Piano innovator brings his party to Calgary

To say that jazz keyboard innovator Chick Corea is a busy guy is an understatement. At any given moment he might be: joining one of five or six different piano trios; playing his Piano Concerto No. 1 or No. 2 (or those of Mozart) with a chamber orchestra; leading the Chick Corea Elektric Band; playing with his five-piece Touchstone band; or reuniting with one or more of his many musical collaborators of the past 40 years. Fast Forward caught up with him recently in Spain where he is on tour with banjo master Bela Fleck (with whom he recorded a recent Latin Grammy-winning CD) and asked him about his eclecticism.

"I’ve managed to avoid falling into the habit of doing the same thing over and over again and it’s really proved to be a good thing for me” says Corea. “That is just a decision that I made and a challenge and a level that I set for myself to keep my own mind about my projects and my music and to follow my interests. There’s a lot of ways to determine what one wants to do but when it comes down to it it has to be something that you love doing. I have never really veered from that and it has been my most successful personal policy.”

At 65 years old Corea is at the age where many opt for retirement but that is not in the cards for the piano titan. He looked great and he sounded fantastic at his appearance at the International Association of Jazz Educators conference last January in New York City where he was presented with the Jazz Masters Award by the National Endowment for the Arts in the U.S. “That is the big myth of life” he says “that you have to retire. I don’t give it too much thought. If you stop to think about your age especially with those numbers you start to feel tired so I kind of just don’t think about it try to stay healthy and keep creating.”

For his Calgary concert Corea has a new group. The Freedom Band made up of well-respected collaborators: flutist Hubert Laws bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Airto Moreira. As a matter of fact the Calgary and Edmonton dates are the first-ever for this quartet configuration.

The group came about as a result of a project Corea did last year with Gomez and Moreira. As a trio they did several concerts. “We recorded a lot of the shows and one of them [in Boston was] turned into a live CD and it became one of five trios that I released in a project called ‘Five Trios’ for Japanese release” Corea says. “We had a blast. I played acoustic piano some Fender Rhodes and some Mini Moog with the group.” That Boston recording was dubbed The Boston Three Party as a pun on the Boston Tea Party. “In Calgary” Corea continues “you are going to hear the Boston Four Party!”

Corea seems to have an affinity for flute players having recorded copiously with some great ones in addition to Laws — Joe Farrell and Steve Kujala among them. It’s less well-known that Laws was actually Corea’s first choice in the early 1970s for his seminal Brazilian-Latin-jazz band Return to Forever (the Freedom Band is going to do some jazz standards some of the early Return to Forever music and some Bill Evans tunes).

“I did work with Hubert in the ’60s” Corea explains “And when I was putting Return to Forever together Hubert was the first wind instrument in Return to Forever before Joe (Farrell) joined the band – Hubert and I have had a long association.”

Asked about his fondness for the flute he says “It is not the instrument so much but it is the particular musicians that I have worked with have been inspiring. But I have found the flute to be a really good complement to the piano and to the Fender Rhodes as well. It is a light-sounding instrument and it is very very vocal and I love to hear my melodies played on it. It is an easy blend. With the saxophone if you put a tenor or alto saxophone next to an acoustic piano even a concert grand the saxophone blows the piano away in terms of dynamics. But a flute blends really naturally and nicely with a piano.”