensely versatile. I absolutely loved the "My Spanish Heart" album which came out around this time, where he played acoustic piano with other players such as Stanley Clarke and Jean-Luc Ponty on energetic songs such as "Amando's Rhumba."   

Over the years, I continued to love jazz and enjoyed hearing many of Chick's different groups, including work with a group that included both Gary Burton and guitarist Pat Metheny, plus the great Roy Haynes on drums. But I didn't see Chick play live again until the summer of 2008, when the jazz world finally had a chance to see Return to Forever play on tour for the first time since about 1976.  For this concert, I brought along my seventeen year old son, Jason, and promised him he'd hear some amazing music.  Here's the ticket stub for that evening concert at an outdoor venue by Boston Harbor:  

Return to Forever - 2008

The music was stunning. The evening began with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones.  Fleck quickly acknowledged his debt to Chick and Return to Forever as leaders in the jazz fusion space and then offered their own inspiring set of electric music driven by Fleck's banjo.  But the main event was to see Chick, Al, Stanley and Lenny play together live. They played the music from the seventies version of the band, but the musicians themselves were much more polished and articulate based on the 40 years of experience they'd gained since I'd seen the earlier band. The music totally astounded Jason. He returned home and composed a new work of art using colored pencils as he tried to capture visually the diverse sounds that we'd both heard.  

The next summer, Jason was entering his studies of liberal arts at the University of North Carolina in Asheville and he brought along a strong interest both in music and art.  it turned out that his roommates were all musicians and they also loved the way Jason could translate music into visual art.  With their help, Jason got to hear more music of Chick Corea and some of his bandmates, including the Israeli bassist Avi Shai Cohen, who became one of Jason's favorites.  Avi Shai was one of many musicians who were on a two album set Chick recorded at the Blue Note in New York City in December, 2001 as part of Chick's 60th birthday celebration.  

As it turned out, Jason was invited to go with one of his roommates to see Chick play at the Blue Note in the summer of 2010.  Jason loved seeing the group in the intimate club setting and even managed to get his picture taken with Chick afterwards.  I still remember the energy in that picture as Jason and Chick stood smiling side by side, both of them sporting wild wavy hair.  

Chick Corea passed away earlier this week at age 79. He was truly a world master in the realm of music. I will miss him very much, but his music will live on for all of us who love lyrical and challenging jazz as composed and played by this remarkable artist and a multitude of fine musicians.    


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