Overachieving jazz pianist Chick Corea kicked off a 70-city world tour last month with the latest version of his classic jazz-fusion group, Return to Forever. They'll return to the United States this month for a long string of dates with Zappa Plays Zappa, the tribute band led by Frank Zappa's son, Dweezil.
Corea also celebrated his 70th birthday on June 12 amid a frenzy of recording sessions, rehearsals, master classes and the release of a new live album, Forever. It consists of acoustic standards Corea performed during a 50-city 2009 tour with longtime Return to Forever band mates Stanley Clarke (bass) and Lenny White (drums).
Before striking out on his own, Corea's career included memorable stints with Miles Davis and John Coltrane. But today he's firmly in control, working harder than ever, and, he adds, "havin' a ball." Corea talked by phone from Lyons, France, where he was snacking on macadamia nuts prior to the latest in a 55-year string of gigs.
Q: Congratulations on turning 70. You sound much younger.
A: I'm invigorated by a lot of projects I really love, so I can't complain, man.
Q: Where did you acquire your admirable work ethic?
A: You choose your models. My dad was a bandleader, too, and his kindness and humanity set a certain tone for me. And the musicians I gravitated toward were the ones who inspired me, so I learned from musical heroes like Miles and Coltrane.
Q: What was your relationship with Miles Davis like?
A: I played with Miles from 1968 to '71, but I hadn't seen him for a while when my electric band opened for him in California after his 1981 comeback. When he saw me after the show, he chased everyone else out of the dressing room, shut the door, and we chatted about clothing. I always had a nice personal relationship with him that way.
Q: Speaking of snappy dressers, you played your very first gig with Cab Calloway. What do you remember about that?
A: I was fifteen or sixteen when I got called to Boston's Mayfair Hotel for a week. And to be a nervous kid onstage with dancers who didn't have many clothes on was wild. What I really remember about the gig, though, was hearing Herman "Ivory" Chittison play solo in the lounge during breaks. His style was reminiscent of Art Tatum's, and it left a great impression on me.