A Chick Corea Anthology, Curated by Our Hosts

Feb 17, 2021

At the center of our #ChickForever celebration, WBGO is proud to present highlights from across a nearly 60-year recording career. Our announcers have selected their personal favorites from the Chick Corea discography — spanning his early work as a sideman, his emergence as a post-bop maverick, multiple phases of his fusion flagship Return to Forever, his later acoustic work and more.

Altogether, it amounts to an excellent highlight reel, and a fine Chick Corea primer. (Note that each year in parentheses refers to a recording date, rather than a release date.)

Listen to WBGO all week for more music from across the Corea catalog, and watch this space for other stories under the #ChickForever banner.

Blue Mitchell, “Tones for Joan’s Bones” (1966)

Cedar Walton is the primary pianist on Blue Mitchell’s Boss Horn. But Chick plays on the last two tunes, his own compositions. This was the first recording of “Tones for Joan’s Bones” (which Chick would record on his own date a month or so later, on a recording produced by flute master Herbie Mann). The thing I love about this is the “head,” the beginning of the song. And the arrangement, with Jerry Dodgion’s flute featured, is so colorful. (Rob Crocker)

Stan Getz, “Windows” (1967)

As spring began in 1967, tenor saxophone superstar Stan Getz took his new quartet into the studio for what would become one of his finest recordings. Two compositions were contributed by Chick Corea, and both would become standards. “Windows” is imbued with the innate playfulness you always find in Chick’s work, and this first recording would set the standard for the many versions to come. Tenor and piano sinuously explore the melody, both together and apart, supported by bassist Ron Carter and drummer Grady Tate. Even the more dissonant passages during Corea’s solo are intensely lyrical. (Brian Delp)

“Matrix,” from Now He Sings, Now He Sobs (1968)

From Chick Corea’s second album as a leader, featuring Miraslov Vitous on bass and the ubiquitous Roy Haynes on drums. A childlike, angular melody opens up the first four bars played in Chick’s characteristic octave style in the form of a question. It’s answered by the next four bars exemplifying modern dissonance concluding with the opening childlike four bars. What follows is some of the baddest interplay on record between three masters in an uptempo contemporary jazz setting. Take note of Roy Haynes. His playing is the perfect foil for Chick: tasty, forward-thinking, and most of all, swingin’! (Bobby Sanabria)

“Sundance,” from Is (1969)

This happens to be my favorite Chick Corea composition. The main melody is very singable, yet the collective wall of improvisation was in fashion with the emerging avant-garde. Chick’s percussive and dynamic approach to the Fender Rhodes piano is a large part of the spirit in this tune. He’s joined by fellow Miles Davis collaborators — tenor saxophonist Bennie Maupin, drummer Jack DeJohnette and bassist Dave Holland — in addition to trumpeter Woody Shaw, additional drummer Horacee Arnold and Hubert Laws on piccolo. In fact, the collective wizardry heard in this performance might be the perfect precursor to Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, which was recorded three months later. (Greg Bryant)

“Spain,” from Light As a Feather (1972)

“Spain” hit me like a ton of bricks when I was a music student at Howard University. The lyrics to the vocal version (my favorite is Al Jarreau’s, from This Time) struck me even more so after hearing them performed by Howard’s jazz vocal ensemble Afro Blue. I was simply mesmerized by the polyrhythms and how the sudden change of time signature grabs you out of nowhere. I still get caught in its grasp each time I hear it. (Keanna Faircloth)

“You’re Everything,” from Light As a Feather (1972)

When my older sister brought home Light As a Feather, I fell in love with this opening tune after just a few notes. I was captivated by the melodic keys of Chick’s Fender Rhodes electric piano that led up to Flora Purim’s ethereal vocals and Joe Farrell’s flute. From ballad to swing, the Latin percussive feel of the song was also lighthearted and upbeat, and rang in my head from that moment on. (Sheila Anderson)

Return to Forever, “The Romantic Warrior,” from Romantic Warrior (1976)

Even though Romantic Warrior is the sixth studio album by Return to Forever, it’s the first to be credited to the band, not under Chick Corea’s name. The other members of the band — Al Di Meola, Lenny White and Stanley Clarke — all contribute fantastic original material to the session. But its tour-de-force title track is by Corea, with a dedication to L. Ron Hubbard. Like Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters, this was one of my gateways to jazz in high school. On it, Corea takes one of the most memorable piano solos. Listening back, the whole thing sounds composed. There’s not a single wasted or misplaced note. (Simon Rentner)

Return to Forever, “Do You Ever,” from Musicmagic (1977)

Growing up in the mid-to-late ‘70s, what I thought cool initially revolved around Grover Washington, Jr., George Benson and the Blackbyrds. It was in the summer of 1978 that my older, hipper sister turned me on to Return to Forever, led by Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke on what would be their last studio album, Musicmagic. The song that began my love affair with this music was “Do You Ever,” written and sung by Gayle Moran, Chick’s wife. Having just turned 18, the lyrics to the song resonated with my seeking spirit, forever. (Lezlie Harrison)

“Crystal Silence,” from In Concert, Zürich, October 28, 1979

This live version of “Crystal Silence” that Chick Corea recorded with vibraphonist Gary Burton brings out every nuance of the song’s haunting beauty — but Chick also explores more adventurous territory in his solo, and Burton follows with his own inventions. This is their third album of duets and their interaction is seamless. It’s a great example of two musicians playing as one. (Rhonda Hamilton)

“Eronel,” from Trio Music (1981)

My experience with Chick Corea was somewhat limited before hearing Trio Music. I was aware of him, but not truly familiar with his playing. The Thelonious Monk tunes prompted me to check him out; I think it is always best when evaluating a player to deal with familiar material. When I first heard “Eronel,” I thought this was a wonderful version. It told me that that Chick Corea was an impressively thoughtful player who should be judged with the great players of his era. (Bob Porter)

“Children’s Song No. 2,” from Children’s Songs (1983)

Chick Corea toured relentlessly with Stanley Clark and Lenny White in Return to Forever. On his off time, as a way to relax, he began composing his Children’s Songs. Through notes he captured the freedom, openness and joy that kids carry. An element of these attributes is pervasive in all of Chick’s music, and a resounding reason  why he is a towering giant, eternally. (Monifa Brown)

Paco de Lucía, “Zyryab,” from Zyryab (1990)

Chick Corea’s musical inspiration involved the entire world. His compositions “Spain,” “La Fiesta,” “Armando’s Rhumba” and “My Spanish Heart” — not to mention his early work with Mongo Santamaria and Willie Bobo — all point to his global vision. Another prime example is his work with flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucía, here on the title track of Paco’s 1990 recording Zyryab.(Gary Walker)

“Morning Sprite,” Chick Corea Akoustic Band at the Munich Philharmonic (1991)

“Morning Sprite” is just about the best cup of musical coffee you will ever experience, and this live version — featuring John Patitucci on bass and Dave Weckl on drums, as on the studio recording — is sure to awaken parts of your soul you didn’t know existed. Chick quickly reminds you of why he was a master teacher of his craft, as I think its safe to say he brought out the best in those around him. Patitucci undeniably makes that bass sing and brings it to the forefront, while Weckl takes off into another world, forcing us to follow him ever beat of the way. The beauty in the cohesiveness of this trio is felt with each note, and there is no doubt that Chick is the reason why. (Nicole Sweeney)