Photo: Leon Morris/Redferns via Getty Images
In Remembrance: Chick Corea Played In More Ways Than One
The through-line of Chick Corea, a 23-time GRAMMY-winning pianist, and his body of work was a sense of childlike joy and discovery
Chick Corea was one of the most advanced thinkers ever to grace the piano, but he rarely spoke in terms of minor-third intervals or the Mixolydian scale. Drop into virtually anything the man said about his art, and it’ll probably hinge on two words: fun and games.
"Trust yourself to say, 'I don't know what I'm going to do next, but I'm just going to do it because it's fun,'" Corea advised in a YouTube clip in 2020 while talking about his old colleague, Miles Davis. That year, when speaking to JazzTimes, he continually circled back to the phrase, "That's not the game I'm playing." "Oh, would you call that music?" he asked in the 2019 documentary Chick Corea: In the Mind of a Master, between virtuosic runs on the keyboard. "I don't know; I don't care what it is. It's just a lot of fun, you know?"
Corea's fealty to fun made him into a boundless, filterless fount of ideas—great ones. They're all over his boundary-busting 1970s band Return to Forever, his luminous albums with vibraphonist Gary Burton, his Akoustic and Elektric Bands, and beyond. Talk about a batting average: across almost 90 albums, he won 23 GRAMMYs and was nominated fo/r 67. Currently, he's in the running for the 63rd GRAMMY Awards for his trio album Trilogy 2, featuring bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade.
Sadly, Corea won't find out if he'll add a 24th GRAMMY to his shelf. After a brief battle with recently-diagnosed cancer, the piano titan died Tuesday, Feb. 9, at his home in Tampa Bay, Florida. He was 79. "It is my hope that those who have an inkling to play, write, perform or otherwise, do so," he said in a statement. "If not for yourself, then for the rest of us. It's not only that the world needs more artists; it's also just a lot of fun."
And fun was arguably Corea's entire MO, from his stylistic interplay to his pianistic touch to the way he dealt with his audiences.
Armando Anthony Corea was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts, on June 12, 1941. "Chick" came from "cheeky," his aunt's baby-name for him due to his chubby cheeks. His trumpeter father sat him in front of a piano at four; at eight, he began taking lessons from the Boston concert pianist Salvatore Sullo. After high school, he moved to New York City to study at Columbia and Julliard but soon drifted from academia into the nightclub circuit. Initially steeped in bebop artists like trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and pianists Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell, Corea soon became enamored with music from south of the border.
The music of [the bebop] era was quite demanding. You had to be into it to really grasp it," Chick told All About Jazz in 2020. "Whereas when I heard Latin music, that beat I heard coming out of New York and out of Puerto Rico and out of Cuba—Eddie Palmieri and Machito and these bands—that gave me a whole other emotional outlook to music. I thought, 'Wow, this is uplifting, happy music, and it struck something.'" Corea touched on this sense of exuberance in his work with Latin-adjacent artists, like saxophonist Stan Getz, trumpeter Blue Mitchell and flutist Herbie Mann.
Corea's interest in this sphere also led him to the guitar master Paco de Lucía, a close friend and collaborator for decades; Corea wrote "The Yellow Nimbus" as a duet with him. "When we played together, I thought I would see a yellow cloud around his head, like a circle," he explained in his 2020 live, solo album Plays. ("Paco inspired me in the construction of my own musical world as much as Miles Davis and John Coltrane, or Bartok and Mozart," Corea said six years prior upon de Lucía's death.)
Latin influences also permeated Return to Forever, Corea's enchanting fusion band that always seemed to hover a few inches above the ground. But even though albums like 1972's Return to Forever and 1973's Light as a Feather were commercial successes, this wedding of musical hemispheres wasn't to court crossover success, but chase that ineffable feeling of freedom.
"It's the media that are so interested in categorizing music," he told The New York Times in 1983, a year after "The Yellow Nimbus" came out. "If critics would ask musicians their views about what is happening, you would find that there is always a fusion of sorts taking place. All this means is a continual development—a continual merging of different streams."
Genre aside, Corea spent his life combing through every mood and format he could think of, from starlit, quasi-ambient duets (1973's Crystal Silence, with Gary Burton, to classically-minded post-bop (1981's Three Quartets, with tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker). The last few years of Corea's life marked an explosion of diversity and prolificity. In 2016, he underwent a six-week stand at New York's Blue Note club with more than 20 different groups.
Three years later, his Latin interest crescendoed with Antidote, a jubilant collaboration with the eight-piece Spanish Heart Band. "The game I like is where we become a unit," Corea said in In the Mind of a Master, released concurrently with Antidote. "Everyone's giving and taking, and all [are] creating the music."
No matter which context he was in, Corea's effervescence is evident in his playing itself. His fluid phrasing and jewellike tone, which appeared almost fully-formed with his first two albums, 1968's Tones for Joan's Bones and Now He Sings, Now He Sobs, made even his knottiest material pleasing to the ear. About his way with a Fender Rhodes, "It's almost like his fingers bounce off the keys," WBGO's Nate Chinen told NPR in 2016. "His touch on that instrument is really distinctive. You know it's him within a note or two."
