Chick Corea, the virtuosic keyboardist who broadened the scope of jazz during a career spanning more than five decades, died on Tuesday from a rare form of cancer. A post on his Facebook page confirmed the news. Corea was 79.
“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,” his family wrote in a statement. “Through his body of work and the decades he spent touring the world, he touched and inspired the lives of millions.”
“Chick Corea was the single greatest improvisational musician I have ever played with,” John Mayer, who had appeared with Corea onstage, wrote on Instagram. “Nobody was more open, more finely tuned to the moment, changing his approach with every new offering by the musicians around him. If you hit a wrong note, he’d immediately pick it up and play it as a motif so as to say ‘all of this has value, whether you see it or not.’ What an immeasurable loss in so many ways.”
In the early Sixties, Corea established himself as an A-list pianist, working with Stan Getz, Herbie Mann, and others. Later in the decade, he joined Miles Davis’ band and played a key role in helping the trumpeter make the transition to a more contemporary, plugged-in sound on albums like Bitches Brew. Following his work with Davis, he formed his own groundbreaking electric band, Return to Forever, which played some of the most vibrant and dynamic music of the fusion era. In the ensuing decades, Corea threw himself into countless projects, showing off his limitless range — from a refined duo with vibraphonist Gary Burton to his trendsetting Elektric Band. His most recent album, the 2020 live solo disc Plays, showed off his wildly diverse skill set and body of influences, touching on classical pieces, bebop, and more.
“I want to thank all of those along my journey who have helped keep the music fires burning bright,” he wrote via his family on Facebook. “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.”
Born on June 12th, 1941, Corea grew up near Boston. His father, a Dixieland-style jazz trumpeter, introduced him to piano, though he also played drums at an early age. He would go on to study briefly at both Columbia and Juilliard but soon left school and began gigging with established names such as Getz, Mann, and Blue Mitchell. By the late Sixties, Corea was already making strong statements as a bandleader, including 1968’s Now He Sings, Now He Sobs, an album featuring bassist Miroslav Vitous and drummer Roy Haynes that set a new benchmark for the modern jazz piano trio.
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