Rest in Peace, Jazz Legend Chick Corea

Travis Rogers, Jr.

Rest in Peace, Jazz Legend Chick Corea

4 mins
February 15, 2021

Last Tuesday, February 9, 2021 the Jazz world lost one of its greatest and most influential musicians and composers of the modern era. Chick Corea—born Armando Anthony Corea—was as important to contemporary Jazz as was Thelonious Monk or Bill Evans. In the post-Coltrane era, he is usually named in the same breath as Keith Jarrett and Herbie Hancock.

His popularity is evident in that he was nominated for 65 Grammy Awards, winning 23, the most ever in the Jazz categories. Indeed, he was the fourth overall nominee in all categories.

Early Career

Chick began his professional career in the early 1960s with Mongo Santamaria, Willie Bobo, Blue Mitchell, Herbie Mann, and Stan Getz. He released his debut album, Tones for Joan's Bones, in 1966. Two years later, he released a trio album, Now He Sings, Now He Sobs, with Roy Haynes (drums) and Miroslav Vitous (bass). 

Chick was a member of Miles Davis band from 1967 until 1972. In that time, Chick was instrumental in Miles’ creation of what came to be called Fusion-Jazz, wherein the elements of Jazz improvisation and rhythmic understanding was fused with the power of Rock. It created a whole new audience for Jazz amongst young people who had been won over by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the Motown greats.

Return to Forever

In 1972, Chick formed his own Jazz-Fusion band called Return to Forever. That band’s first album—simply called Return to Forever—featured two Brazilians, the singer and percussionist Flora Purim and her husband Airto Moreira on drums, Joe Farrell on sax and flute, and a young bassist named Stanley Clarke. Clarke would become widely recognized as one of Jazz’s most important bassists in the post-Charles Mingus era. That debut album featured mostly Latin-oriented music. The song La Fiesta has become a classic.

The second album, Light as a Feather, was released in 1973 and the song Spain may be Chick’s most famous work. I have a signed copy of that chart hanging on our upstairs wall.

The third album, Hymn to the Seventh Galaxy, was released late in 1973 and brought into the band one of the most important figures, the drummer Lenny White. Then came 1974’s Where Have I Known You Before which brought the final jewel into the crown in the person of 19-year-old guitarist Al Di Meola. They followed that up with 1975’s No Mystery which won the Grammy Award for Best Jazz performance by a Group. In 1976 came Romantic Warrior which would outsell all other Return to Forever albums.

The next year, Lenny White and Al Di Meola were not brought back for the 1977 Musicmagic. Only Chick and Clarke remained. But in 1982, the classic line-up of four was brought back together for a reunion tour which I got to see. It still ranks as one of my top five concerts of all-time. During the performance, Stanley Clarke stepped to the microphone after they had opened with three of their more famous tunes. He announced, “We decided we wanted to play you some new material, so we asked Chick to write us some new songs. He took about five minutes out of his busy schedule and wrote us five new songs.

Maybe a joke but certainly a peek into the prolific composing ability of Chick Corea.

Elektric and Akoustic Bands

But during that same era, Chick was recording and performing with the likes of vibraphonist Gary Burton and Herbie Hancock. Then, during 1986-1994, Chick released nine albums as the Chick Corea Elektric Band and Chick Corea Akoustic Band. I got to see him with both bands and he was always phenomenal. More than that, he was a kind and generous person.

When I went to see him in Tampa with then Elektric Band, I was sitting in the balcony and waiting for the concert to begin which was still 20 minutes away. Who should walk in and stand at the railing but famed Jazz drummer (and founding member of the band YES) Bill Bruford. Seizing the opportunity, I called out his name and he came over and sat down for the next 15 minutes. We talked about Jazz and, especially, Chick. His admiration for Chick was effusive and entertaining.

In 2008, the four greats from Return to Forever reunited yet again for a tour and I got to see them in Portland, Oregon. It was here that I got to finally meet Chick. I was there to write a review of the concert and got to interview Chick and Stanley Clarke. The love for the music was only surpassed by their love for each other. On top of that was their abiding gratitude and joy at the audience who had listened for so long. That was when I also started to get autographs on the music charts of musicians I admired and (sometimes) adored. Chick Corea was the first.

The Freedom Band

I saw him again in Portland in 2010 when he toured with saxophonist Kenny Garrett, bassist Christian McBride, and the venerable drummer Roy Haynes. Together they were called the Freedom Band. This concert would also be in my top five concerts of all-time. During that show, the 85-year-old Haynes grabbed a microphone and exclaimed, “Man! We didn’t play this good and hard back in 1967!

Chick Corea with (l-r) Kenny Garrett, Christian McBride, and Roy Haynes in Portland, Oregon.

When they came back for the encore, Chick went to the drum kit, Haynes picked up the bass, and McBride sat the piano. Kenny Garrett stayed on the saxophone. They played three songs in those positions and, so help me, I would have paid money just for that mini-set.

I got to talk to Kenny Garrett after that concert. His admiration for Chick was as great as his respect for Miles Davis.

One thing was a constant among those who played with Chick, you have to enjoy yourself.

When he died last week, of a recently diagnosed cancer, my newsfeed and inbox was flooded with people’s personal recollections of Chick and his influence on them. For a day, the music world was stopped in its tracks.

Next week, some of those reflections.

This article was orginally reported by
Travis Rogers, Jr.

Travis is a contributor in religion and entertainment.