By the time most people turn 75, they’re slowing down or are well into retirement. Jazz legend Chick Corea is celebrating his 75th birthday with a two-month, 80-show run at the Blue Note that would test musicians half his age. He’ll play five nights a week, two shows per night, with different groups each week.
During the course of the residency, he’ll delve into many phases of his storied career, including his work with Miles Davis, his fusion group Return to Forever and his explorations of flamenco and electronica.
amNewYork spoke with Corea via email.
During the course of your career, you have tackled so many different styles of music. What do you see as the through line in your work?
Hmm, well I guess the “through line” is just my own interest. I’ve learned to take my interest seriously — in other words, when I get interested in a way to make music or a new technique or direction, I follow it through. ... I get attracted to a certain aesthetic wave that I might find in any kind of music — doesn’t matter the style or period.
What is the most important thing you learned playing with legends like Stan Getz and Miles Davis?
With Stan, I had my first opportunity to play in concerts and clubs that had decent pianos — that was the first perk. But Stan taught me restraint. I learned how to edit my improvisations so they became more concise and more melodic. He wanted his renditions to be to the point and not rambling. ...
Miles taught me so many things, but one of the most important things I learned from him was to be true to my own musical goals and to trust my love for adventure and trying new things. Miles ignored the critics. That was a great lesson, too. He also wasn’t afraid to change and move on to new musical territories. That was so inspiring to me because I found that I like to change, too.
Are there any memorable moments you can share from your time working with Miles?
All of my experiences playing with and being friends with Miles were memorable. In ’68 [drummer] Tony Williams called me and said that Miles wanted me to come and play with the band because Herbie [Hancock] couldn’t make the next gig in Baltimore. So I called Miles and asked him when the rehearsal would be. He said: “There ain’t no rehearsal — just play what you hear.” I soon found out that he really meant just that, and that was the kind of trust that he gave to the musicians he chose to play in his band.
How did the idea for this Blue Note residency come together?
Well, I did two weeks in 2001 for my 60th birthday, four weeks in 2011 for my 70th, so for my 75th, my friends who manage the Blue Note suggested I do eight weeks this time! I thought, “Really?” They said, “Yeah,” so I said, “Well, all right, let’s go!” When I started making a wish list of what I’d like to do and whom I’d like to come participate and create some music with me in those eight weeks, the list quickly grew way out of proportion and I had to hone it back down. It’s then I began to realize how many wonderful and genius friends I have in the music world. It made me feel very, very rich!
Are you surprised by the fact that many new fans are discovering jazz through hip-hop?
Not at all. It’s always been that way. There are as many different routes into “jazz” as there are listeners who are listening. In the ‘70s when Return To Forever was popular, fans came up to us all the time saying how they were only into rock until they heard us and then started checking out Miles and [John Coltrane].
Are you working on any new music? What is it like?
Speaking of hip-hop, I’ve been experimenting with “electronic” music for a few years now. My interest has gone to certain elements of hip-hop and electronica that appeal to me. Sounds and grooves and also ways of mixing and mashing extreme elements that I’ve always liked are proving easier to realize musically with new computer technology combined with all the traditional ways of playing the keyboards and other instruments that I grew up with.