Born Armando Anthony Corea in Chelsea, Massachusetts on June 12, 1941, Chick was studying piano by age four. Early on in his development, Horace Silver and Bud Powell were important piano influences while the likes of Beethoven and Mozart inspired his compositional instincts. In his early career, Chick picked up invaluable bandstand experience playing with the bands of Mongo Santamaria and Willie Bobo (1962-63) and trumpeter Blue Mitchell (1964-66), which led to his recording debut in 1966, Tones for Joan’s Bones (with trumpeter Woody Shaw, tenor saxophonist and flutist Joe Farrell, bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Joe Chambers). His 1968 trio recording Now He Sings, Now He Sobs (with bassist Miroslav Vitous and drummer Roy Haynes) is considered a jazz classic.
After a short stint accompanying Sarah Vaughan, Corea joined Miles Davis’ band as Herbie Hancock’s replacement, playing Fender Rhodes electric piano with the jazz great during a very important transitional period, Between 1968 and 1970, he appeared on such groundbreaking fusion recordings as In a Silent Way, Bitches Brew, Live-Evil and Live at the Fillmore East. Then in 1970, Chick formed the avant-garde quartet Circle with bassist Dave Holland, drummer Barry Altschul and saxman Anthony Braxton and recorded three adventurous albums before the pianist left to join Stan Getz’s band. In March 1972, he recorded Getz’s Captain Marvel, which introduced such Corea compositions as “500 Miles High,” “La Fiesta” and the title track. Shortly after his stint with Getz, Corea formed Return to Forever with Joe Farrell on flute and saxophones, Stanley Clarke on bass, Airto Moreira on drums and his wife Flora Purim on vocals. The group’s melodic Brazilian strain of jazz was both popular and critically acclaimed. Their September 1972 recording, Light As a Feather, includes the original version of what still remains Corea’s best-known composition, “Spain.” That same breakthrough year, Chick also recorded the sublime Crystal Silence, his classic duets with vibraphonist Gary Burton.
Within a year, following the addition of electric guitarist Bill Connors and thunderous drummer Lenny White, Return To Forever began courting the emerging fusion audience. By 1974, with the hotshot young guitarist Al Di Meola replacing Connors in the RTF lineup, the transformation to a bona fide high-energy jazz-rock concert attraction was complete. Hordes of rock fans embraced the group and were able to enter into the world of jazz through such albums as Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy, Where Have I Known You Before, No Mystery and the GRAMMY® Award-winning Romantic Warrior. When RTF disbanded in 1976, Corea delved into a diverse series of recordingsâ€•electronic ensembles, solo piano, classical music, childrens songs, and high-powered acoustic duos with artists like Herbie Hancock, classical pianist Fredrich Gulda and vibist Gary Burton. In 1981, he also toured in a quartet with saxophonist Joe Henderson, bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Roy Haynes and recorded Three Quartets , a swinging encounter with tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker, bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Steve Gadd.
In the mid ‘80s, Corea returned to the fusion arena by forming his Elektric Band, which featured drummer Dave Weckl, saxophonist Eric Marienthal, bassist John Pattitucci and guitarist Frank Gambale (to balance out his forays into electric music, Chick also formed his Akoustic Band, a highly interactive trio with bassist Pattitucci and drummer Weckl). He made five recordings with the original band members before forming his Elektric Band II featuring bassist Jimmy Earl, guitarist Mike Miller, drummer Gary Novak and Marienthal.
In 1992, Chick realized a lifelong goal in forming Stretch Records, a label committed to stretching musical boundaries and focusing more on freshness and creativity than on musical style. Among its early releases were projects by Bob Berg, John Patitucci, Eddie Gomez and Robben Ford. After Corea’s ten-year relationship with GRP ended in 1996, Stretch Records became a subsidiary of Concord Records and Chick decided to be part of Stretch's artist roster. His first release for the label was 1997’s Remembering Bud Powell, which featured young stars Joshua Redman on tenor sax, Wallace Roney on trumpet, Kenny Garrett on alto sax and Christian McBride on bass along with veteran drummer Roy Haynes (who had performed with Powell in the early ‘60s).
Also in 1997, Chick released a recording with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra with Bobby McFerrin as conductor. This was their second recording for Sony Classical, entitled, The Mozart Sessions, following on the heels of their first duet GRAMMY winning recording, Play. That same incredibly productive year (1977), Corea unveiled his acoustic sextet Origin (the band’s self-titled debut release was a live recording at the Blue Note club in New York) and also teamed up with old partner Gary Burton, rekindling their chemistry from the ‘70s on Native Sense–The New Duets, which earned Chick his ninth GRAMMY Award.
In 1998, Corea released the six-disc set A Week At The Blue Note, documenting the high-flying Origin sextet in full stride in all its spontaneously combustible glory over the course of three nights. He followed that up in 1999 Origin’s third outing, Change, which was recorded within the relaxed confines of the home Chick shares with his wife and singer Gayle Moran in Florida. As he explained at the time, “The first record was a mishmash of all kinds of stuffâ€•old tunes, standards, jam-session tunes and new written musicâ€•whereas Change is focused on music specifically written for a known group that has become an entity. With this record, I wanted to try more thorough writing with the band. Everyone responded to it very well.”
In October of 1999, Sony Classical released Corea.Concerto, Chick’s encounter with the London Philharmonic Orchestra which featured a new symphonic arrangement of “Spain,” as well as the premiere of his “Piano Concerto No. 1.” “For my concerto I chose almost the exact same instrumentation as the Mozart piano concerto orchestrations,” he remembers. “I figured that I could perform the Mozart and my own piece with the same size orchestra, and that would be a good practical start for me. So, with the spirit and sound of Mozart’s piano concerto music, I wrote this piece and dedicated it to the spirit of religious freedom which, for me, is on the same level as the creative freedom that is the basic right of all people.”
Chick also explained why he chose to do a new version of “Spain.” “If there is any one song that listeners seem to know me best by, I guess that song is ‘Spain,’ as I get the most requests for it and hear it mentioned more than any of the others. I wrote the song in 1971 and played it frequently with RTF and many other bands of mine. I reharmonized the theme and made a brand new arrangement of it for the Akoustic Band trio in 1988, and have generally turned the song inside out through the years. This is a final visit to ‘Spain’ in grand fashion and a tip of the hat to the art cultures of Spain, Cuba, Brazil, Argentina and New York.”
After completing a two volume series of piano recordings to close out the ‘90s, Chick ushered in the new millennium by unveiling his New Trio featuring drummer Jeff Ballard and bassist Avishai Cohen. They recorded Past, Present & Futures in April of 2001. By the end of that year, Chick was engaged with his ambitious three-week career retrospective at the Blue Note, which yielded the two-CD set Rendezvous in New York and subsequently the 10-DVD set documenting nearly eight hours of performances with Origin, the Akoustic Band, New Trio, Now He Sings, Now He Sobs Trio, Remembering Bud Powell Band and Three Quartets Band, as well as duets with Bobby McFerrin, Gary Burton and Gonzalo Rubalcaba.
In 2004, Chick reunited his high-powered Elektric Band for a tour and subsequent recording based on L. Ron Hubbard’s science fiction novel “To The Stars.” And in 2005, he returned to Hubbard for musical inspiration, this time interpreting “The Ultimate Adventure.”