Why Herbie Hancock Loves Playing With Chick Corea

In 1969, Miles Davis started recording sessions for his landmark jazz-rock fusion album Bitches Brew, using close to twenty musicians over six months. Pianists Herbie Hancock, who spent five years in Davis’s second great quintet, and Chick Corea were both on that album, as well as Davis’s In a Silent Way. In the years following the release of Bitches Brew, both pianists borrowed a few ideas they got while working with Davis. Corea formed the fusion act Return to Forever, and Hancock formed his jazz-funk outfits Mwandishi and the Headhunters. In 1978, the same year that Corea disbanded Return to Forever (which would reunite in 2008), he and Hancock embarked on a duo tour where both of them played acoustic pianos, and some of the material they played on that tour ended up on two live albums, CoreaHancock and An Evening with Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea: In Concert.

In 2013, the two played a one-off show to help celebrate the fortieth edition of the Umbria Jazz Festival in Perugia, Italy. “It gave us both a chance to work with each other at this stage in our lives,” says Hancock, “and it just worked out so well and was so well received. The audience went crazy.”

Hancock notes that they never closed the door on touring again; they would occasionally check in with each other, saying, “The door is always open.” With Hancock’s autobiography Possibilities, which was released last October, finished, and with time available around working on his forthcoming album with Flying Lotus, he thought it would be a perfect time to tour the world with Corea again.

While the focus is still on acoustic pianos, just as it was nearly four decades ago, Hancock says they’re bringing synthesizers along on the tour. “Not a barrage of them,” Hancock says. “I’ve got one and he has one. But we may not use them because we still want to concentrate on the acoustic piano. There may be a concert here and there where we won’t even touch the synthesizer.”

Hancock says they want to keep it loose because both he and Corea have gathered a lot of experiences since their last tour. “Now that we’re both in our seventies, we’ve both got a lot of years under our belts, and we want to bring that to the table,” he says.

“Working with Chick is so comforting and welcoming, as far how it makes me feel, and stimulating at the same time,” Hancock says. “I mean, he just lays out a kind of a welcoming mat on one hand, and then on the other hand, there’s some spices of stimulation, and challenging stimulation, too. It’s not just like a welcome mat, walking into somebody’s house and you’re sitting around doing nothing. No, I mean, there’s challenging conversation going on between us, firing back and forth, and we respond and create moment to moment. Not just reacting to each other but also pushing something out from ourselves at the same time.”          
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Jon Solomon writes about music and nightlife for Westword, where he's been the Clubs Editor since 2006.
Contact: Jon Solomon