IOWA CITY

Jazz pianist Chick Corea talks career en route to Hancher gig

Pianist and jazz trailblazer Chick Corea is returning to Iowa City with his “Trilogy” project on Friday night (10/11) at Hancher Auditorium. (CONCORD RECORDS)
Pianist and jazz trailblazer Chick Corea is returning to Iowa City with his “Trilogy” project on Friday night (10/11) at Hancher Auditorium. (CONCORD RECORDS)
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By Diana Nollen, The Gazette

Armando Anthony Corea, now 78, began studying piano at age 4, and the artist who became known as Chick began to fly.

The son of a jazz trumpeter, Corea, born in Chelsea, Mass., on June 12, 1941, grew up immersed in jazz. He added drums at age 8, which would spark the evolution of his percussive piano style.

His first professional gig came in his midteens, with legendary jazz vocalist Cab Calloway. From there, Corea would go on to perform with Latin bands, flutist Herbie Mann, sax man Stan Getz and trumpeter/band leader Miles Davis, putting Corea on the forefront of jazz fusion.

He released his debut album, “Tones for Joan’s Bones,” in 1966. In 1968, he would join forces with drummer Roy Haynes and bassist Miroslav Vitous to create the classic jazz album “He Sings, Now He Sobs,” which landed in the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.

Experimentations in avant-garde, electronic, acoustic and classical sounds followed, as well as high-powered collaborations with an eclectic collection of artists, including Herbie Hancock, Chaka Khan, Bobby McFerrin, Bela Fleck, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, French violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, Japanese jazz pianist Hiromi, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and Stevie Wonder.

The industry has answered, showering him with more than 60 Grammy nominations, and more than 20 wins.

On Friday (10/11), he and his Grammy-winning “Trilogy” collaborators, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade, will bring their unparalleled jazz sounds to Hancher Auditorium.

Hoopla caught up with Corea last week for this email interview:

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Q. On Hancher’s website, it describes your Oct. 11 concert as featuring the music from the 2014 “Trilogy” collection, but with your new “Trilogy 2” being released just a week before your Iowa City appearance, what will audiences hear in this concert?

A. We’re at the start of our tour and the set list is evolving night to night. We have a large repertoire to choose from — standards, Monk, Duke, Miles, Bill Evans and compositions of my own. It’s an adventure each night.

Q. How does the artistry of Christian McBride and Brian Blade complement your style onstage?

A. The vibe is made by the three of us together, so it’s whatever Christian, Brian and I come up with spontaneously each night. Mostly we want to have fun and make the audience feel good.

Q. You’ve collaborated with so many stellar musicians, from Cab Calloway and Herbie Hancock to Gary Burton and Bela Fleck. What do you learn from the artists with whom you play?

A. Well, I’m always in a kind of look, study and learn mode — it’s my best way to be in any situation. What I learn is hard to specify. I’m inspired by what I observe and feel. I then like to try to create something new.

Q. Our Gazette archives are full of stories where younger artists count you among their major musical influences. What qualities, philosophies or examples do you hope to bring to young musicians?

A. My basic encouragement to young musicians and all artists is to trust their own judgment in all things. Look and learn and experiment always — but the making of the music must be one’s own choice and taste.

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I also like to point out that we as artists have the opportunity and power to inspire creativity in our listeners and audiences. This is a great gift and can help make our world a better one to live in — one where people can become creative in their lives.

Q. You have reinvented yourself throughout your career, exploring so many new avenues in jazz, fusion and classical works. How do you describe your music to someone who might not be familiar with your body of work? What do you see as your niche?

A. Oh, that’s the last thing I would do is carve a niche for myself. The trick is to stay free from them. I leave it up to others to do the describing. Creating the music and communicating it to the public is the thing.

Q. What has spurred you to keep changing your focus and exploring new avenues?

A. As far as I’m concerned, if I’m not learning I’m dead. To always learn something new, to add to my abilities, this is what life is all about. I don’t evaluate or analyze myself. That’s for others to do if they wish.

When I see that my music can positively affect others, I feel that I am contributing something useful — and part of the positive effect is continuing to bring something new.

Q. What do you strive to communicate to your audiences?

A. The joy of creating.

Q. What do they give back to you in live performances — what is the give and take between you and your audiences?

A. It’s a conversation at its best. When I can bring the audience along on our adventure, they respond in many different ways and let me know they like it — then we build on that and continue the three two-way interchange.

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Q. What artists have influenced your musical path, from your jazz trumpeter father onward?

A. Miles Davis, Bud Powell, Mozart, Domenico Scarlatti, Alexander Scriabin, Bela Bartok, Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans, Igor Stravinsky, Horace Silver, Stevie Wonder to name just a few.

Q. I realize you’ve performed all over the world, but you’ve been to Iowa City and Cedar Rapids several times over the years. Any fun memories or impressions to share of your past appearances in our corner, where jazz is so firmly embraced in our cultural fabric — from an award-winning jazz radio station in Cedar Rapids to a summer Jazz Festival in Iowa City?

A. I remember my Iowa shows to be relaxed and intimate. Maybe the wide-open spaces have something to do with it. And of course, the audiences are always so appreciative.

If you go

• WHAT: Chick Corea: “Trilogy”

• WHERE: Hancher Auditorium, 141 E. Park Rd., Iowa City

• WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday (10/11)

• TICKETS: $45 to $65 adults; $10 to $58 college students; $10 to $32 youths; Hancher Box Office, 1- (800) HANCHER, (319) 335-1160 or hancher.uiowa.edu/2019-20/ChickCorea

• ONLINE: chickcorea.com

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