A DownBeat Hall of Famer, NEA Jazz Master and 16-time Grammy winner, living legend Chick Corea has flourished for over four decades as a celebrated jazz pianist and composer. The Massachusetts native first made a name for himself as a sideman in the 1960s with artists like Blue Mitchell, Stan Getz and Miles Davis, and in the 1970s he founded Return to Forever, one of the world’s premier fusion acts.
To celebrate his seven decades, New York’s legendary Blue Note Jazz Club is holding a month-long 70th Birthday Celebration residency from Nov. 1-27, which includes a lineup of 10 different groups and more than 30 musicians. Included on the guest list are Herbie Hancock, Bobby McFerrin, the Five Peace Band with John McLaughlin, and a special unplugged appearance from Return to Forever.
In this exclusive interview, I spoke with Corea about the gigs, his thoughts about turning 70, the reason Return to Forever initially disbanded, and his first conversation with Miles Davis.
What are your thoughts about playing for a whole month at the Blue Note?
It’s just totally invigorating and exciting and great, and I mean that. My friends that were able to join me that are going to play with me are such great people and inspiring musicians. The whole thing is like being in heaven, you know? With all this creativity to get into, it’s the ultimate pleasure to have. It’ll be a lot of work, for sure, but it’ll be a lot of fun, mainly.
Which shows are you looking most forward to?
I’m looking forward to everything; I don’t even know where to start. I’m halfway through preparing right now. Unfortunately, I had a few weeks off before the gigs started, and I was able to put a setlist together and try to organize it a bit, but I’m looking forward to the whole thing. There’s some kind of new configurations that’ll be interesting. I worked with Paul Motian and Eddie Gomez for a couple of weeks earlier this year at the Blue Note—we made a recording there—but Paul ended up not being able to make it, and Eddie didn’t have the schedule to do it at that slot, so I found Gary Peacock, who I haven’t played since, wow, the ’70s, I guess.
But then leading to replace Paul because he wasn’t able to make it, I found that Brian Blade had a day open in his schedule before coming in with the Five Peace Band. So it’s going to be Brian and Gary Peacock. Now that’s going to be very interesting to me; that’s a whole new thing. I’ve also got Gary Burton and the Harlem String Quartet. We recorded one track with the Harlem String Quartet for our new duet recording, so for the whole three nights with the string quartet, we’re going to review some of the lyrics and music that we’ve made in the late ’70s and early ’80s, whenever that was, and a couple of new things that I wrote for the sextet.