Chick Corea, the former pianist for Miles Davis who later established his own successful band and became a torchbearer of the jazz fusion movement, has died at the age 79.
According to a post on his official Facebook page, Corea passed away on February 9th “from a rare form of cancer which was only discovered very recently.”
“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 continued. “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.”
The statement also included a note penned by Corea prior to his death. “I want to thank all of those along my journey who have helped keep the music fires burning bright,” Corea wrote. “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,” he continued. “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.”
A native of Massachusetts, Corea was the son of a jazz trumpeter, who introduced him to the piano at the age of four. As a child, he also played drums, which would shape his percussive piano-playing style. In the early 1960s, Corea moved to New York City, where he began playing professionally with Stan Getz, Mono Santamaria, and Herbie Mann, among others.
He eventually found his way into Miles Davis’ graces and played an influential part in several of his classic albums, including Bitches’ Brew and In a Silent Way. With Corea playing along on electric piano, this era saw Davis largely abandon the swing beat of traditional jazz records in favor of a free form sound that incorporated a rock and roll backbeat and bass guitar grooves. Or, as the genre would eventually become known, jazz fusion.
In 1970, Corea left Davis’ side to start his own band. He initially teamed with bassist Dave Holland to form a free jazz group called Circle. He then launched his own project called Return to Forever, which notably blended elements of Latin music with rock and funk. No Mystery, Return to Forever’s 1975 album, earned Corea his first Grammy Award.
Over the next four decades, Corea released music in a variety of configurations: as a solo artist, as a duo with vibraphonist Gary Burton, and as the leader of bands including the Chick Corea Elektric Band and the Five Peace Band (which reunited him with Bitches Brew bandmate John McLaughlin).
All told, Corea won 23 Grammy Awards and 60 nominations over the course of his brilliant career. In 2006, he was the recipient of the NEA Jazz Masters Award, and in 2018, he was awarded the National Music Council’s American Eagle Award for his distinguished service to American music. Corea’s final Grammy came just last year as the winner of the Best Latin Jazz Album for the Antidote LP with The Spanish Heart Band.