Chick Corea

Chick Corea and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis

May 17, 2013 by Keith Widyolar

Reading about the “Spanish” tinge as the Chick Corea Festival at Jazz at Lincoln Center approached, I thought Chick Corea must have a Spanish background, but he doesn’t. Corea is American with a southern Italian heritage. Sometimes when Chick speaks, you can hear his Boston accent.

Chick Corea is associated with Spanish flavor because of his 1972 composition “Spain,” originally released with Return to Forever, the seminal jazz fusion band. Chick is associated with Spanish flavor not because he is from there, but because Spain inspired a beautiful piece of music. You’ve heard the song, “Spain,” probably so many times that the melody and rhythm fade into the background. If you stop to listen to it though, it’s hard not to see images in your head and to wonder what so captured Corea’s imagination.

It makes sense in a way. Spain, like Jazz and New York City, has always been a cultural crossroads where people mix in surprising ways. In his opening night at the Chick Corea Festival at Jazz at Lincoln Center, Chick Corea mixed it up with Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.

Chick Corea and Wynton Marsalis
Photo Frank Stewart

The concert opened with Chick’s 1964 composition “Windows, a fitting piece for a city of windows. “The Matrix” brought to mind the little snippets of conversation that you hear from passing strangers on a walk down the streets of New York. “Crystal Silence” with Rita Printup on Harp was the kind of ethereal music you would expect to hear on your walk through the tunnel of light into the next world.

Wynton Marsalis is such a commanding presence, sitting in the back of the bandstand, grooving, watching over the show. He is so elegant and in command, but so soft with his sweet Southern drawl. Marsalis even managed to conjure a princess in the audience, humanitarian Sheikha Moza Bint Nasser of Qatar.

In “Children’s Song #10,” Corea playfully kept switching seats with guest pianist Dan Nimmer, without missing a beat until finally they played together with four hands on the piano.

The opening half closed with a new piece “From Forever” written just last month. It was as fresh as anything you ever heard from Chick. In his 70s, Corea shows no signs of slowing down. He is an unstoppable Grammy machine with 20 awards under his belt, two of them just last year.

The band really loosened up in the second half which started with Gayle Moran Corea’s vocal treatment of “You’re Everything.” It was sweet the way she played with her husband and she connected with the audience so well, that you felt you were at home with them. It is surprising how intimate the Rose Theater can be.

In a change from 2011’s sessions with Chick and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, the drum kit was front and center making drummer Ali Jackson a centerpiece of the stage and the show. It’s amazing to hear Jackson dodge, weave and change direction all over the beat while holding the entire orchestra together.

It’s funny to watch a large audience of suits and cocktail dresses tapping their fingers, bobbing their heads and counting time with their feet. Looking around I think I had one of those New York moments. The great thing is that you can have one too, right there on Broadway and 60th Street at the House of Swing – Jazz at Lincoln Center.

Chick Corea Festival

There are just a few seats still available for Chick’s performances and do have a look at the other artists in the festival. In a way Corea is passing the torch to a new generation that he admires and some he has mentored. Friday and Saturday, the Allen Room features two of Corea’s young piano friends: Israeli piano prodigy Gadi Lehavi and Georgian-born pianist Beka Gochiashvili, the youngest winner of the Montreaux Jazz Competition.

They are playing with GRAMMY® Award-winning bassist John Patitucci; trumpeter Wallace Roney—a mentee of Miles Davis; one of New York’s most in demand drummers and current Corea-collaborator, Marcus Gilmore; and tenor saxophonist Ravi Coltrane.

What can you say about that lineup? Anything at Jazz at Lincoln Center is good, but this is really special jazz.

Chick Corea Festival

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