He is known for his work during the 1970s in the genre of jazz fusion. He participated in the birth of the electric fusion movement as a member of Miles Davis' band in the 1960s, and in the 1970s formed Return to Forever.
He continued to pursue other collaborations and explore various musical styles throughout the 1980s and 1990s. He is also known for promoting Scientology.
Corea developed his piano skills by exploring music on his own. A notable influence was concert pianist Salvatore Sullo from whom Corea started taking lectures at age eight, who introduced him to classical music, helping spark his interest in musical composition. He also spent several years as a performer and soloist for The Knights of St. Rose, a Drum & Bugle Corp based in Chelsea.
Given a black tuxedo by his father, he started doing gigs when in high school. He enjoyed listening to Herb Pomeroy's band at the time, and had a trio which would play Horace Silver's music at a local jazz club. He collaborated with Portuguese bandleader and trumpet player Phil Barboza, and with conga drummer Bill Fitch who introduced him to Latin music:
I liked the "extraversion" of Latin music, especially the dance and salsa style music - bands like Tito Puente's band and Machito's band. The Cuban dance music was a great kind of antidote to some of the more serious, heady jazz that I was into. I liked the "outgoingness" and exuberance of the music. I just stayed interested in all kinds of Latin music. Then I discovered Spanish Latin music, which is flamenco.
He eventually decided to move to New York where he took up musical education for one month at Columbia University and six months at The Juilliard School (among his Juilliard teachers was Peter Schickele, who described Chick as "the most awake student [he] ever taught"). He quit after finding both disappointing, but liked the atmosphere of New York where the musical scene became the starting point for his professional career.
Corea started his professional career in the '60s playing with trumpeter Blue Mitchell and Latin greats such as Herbie Mann, Willie Bobo and Mongo Santamaria. One of the earliest recordings of his playing is with Blue Mitchell's quintet on The Thing To Do. This album features his composition "Chick's Tune", a clever retooling of "You Stepped Out of a Dream" that demonstrates the angular melodies and Latin-and-swing rhythms that characterize, in part, Corea's personal style. (Incidentally, the same tune features a drum solo by a very young Al Foster.)
In September 1968, Corea replaced Herbie Hancock in the piano chair in Davis' band and appeared on landmark albums such as Filles de Kilimanjaro, In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew. In concert, Davis' rhythm section of Corea, Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette combined elements of free jazz improvisation and rock music. With the Davis band, Corea experimented using electric instruments, mainly the Fender Rhodes electric piano.
In live performance he often used ring modulation of the electric piano, producing overtones reminiscent of Karlheinz Stockhausen. Using this style, he appeared on multiple Davis albums, including Black Beauty: Miles Davis at Fillmore West and Miles Davis at Fillmore: Live at the Fillmore East. His live performances with the Miles Davis band continued into 1970.
Holland and Corea left to form their own group, Circle, active between 1970-1971. This free jazz group featured multi-reed player Anthony Braxton, bassist Dave Holland and drummer Barry Altschul. This band was documented on Blue Note and ECM. Aside from soloing in an atonal style, Corea sometimes reached in the body of the piano and plucked the strings. In 1971 or 1972, Corea struck out on his own.
"The concept of communication with an audience became a big thing for me at the time. The reason I was using that concept so much at that point in my life –in 1968, 1969 or so- was because it was a discovery for me. I grew up kind of only thinking how much fun it was to tinkle on the piano and not noticing that what I did had an effect on others. I did not even think about a relationship to an audience, really, until way later.
In the early 1970s, Corea took a profound stylistic turn from avant garde playing to a crossover jazz fusion style that incorporated Latin jazz elements. In 1971, he founded Return to Forever. This band had a fusion sound, that while relying on electronic instrumentation, drew more on Brazilian and Spanish-American musical styles than on rock music. On its first two records, Return to Forever featured Flora Purim's vocals, the Fender Rhodes electric piano, and Joe Farrell's flute and soprano saxophone. Airto Moreira played drums. Corea's compositions for this group often had a Brazilian tinge. In 1972, Corea played many of the early Return to Forever songs in a group he put together for Stan Getz; this group, with Stanley Clarke on bass and Tony Williams on drums, recorded the Columbia label album Captain Marvel under Getz's name.
In the next year, the band moved more in the direction of rock music influenced by the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Only Clarke remained from the group's first lineup; Bill Connors played electric guitar and Lenny White played drums. No one replaced vocalist Purim. (Briefly, in 1977, Corea's wife, Gayle Moran, served as vocalist in the band.) In 1974 Al Di Meola joined the band, replacing Connors. In this second version of Return to Forever, Corea extended the use of synthesizers, particularly Moogs. The group released its final studio record in 1977. Thereafter, Corea focused on solo projects.
Corea's composition "Spain" first appeared on the 1972 Return to Forever album Light as a Feather. This is probably his most popular piece, and it has been recorded by a variety of artists (notably Al Jarreau). There are also a variety of subsequent recordings by Corea himself in various contexts, including an arrangement for piano and symphony orchestra that appeared in 1999. Corea usually performs "Spain" with a prelude based on Joaquin Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez (1940), which earlier received a jazz orchestration on Miles Davis' and Gil Evans' "Sketches of Spain".
