…at the top of the Hotel Theresa in Harlem, …we’d play dances…
To judge by the latest whirlwind of activity, jazz great Chick Corea has no intention of slowing down after more than 50 years.
Saturday he led a tribute to Herbie Hancock in Washington, D.C. Sunday he was in a Manhattan studio recording with Roy Haynes, who, at 85, may be the world’s greatest living jazz drummer.
Now the pianist and composer works with another legend, Wynton Marsalis, when he settles in for a three-night sojourn starting Thursday at Jazz at Lincoln Center at the Time Warner Center.
“For these concerts, some members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra are writing new arrangements of Chick’s music. He’s one of the great figures of music,” says Marsalis, artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center. “This opportunity to play his music develops our library, our arranging skills and gives us the occasion to play with an unbelievable musician.”
“This will be Wynton’s and my first chance to work on music together,” says Corea. “I think it’s going to be a blast.”
Corea, born outside Boston, calls New York City his “spiritual home. … That’s where I connected with art and music and the thing I love to do and work on, and express myself with.”
Spain, by Chick Corea Electric Band live in Montreux
Corea, who has Spanish and Italian ancestry, began studying piano at age 4. Jazz players Bud Powell and Horace Silver were early influences on his playing; Mozart and Beethoven inspired his compositional instincts. His first major professional gig was with Cab Calloway, followed by stints with Latin bands led by Mongo Santamaria and Willie Bobo.
Corea moved to New York in 1959 because “all of my jazz heroes were living and working in New York. The list in the 1960s is staggering.” He lived for a while in Brooklyn and was one of the first loft owners on 19th St. in Manhattan. He attended Columbia University for a semester. Then, after seeing the Miles Davis Quintet play at Birdland, he says, “I decided that I didn’t want to spend my time in a liberal arts college. I wanted to stay in the city and cut my teeth on music.”
But he gave formal education another go at Juilliard. Corea organized jam sessions after hours in Juilliard practice rooms, with bassist Bill Lee (Spike Lee’s father) and flutist Hubert Laws.
“He was a pioneer of what was absent at Juilliard in 1960/61: jazz improvisation,” says Laws, a recent recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters fellowship, the nation’s highest honor for jazz artists. (Corea’s Jazz Master designation came in 2006.)
“And I remember some of the gigs we used to have, including him in some of the bands I put together, like at the top of the Hotel Theresa in Harlem, where we’d play dances.”