Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Wall Street Journal: Jazz's 70-Year Flavor of the Month


In his early years, before he established himself as one of the leading bandleaders and composers in contemporary jazz, Chick Corea played keyboards in several incarnations of Miles Davis's band. Davis created more variations of music than any jazz musician before him, and in that sense he was a direct inspiration for Mr. Corea's polyglot career.

Even more than Davis, Mr. Corea has expressed himself in countless, widely disparate ensembles, in formats ranging from world-music ensembles to bebop trios to free-form collectives to symphony orchestras. Throughout November, he'll lead 10 of these combinations in a monthlong celebration of his 70th birthday at the Blue Note club on West Third Street.

The difference between Miles Davis and Chick Corea is that the former went through stages (Mr. Corea was present when Davis made his transition into electric music with "Bitches Brew" in 1969) and never looked back. Mr. Corea, by contrast, set an example for the current generation in that many of his divergent bands have run parallel to one another. At roughly the same time he was playing what became known as "fusion" with Davis (which was, among other things, an attempt to expand jazz's fan base into stadium-sized audiences), he was also creating some of the least "commercial" music of his career in Circle, the exceptional avant-garde collective he shared with multireed maverick Anthony Braxton.

As for foundations, the Massachusetts native said the forthcoming Blue Note series—and his multidimensional career—were only possible because of New York and its position in the jazz world. "I first moved to New York because all my musical heroes were here," the 16-time Grammy Award-winner said this week from his home in Clearwater, Florida. "New York in the '60s meant Miles, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins, Art Blakey and the Jazz messengers, Charles Mingus; Count Basie was here; Duke Ellington was playing! New York is still the crossroads of jazz."

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