In the 1970s, Corea started working occasionally with vibraphonist Gary Burton, with whom he recorded several duet albums on ECM, including 1972's Crystal Silence. They reunited in 2006 for a concert tour. A new record called The New Crystal Silence was issued shortly into 2008. The package includes a disc of duets and another disc featuring the Sydney Symphony.
In December 2007, Corea recorded a duet album, The Enchantment, with banjoist Bela Fleck. Fleck and Corea toured extensively behind the album in 2007. Fleck was nominated in the Best Instrumental Composition category at the 49th Grammy Awards for the track "Spectacle.
In 2008, Corea collaborated with Japanese pianist Hiromi Uehara on the live album Duet (Chick Corea and Hiromi). The duo played a concert at Tokyo's Budokan arena on April 30.
The Akoustic Band released a self-titled album in 1989, and featured John Patitucci on bass and Dave Weckl on drums. It marked a turn back toward traditional jazz in Corea's career, and the bulk of his subsequent recordings have been acoustic ones. The Akoustic Band also provided the music for the 1986 Pixar short Luxo Jr. with their song The Game Maker.
In 1992, he started his own record label, Stretch Records.
In 2001, the Chick Corea New Trio, with Avishai Cohen and Jeff Ballard on bass and drums respectively, released the album Past, Present & Futures. Notably, the 11-song album includes only one standard composition (Fats Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz"). The rest of the tunes are Corea originals.
Recent years have also seen Corea's rising interest in contemporary classical music. He composed his first piano concerto — and an adaptation of his signature piece, Spain for a full symphony orchestra — and performed it in 1999 with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Five years later he composed his first work not to feature any keyboards: His String Quartet No. 1, specifically written for and performed by the highly acclaimed Orion String Quartet on 2004's Summerfest.
Corea has continued releasing jazz fusion concept albums such as To the Stars (2004) and Ultimate Adventure (2006). The latter album won the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Individual or Group.
In 2008, the second version of Return to Forever (Corea, keyboards; Stanley Clarke, bass; Lenny White, drums; Al di Meola, guitar) reunited for a worldwide tour. The reunion received positive reviews from most most jazz and mainstream publications. Most of the group's studio recordings were re-released on the compilation Return to Forever: The Anthology to coincide with the tour. A concert DVD recorded during the tour will be released in late 2008.
A new group, the 5 Peace Band, for which Corea will collaborate with guitarist John McLaughlin will mount a world tour beginning in October 2008. Corea previously worked with McLaughlin in Miles Davis' late-1960s bands, including the group that recorded Davis' album Bitches Brew. Joining Corea and McLaughlin in the 5 Peace Band will be saxophonist Kenny Garrett, bassist Christian McBride, and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta.
Scientology became a profound influence on Corea's musical direction in the early 1970s.
Corea created some of his Return to Forever compositions in collaboration with Neville Potter, a friend whom he had met through Scientology. Some of the other members of Return to Forever also took Scientology courses, and the name Return to Forever itself was, in Corea's words, "definitely influenced by the Hubbard's philosophy of the spirit. [...] It sort of nailed the spiritual intent of the music, be pure."
Many of his songs contain explicit references to Scientology and various works by Hubbard. For example, "What Game Shall We Play Today?" refers to the philosophical concept in Scientology that life consists of "games" in which the objective is to extract joy and satisfaction. His 2004 album To the Stars is a tone poem based on Hubbard's science fiction novel of the same name. His latest album, The Ultimate Adventure, is also based on a Hubbard novel.
In 1998 Chick Corea and fellow entertainers Anne Archer, Isaac Hayes, and Haywood Nelson attended the 30th anniversary of Freedom Magazine, the Church of Scientology's investigative news journal, at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, to honor 11 human rights activists.
Not all musicians he has collaborated with have been content with his views. Reportedly, Joe Farrell once told him not to "lay that Scientology shit" on him.
In addition, it is speculated that Stanley Clarke's leaving of Scientology led to the breakup of Return to Forever.
Corea also appears in the Scientology film Orientation, giving a testimonial on how Scientology has helped him.
|1976||Best jazz instrumental performance, group||No Mystery (with Return to Forever)|
|1977||Best arrangement of an instrumental recording||"Leprechaun's Dream", The Leprechaun|
|1977||Best jazz instrumental performance, group||The Leprechaun|
|1979||Best jazz instrumental performance, group||Friends|
|1980||Best jazz instrumental performance, group||Duet (with Gary Burton)|
|1982||Best jazz instrumental performance, group||In Concert, Zürich, October 28, 1979 (with Gary Burton)|
|1989||Best R&B instrumental performance||"Light Years", GRP Super Live In Concert (with Elektric Band)|
|1990||Best jazz instrumental performance, group||Akoustic Band (with Akoustic Band)|
|2000||Best instrumental solo||"Rhumbata", Native Sense (with Gary Burton)|
|2001||Best jazz instrumental performance||Like Minds (with Gary Burton, Pat Metheny, Roy Haynes and Dave Holland)|
|2002||Best instrumental arrangement||"Spain for Sextet & Orchestra", Corea.Concerto|
|2004||Best jazz instrumental solo||"Matrix"|
|2007||Best jazz instrumental performance, group||"The Ultimate Adventure"|