This accessibility and distinctiveness are testaments to Corea's emphasis on communicating to the listener, and he couldn't have done so if the music flew over peoples' heads. This became a primary value to Corea in the mid-'70s, when he converted to Scientology and underwent an auditing system that set him on a lifelong psychospiritual journey.
"A very simple thing happened to me right in the very beginning," Corea told The Village Voice in 1977. "I experience this in live hundreds or thousands of people in front of me—I now have the ability to give across a musical communication with clear intent. I know what I'm doing and who I'm communicating to, and I give the communication across, and I see what happens in front of me." (Corea dedicated myriad albums to Hubbard and remained a highly visible member of the controversial religion until the end of his life.)
In what would be Corea's final album, Plays, he eschews a superstar's trappings: no backing band, no staid reverence, no canned commentary. "Here I am with my piano," he declares at the top, alone onstage. "The piano's tuned up all nice, but now we have to tune up. Yeah, we." At first, it's an awkward moment. He plays a middle A; the giggling crowd tentatively sings it back to him. One note becomes two; two becomes three, and so on.
But by the time Corea lays into a medley of Mozart's Piano Sonata in F, and George Gershwin's "Something to Watch Over Me," the gag reveals itself to be something much more profound. Suddenly, the barriers vanish. His game opens up to everyone. His fun becomes ours.
GRAMMYs On The Road With Gary Burton And Fred Hersch
GRAMMY.com conducts interviews backstage at the Detroit Jazz Festival
The Recording Academy played host to GRAMMYs On The Road at the Detroit Jazz Festival on Aug. 31 – Sept. 3 in downtown Detroit. GRAMMY.com conducted exclusive backstage interviews with artists performing at the festival, including six-time GRAMMY-winning vibraphonist Gary Burton and GRAMMY-nominated pianist Fred Hersch.
Burton discussed his introduction to the vibraphone, his career trajectory, combining elements of jazz and rock, and his collaborations with Chick Corea, among other topics.
"[Chick Corea and I] played a short segment on the Berlin Jazz Festival and then went into a studio to record [our] first record," said Burton."That's when we discovered we had a real easy rapport playing together."
Burton formed his own quartet in 1967, recording albums that fused rock elements with jazz improvisation and sophisticated harmonies. That same year Burton received his first of 19 career GRAMMY nominations for Best Instrumental Jazz Performance, Small Group Or for Duster. In 1972 he won his first GRAMMY for Best Jazz Performance By A Soloist for the album Alone At Last. Burton has earned his renown in performing in a duo format with musicians such as Corea, with whom he has won five GRAMMY Awards. The duo most recently won for Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Individual Or Group for The New Crystal Silence in 2008. His most recent recording is 2012's Hot House, another collaboration with Corea.
Hersch discussed his love for the piano, the influence of poetry and visual art on his music, the music J.S. Bach, among other topics.
"[Today] people listen [to music] while they're doing email, they listen in their car, they listen on the treadmill," said Hersch. "People don't sit and listen to [music] and I think that's an absolute tragedy because the experience of concentrating on music … is really good for your soul."
Hersch, who started playing piano at age 4, has recorded more than 45 albums as a performer, bandleader or duo partner since 1991. He has played as a sideman with artists such as Stan Getz, Joe Henderson, Charlie Haden, and Bill Frisell. Hersch released his debut solo album, As One, in 1984. As the leader of the Fred Hersch Trio, Hersch has received five GRAMMY nominations, his first coming in 1993 for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Individual Or Group for "Dancing In The Dark." His most recent nomination was for Best Jazz Instrumental Album for Alone At The Vanguard in 2011.
In addition to artist interviews, The Recording Academy also presented GRAMMY SoundTables featuring Detroit Jazz Festival performers discussing their music and careers. Participants included GRAMMY winners Terence Blanchard, Gary Burton and Joe Lovano.
Come back Monday for more GRAMMYs On The Road at Detroit Jazz Festival coverage.
Why A World Without Herbie Hancock Is Unimaginable
Chick Corea describes how the legendary GRAMMY winner has created a musical touchstone for every future culture to aspire to
("GRAMMY Salute To Music Legends" — a special all-star concert honoring The Recording Academy's 2016 Special Merit Awards recipients — will air Oct. 14 from 9–11:30 p.m. on PBS. Herbie Hancock, who received a 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award from The Recording Academy, will be among the artists saluted.)
Herbie Hancock was on the New York City jazz scene making some young musical noise a few years before I arrived in 1959, fresh out of high school in Chelsea, Mass.
I remember seeing him live for the first time when I went to the old Birdland at 52nd St. and Broadway. It was a Monday night. Mondays were the jam session nights at this venerable old club, and there was Herbie onstage with Joe Chambers and some horn players sitting in. I distinctly remember being amazed by the free and creative approach he and the band were taking with the standards they were playing. They were changing the rules and not asking for a license to do it. Right away, I connected with Herbie's sense of adventure and musical exploration, which I myself had just begun realizing.
