Chick Corea (By Gary Burton)
September 17, 2020
Chick Corea is the most diverse and prolific jazz composer alive today. I should know, I put in forty-five years playing and recording with him!
Chick is truly in the tradition of the early jazz instrumentalist/composer. Like the legendary Duke Ellington, who often wrote his music in hotel rooms and on tour busses, I saw Chick frequently work late into the night after our concerts (which exhausted me, but not him), preparing new music for his next tour or recording. One day he told me he wanted to try something new, combining our duet with a string quartet. So, for the next year, as we sat on airplanes going from concert to concert, Chick studied the string quartet scores of Bartok and Beethoven, listening to them intently on his headphones. Eventually, he announced he was ready to start writing. We had a month’s break in our schedule, and he went home to start putting notes on paper. Four weeks later the string players and I descended on his house in Los Angeles to prepare for a 20-city tour beginning the following week. As we walked in, the copyist was just finishing “Finale,” the seventh movement, and I don’t remember having to change a single note as we read through the entire suite. Ultimately, we recorded “Lyric Suite for Sextet” and performed sixty concerts with the string players.
From his earliest days when he was writing pieces that have become standards such as Windows, Spain, Crystal Silence, and La Fiesta (which he taught me at the soundcheck before our first duet performance in 1972), I never doubted Chick’s composing abilities. Most jazz composers are fortunate to manage writing a song or two that get performed by other musicians, but in Chick’s case the list of his jazz standards would be a very long one indeed. Of course, he kept expanding his range as the years passed, excelling at everything from re-inventing classic jazz, like his “Remembering Bud Powell,” or his “Elektric Band” contemporary recordings, and his classical compositions for solo piano (“Children’s Songs 1-20”), chamber group and orchestra.
While most jazz fans know Chick Corea as a legendary pianist, the music community admires him just as much for his body of work as a composer, and that is the legacy that will live on through the ages.
Gary Burton is a jazz vibraphonist, composer, and educator. He won eight Grammy awards, many of which in collaboration with Chick Corea.
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