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RIP Chick Corea (1941 - 2021)

On February 9, the world lost one of the greatest pianists, composers and bandleaders in  jazz history. Chick Corea was hailed as the architect of the 1970s jazz-rock fusion movement, and he was that and so much more. The legendary pianist unfortunately passed away on Tuesday at his home at age 79. The cause was cancer, said Dan Muse, a spokesman for Corea's family.

Chick burst onto the scene gigging and recording with some of the leading names in straight-ahead and Latin jazz, including Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz, Mongo Santamaria and Sarah Vaughan. His first two albums as a leader, Tones for Joan’s Bones (1966) and Now He Sings, Now He Sobs (1968) are both considered classics.

Soon after, he performed with iconic trumpeter Miles Davis, a decision that swept him on a path to forever transform jazz music. He played the electric piano on Davis’s In a Silent Way (1969) and Bitches Brew (1970), the albums that sounded the opening bell for the fusion era.

It was after parting ways with Miles that Chick Corea founded his best-known band, Return to Forever, a collective with a rotating membership that nudged the genre of fusion into greater contact with Brazilian, Spanish and other global influences. It also provided Chick with a palette on which to experiment with a growing arsenal of new keyboard and synthesizer technologies.

By the end of his career, the astonishing musician had recorded almost 90 albums and won an astounding 23 GRAMMY Awards. 

His influential music made a major impact on musicians the world over, including the instructors at ArtistWorks. Below, Peter Erskine, Howard Levy, Nathan East, Eric Merianthal and George Whitty pay heartfelt tribute to this giant of jazz. 

“Chick Corea’s music became my friend in 1966 when I was all of twelve years old (He was the pianist on a Cal Tjader album titled Soul Burst), and his music has remained a trusted and life-long companion to this day. And this day is one of the saddest of days, mourning the loss of such a gifted and poetic musician. Chick was more than just a musician, however. He was a cheerleader for all of us who strive to create art. He encouraged every person he encountered to experience the fun and the freedom that the expression of art can bring. It’s no coincidence that many of the teachers here at were either associated with him or influenced by him. It is a humble honor to carry his message forward. I like to think that he would be pleased by this. I will also hope that Chick, in heaven, can hear all of us saying, ‘Thank you, Chick’."

- Peter Erskine

Photo credit: Peter Erskine, Tokyo, Japan, September 3, 2017

“Chick was a major musical force, an incredible composer and a consummate musician. I’m glad I had the experience of jamming with him on stage during the Flecktones/ Elektric Band 2017 Tour.  It was wonderful to feel the meshing of musical minds when we played. My heart goes out to his family and all those who knew him well and loved him.”

- Howard Levy 

“It is hard to put into words how deeply saddened I am to have lost one of the world’s greatest musical giants and a very dear friend. People have asked me what it’s been like to play with Chick over the past 35 years. Basically, it has been the most inspiring, encouraging and creative experiences that any musician could ever hope to be part of. We were always so amazed by the level of genius that Chick brought to his playing and in his writing and so inspired by his constant motivation to have us stretch and express ourselves. The more we pushed the boundaries of the music the happier it seemed to make him. In every way, Chick always communicated with fun, love and creative expression. I will always be extremely grateful for everything Chick has done for me musically, personally and professionally. The Elektric Band including Gayle Moran Corea, Bernie Kirsh, Kris Campbell and many others are a family and always will be. The memory of Chick will continue to inspire artists around the world to keep creating to the best of our ability. Love you forever Chick.”
-Eric Merianthal 

“We were playing on a double bill in Istanbul, an outdoor gig that I still remember fondly because it rained like hell and the Turks just partied on undeterred. I was playing with the Brecker Brothers, he was playing with the Elektric Band, and I finally got to meet the master. We had a great conversation (he was incredibly down-to-earth and welcoming, as anyone who knew him knows), and at one point I asked him, “So what’s next for you?” And he said well, he had some acoustic trio stuff planned, some solo piano concerts, a bit of duet things, he was writing some chamber music. So I asked him “No electric projects?” And he said “Nope”, and when I asked why, he replied with a smile, just straight up: “Well, I was just never really very good at it.” Which I found kind of flabbergasting; to me his electric works were masterpieces. So I blurted out, “You know you got a whole generation of guys like me into it…“. And he said “Yeah, you know, I was just never able to make it my voice. Joe Zawinul, I listen to him and it seems like he was born to play the synthesizer, but me, it’s really just the piano.” 

“I’m still kind of flabbergasted by that conversation, but to me it speaks to Chick’s quest for real authenticity and the most direct line of communication through his playing. Of course over the next 27 years he’d play plenty of electric gigs and continue to record using electric keyboards, but I found it very illuminating that he was that perfectly honest with his assessment of himself. And yet to always have that sense of joy and play in his music, whatever sphere he was working in. Chick’s musical mind was truly one of a kind, never producing the expected, always instantly identifiable as Chick Corea, always improvising in the truest sense of the word. And of course it was a highlight of my musical life to get to meet, share a concert, and talk with the one and only master, the man whose genius spoke through the grooves to change the life of a 14-year-old in Coos Bay, Oregon, still and always the musician whose playing I think I most strive toward, Chick Corea.”
George Whitty

“Words cannot express the joy and depth of the experience of playing with Chick Corea. As a musician it’s one of the most challenging adventures especially with someone with his creative palette and virtuosity, one of our most important educators and communicators of music ... His legacy will live Forever.”

-Nathan East 


In the statement announcing his death, his family shared this message from Corea for all his collaborators and fans:

“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.”




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