New York Jazz Workshop Remembers Chick Corea (1941-2021)

The heroes and legends that define this music, our ancestors that we pay homage to are transferring from the earthly realm. Chick Corea, one of the most important modern keyboard innovators and composers, passed away on February 9th from a rare form of cancer.  The following is a brief remembrance of Mr. Corea by New York Jazz Workshop’s CJ Shearn.

There is really so much that one could say about his vast legacy and influence that truly it boils down to just grabbing a few musical highlights.  Massachusetts born and bred on June 12, 1941, Chick’s career mantra really was exploration.  From his appearances on albums like The Thing To Do (Blue Note, 1964) by trumpeter Blue Mitchell, it was evident early on that the keyboardist was a major talent, as was his ability to be adept in multiple genres as his work with Latin jazz titan, Mongo Santamaria.  When he cut Now He Sings, Now He Sobs (Solid State, 1968) with Miroslav Vitous on bass and Roy Haynes, that entire album, particularly with the title track, and now standards “Windows” and “Matrix” that Corea had a particular approach to melody, rhythm and harmony that was game changing, and the album offered a new way of thinking about the piano trio that’s been a template ever since.  Corea’s chamber oriented work with Gary Burton framed piano and vibraphone magically and it goes without saying that the work with both the initial Return to Forever and the beloved edition with Al DiMeola, Stanley Clarke and Lenny White provided compositional durability, along with Corea’s unmistakeable touch on both Fender Rhodes and synthesizers that allowed the music to gain a wide range of followers, regardless of genre.

As an explorer, Corea’s take no prisoners approach to free playing on albums like The Complete Is Sessions (Blue Note/Solid State, 1969) Arc (ECM, 1971) and dense, ring modulated Rhodes textures with the rhythm section of Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette in the Miles Davis Quintet was something to behold– Corea, like  Herbie Hancock before him was a conduit to the past, present and future.  The music of the Elektric Band, like that of Three Quartets  defined an era that an entire few generations of musicians grew up with.

Though Corea was so serious and precise in the execution of his compositions, the sense of humor, fun and innocence in the improvisation was truly a joy, he truly did travel into unknown vistas on fantastic recent albums like Forever (2009) Five Peace Band (2009) Trilogy (2014) and Antidote (2019), his zest for life, creation,  and passion for family were all reflected in his life and music, and there will never be another Chick Corea.  Thanks for all the music, and even in Returning to Forever which he has now done, he is still probably writing music and being so creative.

To close, I’d like to offer my own memory of Mr. Corea which started my journey which continues to this day.

I first encountered the music of Mr. Corea at the age of 7, I had traveled with my mother to Los Angeles as a young child, a family member was getting married and along the way, we had gone to the JVC Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl, with Michael Brecker and the Modern Jazz Quartet.  Beyond the shock of concert goers in front of us that a 7 year old knew what an EWI was, that night in a sense tied tradition (MJQ) to the present and future of the music.  As I was so young, I’m not sure I remember a ton from that night, but I do recall the energy of the Elektric Band’s music as they were touring in support of their second GRP album, Light Years with the classic lineup of Eric Marienthal on saxophones, John Pattitucci on bass and drummer Dave Weckl.   About a year later my mom’s brother told me about Return to Forever, because I was so immersed in straight ahead jazz at that age, I wasn’t quite ready for that music, I didn’t get heavy into RTF until my late 20’s, and I have re investigated the Elektric Band music in my 30’s.   To be transparent, this period gets unfairly slammed because of the dated synth sounds (I went there too in my purist phase) but there is cool music there, when you open up your mind, but for some with their tastes, that music is not for them.  The keyboardist blazed many trails and was in the best sense of the word, a musical polyglot.

New York Jazz Workshop offers a variety of courses which edify and explain the innovations of Mr. Corea and his contribution to this music.