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Chick Corea gets a little Beatlemania

March 3, 2011 | 12:15 pm

Corea After nearly 40 years of playing together as a duo, pianist Chick Corea and vibraphonist Gary Burton are recording their first album focusing on music by other artists.

Along with Jobim, Kurt Weill and Dave Brubeck, “Eleanor Rigby” stands out among the intriguing list of songs and composers they'll be playing during stops this week at  Costa Mesa’s Segerstrom Center for the Arts on Friday and Royce Hall on Saturday in preparation for the recording session.

Though jazz musicians started covering Lennon and McCartney’s songbook before the Beatles released “Revolver,” Corea didn’t take much notice of the Fab Four fuss. “During that time I was so thoroughly immersed in Miles, Coltrane and Bill Evans,” Corea says. “Gary was deeply into the Beatles back then. I heard about them and all of the hoopla, but I had zero interest, and I didn’t follow what they were doing, for better or worse.”
 
It wasn’t Burton, however, who turned Corea onto the Beatles. He experienced his delayed epiphany courtesy of banjo star Bela Fleck. While touring together a few years ago, Corea noticed his longtime sound engineer Bernie Kirsh and Fleck intently dissecting a Beatles tune. Feeling left out of the discussion, he asked Fleck to fill him in. Over the course of a long drive to the next gig, Fleck gave Corea a guided tour through the Beatles catalog he keeps stored on his hard drive. “That got me really excited,” Corea says. “I read a biography of the band and bought the ‘Anthology’ DVD set.”
 
It turns out Corea and his wife, singer-keyboardist Gayle Moran, had been only one degree separated from the Beatles for decades and didn’t really know it. They’d been close friends with “fifth Beatle” George Martin (who arranged the original recording of “Eleanor Rigby”) since he produced Mahavishnu Orchestra’s 1974 album “Apocalypse,” which featured Moran’s ethereal vocals. “George became a dear friend, and we never associated him with the Beatles,” Corea says. “But it all came around, and we became big fans.”

Click here to read more of the Corea-Burton partnership.

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— Andrew Gilbert

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