Chick Corea Goes It Alone

Having played with the likes of Stan Getz, Dizzie Gillespie, and his own ensembles, the legendary jazz pianist will now perform solo at the Wortham Center.

By Justin Mitchell September 30, 2014 Published in the October 2014 issue of Houstonia Magazine

Chick Corea, Solo Piano
Oct 10 at 8. $42.50–72.50.
Cullen Theater, Wortham Theater Center

Legendary pianist Chick Corea is nothing if not versatile. The 73-year-old Massachusetts native earned his stripes in the New York jazz world in the 1960s playing with greats like Stan Getz, Sarah Vaughan, and Dizzie Gillespie. But a landmark moment of sorts came in 1970, when he appeared on Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew, an acclaimed but controversial recording fusing jazz with rock. Fusion would come to be Corea’s signature—the following year, after cutting a number of highly respected records that combined jazz and avant-garde art music, he formed the ensemble Return to Forever, which offered a unique blend of R&B, funk, rock, and Latin. 

Throughout the 1970s and early ’80s Corea experimented with music written or heavily influenced by modernist classical composers, particularly Bela Bartók. Since then, the prolific pianist’s albums—which number more than 80 total—have demonstrated his unique ability to work convincingly both within and among all the various idioms. “It’s nothing studied or premeditated,” Corea told us. “I simply follow my interests without regard for categories or genre. There are infinite ways to communicate.” 

Da Camera launches its annual jazz series this month with a solo performance by Corea. The format is partly a nod to the pianist’s legacy—as far back as Piano Improvisations Vols. 1 and 2 (1971), he was already reacquainting audiences with the beauty and power of unaccompanied piano performance, a primordial element of jazz culture that had gone missing for a time. Corea’s appearance in Houston follows the international release of Solo Piano—Portraits, his first solo record in almost 15 years, a double album consisting of live recordings from recent shows in the US and abroad. On it, Corea announces that “piano solo isn’t something I do very often” to an audience in Quebec, a statement that comes as a surprise given how much fun he seems to have playfully reworking songs by such disparate folks as Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk, Stevie Wonder, and Alexander Scriabin. 

“At first, playing solo piano became a lonely activity for me,” Corea said. “I missed my band. But more lately I’ve been enjoying playing solo. I get to spend some quality time playing the piano, experimenting with techniques, and especially working out ways to communicate my music to new audiences every night.” One of the ways he tries to reach new listeners is with a novel form of composition he invented some time ago, in which he invites an audience member onstage and plays a “portrait” of them. If they’re lucky, a few attendees of Corea’s Houston performance might just get the same treatment.

 “It was a game I used to play with friends and family,” Corea explained. “Grab a friend, cousin, or an aunt and sit them down, look at them, and ‘paint’ a song for them. I guess it’s an extension of that old parlor game.”

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