Twenty-three Grammy awards with sixty-three nominations over a career that spans more than five decades… And amazingly that doesn’t begin to chronicle Chelsea native Chick Corea’s prolific career in music.
Chick was born Armando Anthony Corea in 1941 and tagged with his nickname at an early age by his aunt. Like so many great musicians Chick was surrounded by music growing up as his father was a jazz trumpet player who sat him in front of a piano at age four. Listening to the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Lester Young; the bebop jazz Chick was hearing early on later proved to be a true inspiration. Formal piano lessons began at eight but not before a brief stint with the drums, serving to help influence his percussion like style on the piano. His piano teacher introduced him to classical music helping to further shape his style and generating additional interest in music composition and structure. Growing up, Chick even performed in a drum and bugle corps: the St. Rose Scarlet Lancers out of Chelsea. Throughout his teen years, Chick was starting to get real gigs while admiring and playing the music of local artists such as Herb Pomeroy and Horace Silver. His first major gig was performing with the legendary Cab Calloway and early on in his career he also played with the likes of Stan Getz and Herbie Mann.
Chick’s debut as a bandleader came in 1966 on the album Tones for Joan’s Bones. He then went into the studio in 1968 with drummer Roy Haynes to record the classic LP, Now He Sings, Now He Sobs, solidifying Chick’s reputation as a first-rate jazz pianist. He met up with Miles Davis late in 1968 and wound up eventually replacing Herbie Hancock in Miles’ band. Corea went electric with Davis, playing a Fender Rhodes electric piano on 1968’s Filles de Kilimanjaro. Chick also recorded the classics Bitches Brew and In a Silent Way with Davis, giving jazz a fresh new “electric” sound and direction.
In the early 1970’s chick started a band called Return to Forever with Stanley Clarke and by the mid-70’s the band was entrenched in the rock-jazz fusion movement of the time. Return to Forever saw a decent amount of line-up changes across the decade with Al Di Meola showcasing his blazing chops on guitar at one point in the ensemble.
The 1980’s and 90’s saw Chick collaborating and playing with countless artists and friends from Chaka Khan to Paco de Lucia and was also the time-frame Chick started one of his more famous collaborations with vibraphonist Gary Burton. Chick Corea and Gary Burton would go on to earn six Grammys as a duo. The Chick Corea Elektric Band was formed around this time as well featuring Chick, drummer Dave Weckl, saxophonist Eric Marienthal, bassist John Patitucci, and guitarist Frank Gambale, with the group venturing further into the world of jazz fusion. The Chick Corea Elektric Band recorded five albums including 1986’s Elektric Band and 1991’s Beneath the Mask.
Unbound by genre and possessing limitless talent, Chick entered into the Classical music realm in the 2000’s recording “Corea Concerto” with the London Philharmonic orchestra along with several other Classical works. He also composed music for movie soundtracks in the 2000’s and again recorded with his longtime partner Gary Burton later in the decade.
Chick Corea passed away from cancer at his home in Florida, on February 9, 2021. He was 79.
Chick left us with a tremendous body of work that speaks for itself, but he was also an artist who appreciated the listener and understood his impact as a musician. In his own words…
“What making music for people does, I’ve observed, is it stimulates what’s natural in all of us it’s native sense, in every person. You don’t have to be a professional anything — all you need to do is be a living human being, and open to the play of imagination.”
(by Mark Turner)