The amazing thing about this adventure of his is that for a whole lifetime the adventure hasn't stopped. Miles set a powerful example for all of us — and Herbie was an integral part of that groundbreaking quintet that changed the face of jazz and music in general. But he has taken it several steps further by making full use of every new keyboard and sonic possibility, bridging new musical forms to combine the richness of our music’s past with the unknown of the new creative ideas from his seemingly infinite imagination. With his ongoing creativeness and successes in movie scores and both pop and classical music, he's certainly never been afraid to explore and to change — and does so frequently and unabashedly.
From his first solo albums Takin' Off, Empyrean Isles and Maiden Voyage, to his reach-out-to-the-world collaborations such as Possibilities, River: The Joni Letters and The Imagine Project, his ever-evolving musical creativeness continues to inspire and soothe souls the world over.
Ever since I've known Herbie, he has always inspired me and the music world to be free and reach for greater heights of accomplishment. His validation of the artist's imagination and his demonstration of its ultimate purpose through the amazing music he has created — and continues to create are a touchstone for every future culture to aspire to.
The world without Herbie Hancock is unimaginable. His contributions to music and to humanity on this planet are immeasurable. Congratulations, Herbie. You are simply the best!
(A 22-time GRAMMY winner, Chick Corea's extensive discography includes 1978’s An Evening With Herbie Hancock & Chick Corea: In Concert, a live album featuring both artists playing acoustic piano. In 2015 Corea released Two, a collaboration with GRAMMY winner Béla Fleck.)
ReImagined At Home: Watch Ant Clemons Croon The Cosmic Blues In Performance Of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine"
Singer/songwriter Ant Clemons puts his own spin on Bill Withers' immortal "Ain't No Sunshine" in an exclusive performance for ReImagined At Home
Why has Bill Withers' immortal hit, "Ain't No Sunshine," endured for decades? And, furthermore, why does it seem set to reverberate throughout the ages?
Could it be because it's blues-based? Because it's relatable to anyone with a pulse? Because virtually anyone with an ounce of zeal can believably yowl the song at karaoke?
Maybe it's for all of those reasons and one more: "Ain't No Sunshine" is flexible.
In the latest episode of ReImagined At Home, check out how singer/songwriter Ant Clemons pulls at the song's edges like taffy. With a dose of vocoder and slapback, Clemons recasts the lonesome-lover blues as the lament of a shipwrecked android.
Giving this oft-covered soul classic a whirl, Clemons reminds music lovers exactly why Withers' signature song has staying power far beyond his passing in 2020. It will probably be a standard in 4040, too.
Check out Ant Clemons' cosmic, soulful performance of "Ain't No Sunshine" above and click here to enjoy more episodes of ReImagined At Home.
Photo: Icon and Image/Getty Images
Remembering Poco's Rusty Young, A Country-Rock Trailblazer
Rusty Young "was an innovator on the steel guitar and carried the name Poco on for more than 50 years," Poco co-founder Richie Furay said
Rusty Young, one of country-rock's originators and founder of the GRAMMY-nominated band Poco, has died. He was 75.
Young's death on April 14 was confirmed by his publicist, Mike Farley, who said he succumbed to a heart attack.
In a statement to Variety, Poco co-founder Richie Furay said he was saddened by the loss: "Our friendship was real and he will be deeply missed. My prayers are with his wife, Mary, and his children Sara and Will."
As a member of Poco, Young's love for country music and ability to play several country instruments helped architect what today is known as country-rock. Poco, founded in 1968, was formed after Furay's former band Buffalo Springfield, which Neil Young was a part of, split. Furay met Young and bassist/producer Jim Messina after working together on Furay's "Kind Woman," which meshed elements of country and rock.
"Richie was a rock and roll guy, Jimmy’s a brilliant technician and guitar player, and I played all these country instruments," Young told Spotlight Central in 2018.
Poco, like Buffalo Springfield, was among the first bands to bring the country and rock sounds together.
"Our concept was to take rock and roll lyrics and melodies, chord changes, and add country instruments as the color around them, because I play steel guitar and banjo and mandolin, all the country instruments I could add that color and Jimmy played that James Burton, Ricky Nelson-kind of guitar," Young told Rock Cellar Magazine in 2017. "We could use this kind of country colors palette to choose from, and have it be rock and roll."
Born in Long Beach, California on Feb. 23, 1946, Norman Russell Young was raised in Colorado. Growing up, Young was surrounded by music; His grandparents were musicians and his parents would take him to country music bars. At the age of six, he began playing the pedal steel guitar.
"I think it’s a beautiful instrument! And I went on to learn to play a lot of other instruments, but I’ve always played lap steel and I still really enjoy it," he told Spotlight Central.
"He was an innovator on the steel guitar and carried the name Poco on for more than 50 years," Furay said in a statement.
Furay and Messina ultimately left the band, but Young remained a member of Poco for more than five decades and even became one of its vocalists. Young wrote and sang the band's biggest hit "Crazy Love," released in 1979—The song reached No. 1 on Billboard's Adult Contemporary Chart. The band also earned a GRAMMY nomination years later in 1982 for their performance of "Feudin' (Track)."
Young is survived by his wife, Mary, and his children, Sara and Will.