SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Chick Corea is one of America's giants of jazz, beginning in the late '60s and his work with Miles Davis, then his acclaimed 1972 debut album, "Return To Forever."
(SOUNDBITE OF CHICK COREA'S "LA FIESTA")
SIMON: Latin flourishes on electric piano were a calling card for Chick Corea. His synthesizer solos became a driving force of jazz fusion.
(SOUNDBITE OF RETURN TO FOREVER'S "DUEL OF THE JESTER AND THE TYRANT (PART 1 AND PART 2)"
SIMON: And today, after dozens of albums and scores of Grammys, Chick Corea plays classical music on a live solo recording called "Plays."
(SOUNDBITE OF CHICK COREA PERFORMANCE OF MOZART'S "PIANO SONATA IN F, KV332 (2ND PART - ADAGIO)")
SIMON: He tells the audience...
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
CHICK COREA: I'm going to begin with an improvisation that leads into a Mozart sonata. Then after that, I'm going to put Gershwin together with Mozart, you know, as if the two of them sat down to have a talk.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHICK COREA'S "SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME (LIVE IN CLEARWATER / 2018)")
SIMON: More musical conversations follow between Scarlatti, Jobim, Bill Evans, Chopin, Thelonius Monk. Chick Corea joins us from a studio in Clearwater, Fla.
Thank you so much for being with us.
COREA: Nice to be here and talking to you about music.
SIMON: Sure is. And how did you hear this conversation between composers from different ages? Was it going on in your mind for a while?
COREA: Well, I mean, through the years I've just listened to a lot of music. And as a composer, I see relationships between all of these different great influences of mine. For instance, you were talking about Gershwin and Mozart on the recording. So I kind of chat with the audience about that. I said, well, you know, if Gershwin met Mozart, I'd bet they'd have a lot to talk about. They both wrote melodies that are just endearing to the public and probably will be for a long, long time.
SIMON: To talk about another pairing, if we could - first, we have music by the great Bill Evans. His "Waltz For Debby."
(SOUNDBITE OF CHICK COREA PERFORMANCE OF BILL EVANS' "WALTZ FOR DEBBY")
SIMON: Then you follow this with a Jobim classic.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHICK COREA PERFORMANCE OF JOBIM'S "DESAFINADO")
SIMON: What's the conversation here going on?
COREA: (Laughter) Oh, that's up to your imagination. All of these guys are - most of them are pianists, you know? Because Bill was more of the pianist. Jobim was more of the composer. But Jobim played some pretty nice piano, both very lyrical. Actually, I could have put Jobim together with Chopin because Chopin and the Brazilian lyric songwriters, I think, have a lot in common.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHICK COREA PERFORMANCE OF CHOPIN'S "PRELUDE OP. 28 #4")
SIMON: This album is - pays musical tribute to so many of your favorite composers, but you have some of your own music. And I want to ask you about - well, back in the '70s, you wrote 20 children's songs. And there's a sampling on this album. Let's listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHICK COREA'S "CHILDREN'S SONG NO. 4 (LIVE IN PARIS / 2018)")
COREA: (Laughter) Listening to it, just a little snippet that you put, it's interesting because taken out of context, it sounds way too fast to me.
SIMON: I love it.
COREA: It's just that I remember the original conception of that particular children's song - "No. 4," I think that one - was a little calmer. But in live performance, you know, following - one thing following another, tempos change and moods change. And anyway - yeah, the "Children's Songs" are - they're an endless jumping-off point for me to improvise. And it's a lot of fun.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHICK COREA'S "CHILDREN'S SONGS: NO. 9")
SIMON: If there was a composer with whom you could collaborate now, one who's gone, who would it be?
COREA: Well, the guys that I would like to hang out with - have some tea, you know, some pasta, some salad, talk, do some forehands on a piano...
COREA: ...Are Domenico Scarlatti - I'd like to hang with him - definitely Mozart. I think we could get along very, very well. And I would definitely like to meet Bach. And I feel akin to them in a way. We try to put music together with like-minded musicians to play for audiences and play live. And I think we would get along really great.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHICK COREA PERFORMANCE OF SCARLATTI'S "SONATA IN A MINOR K9, L413 ALLEGRO")
SIMON: How are you getting through these weeks and months?
COREA: You know, the way I'm dealing with it, trying to encourage all my friends to get through it, is, you know, you handle a virus like you handle the virus. You learn about it. You see what you have to do to keep it from spreading and so forth. And you do all the right things in that regard. And then that's that. But you can't stop life because there's a virus (laughter), you know? So my attitude has been just to keep on creating future, which for me is creating music.
So I had, like, a bunch of collaborations going on with my friends recording long distance. My old friend Steve Swallow on bass, we hooked up again. We're making some duets, some - writing some new music with Bela Fleck, my banjo partner.
COREA: I have some beautiful duets going on I'm making the Hubert Laws, the great flutist.
SIMON: Boy, you're busy.
COREA: Yeah. Yeah. I got a whole bunch of stuff going. And so my attitude has been just kind of turn up the heat on creation because that's what we do. That's what we are as creative creatures. And we can't let the thought of an unseen virus (laughter) stop us from living.
SIMON: Chick Corea - his new double solo album is called "Plays" - thank you so much for being with us.
COREA: Sure, man. Yeah, my pleasure.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHICK COREA PERFORMANCE OF THELONIUS MONK'S "BLUE MONK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.