Chick Corea: A ‘Hot House’ flower always in bloom

Grammy Awards 2013

Keyboard giant Chick Corea likes to mix up his pitches, doing something different every time he makes a recording or goes on tour. And he likes to do a lot of both, seemingly not slowing down a bit at age 71.

Look at part of his touring schedule for the first third of 2013: American cities with longtime vibraphone partner Gary Burton and the Harlem String Quartet in January, a sweep through Europe with his new quintet Vigil in March, then back to the States for encounters with banjomeister Bela Fleck in late March/early April, followed quickly by a week of 12 trio sets at Hollywood’s Catalina Bar and Grill with Return to Forever bassist Stanley Clarke, then another concert with Burton, and on and on.

Look at his recordings in 2012: no fewer than four albums, all completely different, with two of them — an album with Burton, “Hot House,” and a trio tribute to Bill Evans, “Further Explorations” — gaining five Grammy nominations. Indeed, it may come as a surprise to many that Chick ranks fourth on the all-time Grammy list with 61 nominations (behind Quincy Jones, Georg Solti and Henry Mancini) — winning 18 so far.

All of this recording activity represents a bit of an anachronism in today’s music industry; whereas the standard a half-century ago was two or three albums a year, now it’s more like two or three years between albums.

“I have a reverse philosophy — to put out as much music as I can,” says Corea by phone from Atlanta, where he was about to play with Burton that night. “They call it ‘flooding the market!’ ”

Corea, who played with Miles Davis as the trumpeter was plugging in during the late ’60s, once avoided reunions with his former bands, claiming that he didn’t want to be tied down to the past. But after a change of heart at his all-star 60th birthday concerts at New York City’s Blue Note, Corea now welcomes the chances to play with old cohorts — to pick up the threads of the past and push the boundaries some more.

“I stopped thinking of them as reunions because of the connotation of senior citizens,” Corea says. “They’re old friends, but more than that, they are musical friends who have been fun to make music with. Returning to one of these relationships is always a pleasure. I usually plan a year or two ahead and try to fit things in.”

The two weeks at the Blue Note that yielded “Further Explorations” was also Corea’s first substantial encounter with drummer Paul Motian — known for his collaborations with Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett — who died soon thereafter. “He didn’t exhibit anything particularly wrong,” Corea recalls. “He always liked to show up just before the gig and leave right after. We became friends in a very short period of time.”

As for Burton, Corea has known him since their first days in New York in the early 1960s. They didn’t play together until 1971, but have joined forces many times in the 40-plus years since. “It’s been kind of a simple relationship,” Corea says. “We enjoy playing together and there’s always a reach between us to do new shows or to make a new recording.”

There are some revivals of old projects that Corea hasn’t gotten around to yet. “I sometimes think of the band Origin I had,” he says. “Actually I wrote a whole album for that band that I never got around to recording, so that’s one I’d like to do. Also it would be fun to revisit Circle with Anthony Braxton, Dave Holland and Barry Altschul.”Yet while reunions abound on his schedule, Chick rejects the notion sweeping the blogosphere these days that jazz is a music of the past that stopped growing long ago. “It’s the absolute opposite of that,” he insists. “The actual truth is that the interest in creative music in jazz is at an all-time high. Young musicians are so attracted to an open art form like that. If you go to any music school, that’s what students are interested in.”

Grammy Awards 2013
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