Remembering Chick Corea

June 12, 1941 – February 9, 2021


A tribute to the masterful keyboardist, composer and leader

Chick Corea passed away on Feb. 9, 2021 at the age of 79 from cancer.

Corea’s passing shocked the jazz world because the always-enthusiastic and youthful innovator had been quite active during the pandemic, performing on many LiveStreams and as usual looking forward to numerous future projects.

He was born as Armando Corea in Chelsea, Massachusetts on June 12, 1941; his father was a trumpeter who got him started on the piano when he was four.

Corea, who also began playing drums when he was eight, started playing professionally as a teenager, led a trio, and briefly attended Columbia University and Juilliard but dropped out because he felt that he could learn more on the bandstand.

He had important experiences working as a sideman with Mongo Santamaria, Willie Bobo, Blue Mitchell, Herbie Mann, and most notably Stan Getz who recorded some of his compositions.

Corea began leading his own albums including 1968’s Now He Sings, Now He Sobs before succeeding Herbie Hancock with the Miles Davis Quintet, switching to electric keyboards and working with the trumpeter during 1968-70.

After playing avant-garde music with Circle, Corea became world famous by leading three versions of Return To Forever: a Brazilian group with Flora Purim and Airto, the groundbreaking fusion quartet with Stanley Clarke, Lenny White and Bill Connors (who was succeeded by Al DiMeola), and a short-lived big band.

Corea, who developed his personal sound not only on piano but on the Fender Rhodes and synthesizers, switched gears after the Return To Forever era ended, playing in a wide variety of settings including acoustic quartets with Joe Henderson and Michael Brecker, duets with vibraphonist Gary Burton and pianist Herbie Hancock, and various trios.

While he led the Elektric Band and the Akoustic Band (both of which included bassist John Patitucci) on and off for years, Corea spent his last 40 years leading a countless number of other units, never losing his creativity or desire to have new musical adventures with a wide range of major artists.

Quite typically, when he celebrated his 75th birthday in 2016, Corea performed with 20 different groups of musical friends during a six-week period at New York’s Blue Note.

Here is Chick Corea and Gary Burton performing several duets in 2016, 43 years after they had recorded their classic Crystal Silence album.

-Scott Yanow

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