Jazz and Fusion Keyboardist Chick Corea Dead at 79
He passed away this week from a rare form of cancer
"Throughout his life and career, Chick relished in the freedom and the fun to be had in creating something new, and in playing the games that artists do," the statement of Corea's passing reads. "He was a beloved husband, father and grandfather, and a great mentor and friend to so many. Through his body of work and the decades he spent touring the world, he touched and inspired the lives of millions."
News of Corea's passing comes accompanied by a message in his own words "for all those he knew and loved, and for all those who loved him."
Corea writes, "I want to thank all of those along my journey who have helped keep the music fires burning bright. It is my hope that those who have an inkling to play, write, perform or otherwise, do so. If not for yourself then for the rest of us. It's not only that the world needs more artists, it's also just a lot of fun.
"And to my amazing musician friends who have been like family to me as long as I've known you: It has been a blessing and an honor learning from and playing with all of you. My mission has always been to bring the joy of creating anywhere I could, and to have done so with all the artists that I admire so dearly — this has been the richness of my life."
The statement notes that Corea's family "will of course appreciate their privacy during this difficult time of loss."
Corea's vast recording catalogue boasts work with veritable jazz giants, and explorations of genres and styles including post-bop, avant-garde jazz, fusion and classical. Along with contemporaries Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett, Corea is widely considered one of the genre's leading piano stylists to emerge after Bill Evans and McCoy Tyner.
Early in his career, Corea performed with Stan Getz and became a member of Miles Davis' "electric" period band, playing electric piano on the trumpeter's revered 1970 album Bitches Brew.
On top of his solo output, and work as a bandleader with Circle and Return to Forever, Corea worked with the likes of Herbie Mann, Gary Burton, Pat Metheny, Béla Fleck, Bobby McFerrin, Ron Carter, Wayne Shorter, Chaka Khan, Donald Byrd and many more. Across his career, Corea won 23 Grammy Awards out of more than 60 nominations.
Born in Massachusetts in 1941, Corea was introduced to piano at age four by his musician father, a jazz trumpeter and bandleader, and he later began playing drums at age eight. At home, he was exposed to the music of jazz pianists including Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell and Horace Silver.
Instrument lessons with concert pianist Salvatore Sullo marked Corea's introduction to classical music, which furthered his interest in musical composition. As a teenager, Corea was a performer and soloist with the local St. Rose Scarlet Lancers drum and bugle corps, and started playing his own jazz gigs in high school. He would go on to study briefly at Columbia University and Juilliard, before leaving school to pursue his jazz career in New York City.
Corea would spend the early 1960s performing with Mongo Santamaria, Willie Bobo, Blue Mitchell, Herbie Mann and Stan Getz, ahead of making his solo debut in 1966 with Tones for Joan's Bones, which he would follows with trio album Now He Sings, Now He Sobs two years after.
Corea began playing with Miles Davis in the late 1960's, first appearing on the trumpeter's 1969 album Filles de Kilimanjaro. His modulated electric piano playing appears on that year's In a Silent Way and the aforementioned Bitches Brew, as well as "electric" period live albums Black Beauty: Live at the Fillmore West and Miles Davis at Fillmore: Live at the Fillmore East.
1970 would see Corea and bassist Dave Holland leave Davis' band to form free jazz group Circle, which also featured multi-instrumentalist Anthony Braxton and drummer Barry Altschul. The avant-garde outfit was active for only 1970 and 1971, and had their only studio recordings released on Corea's late-'70s albums Circling In and Circulus.
The early '70s also saw Scientology shift Corea's musical direction for the decade ahead. As he told NPR in 2016, "I came into contact with L. Ron Hubbard's material in 1968 with Dianetics and it kind of opened my mind up and it got me into seeing that my potential for communication was a lot greater than I thought it was."
Seeking to play a more accessible style of music, Corea founded Return to Forever in 1971, and released a self-titled debut with the group in 1972. While this LP and 1973 sophomore effort Light as a Feather largely featured Latin-oriented music, third album Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy found the group leaning further into the futuristic fusion of jazz and rock employed by contemporaries in Weather Report, the Headhunters, and Mahavishnu Orchestra.
