Chick Corea is occupying the Blue Note jazz club for the month of November and he has invited his musical friends for a belated celebration of his 70th birthday.
During the month, the jazz pianist is performing in 10 different ensembles with nearly 30 musicians. And many afternoons are reserved for rehearsals at the club.
“I’m kind of living here,” laughed Corea, interviewed on the club’s stage before a rehearsal with a new trio that made its debut Thursday night with drummer Brian Blade and bassist Gary Peacock.
Corea is reprising on a bigger scale the three-week residency with nine ensembles he had at the Greenwich Village club to mark his 60th birthday that resulted in the Grammy-winning double-CD “Rendezvous In New York” and a 10-DVD set. Only two of those ensembles — duets with vibraphonist Gary Burton and vocalist Bobby McFerrin — are back this November, a testament to Corea’s eclectic musical outlook.
Corea could have marked his actual birthday in June with a large-scale concert, but he preferred an extended run at the 200-seat jazz club.
“There’s more improvisation that goes on in the clubs. It’s more intimate and smaller. You feel that the public is right there.” Corea said.
The 16-time Grammy winner said he didn’t see the musical reunions planned this month as an occasion to reflect on past accomplishments.
“I never enjoyed the experience of trying to compare what I’m doing with the past,” he said. “But the future excites me and when I play with my friends it feels vibrant and fun.”
Corea kicked off the month with a two-night engagement featuring an unplugged version of his jazz-rock fusion group Return to Forever — with bassist Stanley Clarke, drummer Lenny White, and guitarist Frank Gambale (who also will be playing with Corea’s Elektric Band to close the month). It marked the first time the band had performed a full program of its classic 1970s repertoire — including “Captain Marvel” and “Light As a Feather” — in a primarily acoustic setting.
“I thought it was kind of cool to be able to play those pieces — to have them have the same kind of vitality — but also play them with the lighter touch of the acoustic instruments,” Corea said.
Corea will also be performing with fellow jazz-rock pioneer, guitarist John McLaughlin, in the acoustic-electric Five Peace Band; with world-class Latin musicians in Chick’s Flamenco Heart; with fellow Miles Davis alumni in a new band From Miles, and in duets with long-standing partner Burton (with the Harlem String Quartet as guests) and for the first time with pianist Marcus Roberts.
He’s especially looking forward to a duet night with Herbie Hancock — their first actual gig together since 1978. They had earlier both played on Davis’ groundbreaking jazz-fusion albums, “In a Silent Way” and “Bitches Brew.”
“Working with Chick has always been a very uplifting experience for me because we see eye to eye on so many things,” Hancock said. “We don’t have to do anything to stimulate each other. We just look at each other and hit a note or a chord, and it’s on.”