Corea emerged victorious from this year's 55th annual GRAMMYÔÎ Awards as the winner of "Best Improvised Jazz Solo" and "Best Instrumental Composition" categories, thanks to his recent release Hot House (Concord Jazz) by Chick Corea & Gary Burton with The Harlem Quartet. So far the jazz legend has won 22 GRAMMYÔÎ Awards. At the ceremony, Corea led a performance tribute to the late Dave Brubeck, accompanied by Stanley Clarke and Kenny Garrett.
In Rose Theater, Corea joins the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis in a reprise of their acclaimed collaborations in 2011. From May 16 _18, the musicians perform original arrangements by JLCO members from Corea's masterful songbook.
In addition, Friends of Chick Corea: Musicians of the Future is presented over two special nights in The Allen Room from May 17 _18. Handpicked by Corea, this show features two 17- year-old prodigies on piano, Gadi Lehavi from Israel and Beka Gochiashvili from Tsibili, Georgia. They'll play with an all-star band of Marcus Gilmore (drums), John Patitucci (bass), Wallace Roney (trumpet) and other special guests. There will also be a free Listening Party (TBA) in the neighboring Irene Diamond Education Center. This series invites audiences to listen to new jazz albums, while meeting and hearing from the artists who recorded them, all while celebrating the music of Chick Corea.
In Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola, a variety of bands honor Corea in this more intimate setting. The musical lineup includes: Edsel Gomez-Cubist Music (May 15), Elio Villafranca and The Music of Chick Corea featuring Charnett Moffett and Joe Locke, (May 16), Marcus Roberts solo; Alfredo Rodriguez Trio double bill (May 17 _18), and Henry Cole (May 19).
Elio Villafranca and The Music of Chick Corea includes Villafranca (piano), Charnett Moffett (bass), Joe Locke (vibes), Richie Barshay (drums), Wayne Escoffery (tenor sax), Magos Herrera (vocals), plus special guests.
Villafranca says he's long admired Chick Corea's music. "Since I lived in Cuba we were true lovers and followers of his music. Every single thing he would put out, we would get it, and at a very high price. In Cuba there are no record stores like here in America, so everything would come from people who would bring it while on tour or from outside. And there also were no stores to get [recording] tape, so we would have to buy that on the black market at a very high price. My mom would give me 35 Cuban pesos to last me the whole month, to eat... for everything. Each tape would cost 15 of that 35, so if I bought two tapes to record two albums, I had 5 pesos to live on for the month. I would do that gladly. I would listen to it over and over again. So, Chick was an inspiration to me."
Born in Pinar del Rio province of Western Cuba, Villafranca was classically trained in percussion and composition at the Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana. Since arriving in the United States in 1995, Villafranca has made significant contributions to modern jazz with his rhythmically complex original compositions. Currently, he is based in New York City.
Villafranca reminisced of his school days in Cuba, "We had to do whatever we had to do to hear the music [jazz]. I didn't have a tape player either. There was a friend of mine that had one tape player for the whole school. We would take turns using it whenever we could, and if that was at midnight, we would have to go outside of the school where we found an electrical outlet outside on the street and we would go there and listen to it."
Villafranca's love of Corea and his music was fully realized here at Jazz at Lincoln Center. "When I came to America, he surprised me at one of my shows: at Dizzy's Club Coca- Cola: after I played, we ended up talking the whole night. I appreciate his music and especially his personality. I think he is a great human being. I really love his heart. He is a true musician and I really, really respect that."
"We played together at another club. It was drums and bass and another pianist and Chick and I. He would start with some ideas and all of us [pianists] would take turns playing as a trio. He would start and get it going and then he would get up and the next person would take a turn. That was fun. Then he played drums. Every great musician can play another instrument. I played drums too. I studied drums in Cuba for many years. So that is another thing we have in common."
Villafranca has an incredible, infectious style in his playing. He is a true virtuoso who, according to JazzTimes, exhibits "loaded, technically superior, sharp and romantic pianism." That style was molded from the great inspiration he took from Corea's masterful approach. Villafranca says, "Both his playing, his writing...he is always creating. Of all the musicians I know, he impressed me the most. I am a composer, I studied composition and I know what it is to be a true composer _ it is that need that we have to always compose. His playing is fantastic as well, but his musical mind is really big."
Villafranca wasn't the only musician impressed by Corea's expertise. The great master Miles Davis hired him early on. "We think of Miles as somebody who was out of this world, but he was a human being, so I'm sure Chick's music touched his soul," says Villafranca. "Chick touched many human beings' hearts. The human side of Miles felt it. Miles was an amazing musician and I think an amazing musician attracts other amazing musicians."
The Chick Corea Festival celebrates just some of Corea's vast musical output over the decades. "I am honored to be chosen by him to play his music," says Villafranca. "It is the music that I have loved for many years. It is a true honor to be part of this festival."
For more information, visit jalc.org.
Scott H. Thompson is Assistant Director for Public Relations at Jazz at Lincoln Center.