1974 follow-up Where Have I Known You Before saw Corea incorporate synthesizers into his performance and composition, while also marking the addition of a 19-year-old guitarist and future fusion figurehead Al Di Meola. Return to Forever is now considered one of the pivotal bands involved with the jazz-fusion movement of the 1970s.
The '80s and '90s saw Corea continue to release at least one album a year, with the artist launching his own Stretch Records label in 1992. Last year, he released solo piano collection Plays, featuring his own work and that of his own favourite composers.
Find tributes to Corea from fans and contemporaries below.
Rest In Peace @ChickCorea— TAPE TAPE & HOUSE EP NOW PLAYING (@LupeFiasco) February 11, 2021
Listening to "Children's Songs" R.I.P. Chick Corea... 🖤— Mоdeselektor (@modeselektor) February 11, 2021
Oh my god. Rip Chick Corea— ashy daddy (@Thundercat) February 11, 2021
A giant, Chick Corea ♥️— Elijah Wood (@elijahwood) February 11, 2021
...Now he sobs. RIP chick corea ❤️— FLYLO (@flyinglotus) February 11, 2021
So sad to hear about the passing of @ChickCorea, my hero, mentor and friend. Deep love to Gayle and all of Chick's family, staff and friends. The world has lost one of the great ones. I'm so honored to have known him.— Béla Fleck (@belafleckbanjo) February 11, 2021
RIP Chick Corea— KAYTRA (@KAYTRANADA) February 11, 2021
aww man not Chick Corea!!!— SassyBlack (She/Her) (@SassyBlack_) February 11, 2021
Rest In Peace Chick Corea. This sucks.— Harrison (@prodbyharrison) February 11, 2021
I'm Forever Grateful to this Universe for Chick Corea— Taylor McFerrin (@TaylorMcFerrin) February 11, 2021
P'll see ya via satellite with money longer than Nia's / fuck chivalry I will end a chick's career and *return to forever, I am (Chick Corea). 😞 Rest In Peace. I got to see you at the Blue Note a couple of years ago. And had the best time, as I don't get out much to watch shows.— PHAROAHE MONCH (@pharoahemonch) February 11, 2021
RIP to the legend Chick Corea 🙏🏽 pic.twitter.com/JmxvGBbArO— Skyzoo (@skyzoo) February 11, 2021
There's no way to express what I'm feeling right now. I just wish I had more time to absorb the beauty of each new note that he played… peaceful journey, Master!#500mileshigh #repost • @chickcorea It is with great sadness we announce that on Februa… https://t.co/j6nxcVwurU pic.twitter.com/TNayLSGtoV— Brian Jackson (@Brian__Jackson) February 11, 2021
RIP CHICK COREA! Miles Davis - Live In Rome 1969 Wayne Shorter Chick Corea Etc https://t.co/Q22vgLZkA5— Eric Andre (@ericandre) February 11, 2021
I'm devastated to hear of the legendary @ChickCorea's passing. This man changed my life thru his music and we were able to play together many times. I was very fortunate to call him my family. Chick, you are missed dearly, your music and brilliant light will live on forever. pic.twitter.com/YR0n0fb4gH— SheilaEdrummer (@SheilaEdrummer) February 11, 2021
RIP Chick Corea. To say nothing of his musical influence on me, I read this two days after getting sober in 2017 and it has stuck with me ever since. pic.twitter.com/3QW1GevWi7— Robin Hatch (@robinhatch) February 11, 2021
Oh no!!!! 😥 So sad to hear of the passing of @ChickCorea One of the pioneers of jazz/fusion keyboards. Return To Forever was one of the first real Supergroups and such a huge influence. #RIPChickCorea pic.twitter.com/r49F8rVOB2— Mike Portnoy 🤘 (@MikePortnoy) February 11, 2021