By PHILIP BOOTH, Times Staff Writer
October 17, 2002

Chick Corea has lived in Clearwater since 1997,
and Jazz Holiday organizers have been trying to
get him to perform at the event ever since.
This year he's on the bill.

Chick Corea, standing on the balcony of the Crystal Ballroom at the Fort Harrison Hotel, moved to the bay area in 1997 to be near the Church of Scientology’s spiritual headquarters..

It had been a decade since the Chick Corea Elektric Band, one of the smartest and most creative of the jazz-fusion groups, played together. But when they reunited recently, Corea says it was almost as if the music had never stopped.

"As soon as we got together for rehearsing, the creative process clicked back in with all of us," the master jazz pianist said last week from his home in Clearwater. "Even the standard repertoire that we were putting together again started getting altered and changed and flexed around."

The group's Clearwater Jazz Holiday performance Saturday will be only the fourth stop on a short but eagerly anticipated U.S. tour.

"It's a very blowing (soloing) band, but also about structured and composed music as well," Corea said. "This was my attempt to work strongly as a composer for an ensemble with a sound like that. This is an experiment right now. We're going to do this and see how we fit into the world these days and what (impact) we can make. I hope we can keep doing some version of this every now and again."

Jazz Holiday organizers have been trying to nab Corea for the festival since he moved to the bay area in 1997 to be near the Church of Scientology's spiritual headquarters. He has visited Coachman Park frequently during the last few years, sitting in with groups led by Marienthal, Bruce Hornbsy and Al Di Meola. Last year, he checked out a Jazz Holiday performance by Dee Dee Bridgewater.

"It just hasn't worked out one way or another, schedule-wise," he says about not playing the Jazz Holiday in past years.

But this year he made it onto the bill.

"That's real fun. That's really nice. We've grown to really love the area."

The Chick Corea Elektric Band began in 1985 as a recording project and evolved into one of Corea's most durable groups.

And there have been many: Corea, who has been recording since the '60s, is perhaps best known for his work leading the innovative fusion band Return to Forever, avant-garde band Circle, duo projects with vibraphonist Gary Burton and pianist Herbie Hancock, a trio with drummer Roy Haynes and bassist Miroslav Vitous, and as a sideman for the likes of Miles Davis, Stan Getz and Herbie Mann.

The Elektric Band started with Corea teaming with acoustic and electric bassist John Patitucci and drummer Dave Weckl. Later, they were joined by alternating guitarists Scott Henderson and Carlos Rios for 1986's The Chick Corea Elektric Band. The group's lineup solidified with the addition of guitarist Frank Gambale and saxophonist Eric Marienthal on the next year's Light Years. That version of the group, with Corea, Weckl and Patitucci occasionally playing and recording as the Akoustic Band, stayed together until 1991, when Behind the Mask was released.

Corea decided to reunite the Elektric Band after his 60th birthday celebration at the Blue Note in New York last year. He was joined by a variety of current and former musical associates for three weeks' worth of performances at the famed Greenwich Village jazz club. Burton, Haynes, Patitucci, Vitous, Weckl, bassists Christian McBride and Eddie Gomez, drummer Steve Gadd, saxophonists Michael Brecker and Joshua Redman, trumpeter Terence Blanchard, pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, singer Bobby McFerrin and Corea's Origin band were among the artists participating.

"It felt good to meet all my friends again that I had spent so much a part of my life with," he says. "These bands weren't just one-tour projects. Some of these bands lasted for years. A lot of life went down between us. It was so refreshing. All of a sudden, it didn't look like any return to the past. It felt very fresh and very of the moment and very vital."

Neither the Elektric Band nor Return to Forever played the Blue Note. Last August, though, Corea reunited with both of those bands for a show at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles.

Corea's band of the moment, as usual, is hardly the only project on his mind. He's headed to Japan next month for a series of trio dates with McBride and drummer Ignacio Berroa, to be followed shortly thereafter by a tour with bassist Avishai Cohen and drummer Jeff Ballard of Origin, and a second recording from that group, heard on last year's Past, Present and Futures.

Also on the schedule are additional performances with the reunited Return to Forever and a variety of solo-piano concerts; he's been commissioned to write a second piano concerto, this time for a Mozart festival.

"I try to pick the important ones and things that I really want to do, projects that I'd like audiences to hear," he says. "I've always got projects kind of simmering and burning in the background. In a way, it's a scheduling challenge. But it's a rich life."

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