Changing with the times

40 years after collaborating on their first album together, jazz legends Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke grace these shores for a one-gig foray.

Chick Corea311 (photo credit: Martin Philbey))
Chick Corea311
(photo credit: Martin Philbey))
An acclaimed musician across several market sectors, Chick Corea has proven to be one of the most durable of artists. This evening, the multi-Grammy Award winning pianist-keyboardist- composer, who turned 70 last month, will join the rest of the Return to Forever (RTF) fusion band in what promises to be, largely, a high energy romp through a pack of old favorites, written by the various band members, at the Caesarea Amphitheater.
Corea founded RTF way back in 1971 and has overseen quite a few personnel changes over the years. In fact the band has broken up three times over the past four decades, with bass player Stanley Clarke the only other member of the original lineup on show tonight. Corea and Clarke will be joined by two other members of the various guises of RTF, drummer Lenny White and Australian guitarist Frank Gambale, with French-born US resident violinist Jean-Luc Ponty the only new face in the band.
Before establishing RTF Corea, delved into various areas of jazz, including swing-influenced material, Latin jazz and avant garde – the latter most notably as part of the Circle band along with reedman Anthony Braxton, British bassist Dave Holland and drummers Barry Altschul and Jack De Johnette. In 1968, Corea became part of legendary trumpeter Miles Davis’s groundbreaking fusion-albummaking bands, working with Davis on such landmark fusion releases as Filles de Kilimanjaro, In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew.
Davis was hugely influential on Corea’s early artistic development, as he was for so many musicians starting from the early ’50s until his death in 1991.
“I think Miles was the spearhead of the second half of the 20th century of jazz music,” says Corea.
“He was also making changes and with these [fusion] groups he was in a very strongly transitional period, moving from one form of music to another.
That spirit he demonstrated, of experimentation, he wanted to communicate to a younger audience. A lot of things he did made an impression on a lot of others working with him in one way or another.”
That is borne out by the plethora of exploratory-inclined fusion groups spawned by those Davis groups of the late ’60s. “There was [pianist-keyboardist Herbie Hancock’s] Headhunters and [drummer] Tony Williams’ Lifetime, [guitarist John McLaughlin’s] Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather report [with pianist-keyboardist Joe Zawinul and saxophonist Wayne Shorter], Return to Forever and so forth,” continues Corea. “All of that came from Miles.”
COREA’S INITIAL fusion projects, with RTF, were heavily influenced by Brazilian and Latin music. The band featured Jewish Brazilian vocalist Flora Purim and Purim’s husband percussionist, Airto Moreira, with Clarke on bass and Joe Farrell on saxophone and flute. The band put out two albums – an eponymous effort released on the ECM label, which was followed in 1973 by Light As A Feather. Purim and Moreira left the band after that, and RTF has managed without a vocalist ever since.
Later in the ’70s, Corea enjoyed a highly successful synergy with vibraphonist Gary Burton before reuniting with a former colleague from their time with Davis, Herbie Hancock. The Corea-Hancock duet spawned a series of concerts, and two records, with the pair playing grand pianos, generally in formal attire, and performing works by classical composers along with their own material.
Corea’s other outfits to date include the Elektric Band, the Akoustic Band, Origin and his New Trio, the latter including Israeli bass player Avishai Cohen who is currently artistic director of the annual Red Sea Jazz Festival in Eilat.
Changing band personnel or changing bands regardless, Corea has generally managed to produce music with mass appeal. Over the years he has been nominated for a Grammy Award no fewer than 51 times, winning a whopping 15 in the process.
Last year, however, the Grammy organization decided to exclude jazz from its many categories.
While many people in the jazz community have been up in arms over the move. Corea is mostly unperturbed.
“I can’t work up a lot of interest in it,” he declares.
“Any kind of a setup which tries to compare or rate one work of art over another is flawed to begin with.
It’s not a thing I spend a lot of time with, although I think it’s nice that we acknowledge good works of one another. But it’s about the truth of it all. The importance or the value of each work of art has to be left up to the listener.”
The listeners at tonight’s concert will be able to enjoy a showcase presentation of much of RTF’s better- known numbers, and some more obscure pieces, across a wide range of instrumental and textural endeavor. While much of the band’s music is electric and high energy, there will also be some lower key stuff in there too, with the instrumentation to match.
“I’ll be bringing electric keyboards, a regular acoustic piano and a digital piano with me,” says Corea.
“Stanley also loves playing upright bass, as well as electric bass. We find it suits our various musical tastes to have some acoustic music in the set.”
Tonight’s gig is part of an RTF world tour which, as has been the case for the last four-a-half decades, will keep Corea busy. Any plans for a 70th birthday celebratory gig? “This is it,” says Corea, “just me and the band working.”
One wonders what Davis would have made of the current RTF venture.
”He might want to be on stage with us or say, ‘That stuff is old, move on and do something else’,” says Corea with a laugh.

Return to Forever will perform at the Caesarea Amphitheater at 8:45 p.m. For more information about the band, see For more information about the concert and tickets, call *2274 or go to