Chick Corea, a towering jazz pianist with a staggering 23 Grammy Awards who pushed the boundaries of the genre and worked alongside Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock, has died. He was 79.
Corea died Tuesday of a rare form of cancer, his team posted on his website. His death was confirmed by Corea’s web and marketing manager, Dan Muse.
On his Facebook page, Corea left a message to his fans: “I want to thank all of those along my journey who have helped keep the music fires burning bright. 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.”
A prolific artist with dozens of albums, Corea in 1968 replaced Herbie Hancock in Miles Davis’ group, playing on the landmark albums “In a Silent Way” and “Bitches Brew.”
He formed his own avant-garde group, Circle, and then founded Return to Forever. He worked on many other projects, including duos with Hancock and vibraphonist Gary Burton. He recorded and performed classical music, standards, solo originals, Latin jazz and tributes to great jazz pianists.
Harvey Mason Jr., interim president and CEO of The Recording Academy, wrote: “Chick rewrote the rulebook for jazz in his more than five-decade long career, receiving mass critical acclaim along the way for his musical excellence.”
Corea was named a National Endowment of the Arts Jazz Master in 2006. He was a member of the Church of Scientology and lived in Clearwater, Florida. He regularly won the title of Jazz Artist of the Year from Downbeat Magazine.
In addition to his Grammy wins, Corea also had four Latin Grammy wins. In a tweet, the Latin Recording Academy called him “a virtuosic pianist and one of the most prominent Latin jazz musicians of all times.” The Blue Note jazz club in New York City simply called him “irreplaceable.”
Drummer Sheila E. took to Twitter to mourn. “This man changed my life thru his music and we were able to play together many times. I was very fortunate to call him my family,” she wrote “Chick, you are missed dearly, your music and brilliant light will live on forever.”
Hip-hop star Q-Tip called Corea “one of the coldest pianist/keyboardist/songwriters of all time” and rapper Biz Markie celebrated Corea’s 1972 jazz fusion group Return to Forever, calling it “fossil fuel for an eternity of rap samples.”
Last year, Corea released the double album “Plays,” which captured him solo at various concerts armed simply with his piano.
“Like a runner loves to run because it just feels good, I like to play the piano just because it feels good,” he told The Associated Press at the time. “I can just switch gears and go to another direction or go to another song or whatever I want to do. So it’s a constant experiment.”
The double album was a peek into Corea’s musical heart, containing songs he wrote about the innocence of children decades ago as well as tunes by Mozart, Thelonious Monk and Stevie Wonder, among others.
Corea is the artist with the most jazz Grammys in the show’s 63-year history, and he has a chance to posthumously win at the March 14 show, where he’s nominated for best improvised jazz solo for “All Blues” and best jazz instrumental album for “Trilogy 2.”
Corea was born in Massachusetts and began piano lessons at 4. But he bristled at formal education and dropped out of both Columbia University and the Juilliard School. He began his career as a sideman.
Corea liked inviting volunteers onto the stage during solo concerts, sitting them down near his piano and creating spontaneous, entirely subjective tone poems about the person. “It starts as a game — to try to capture something I see in music,” he told the AP. “While I play, I look at them a couple of times like a painter would. I try to see if, while I’m playing, are they agreeing with what I’m playing? Do they think that this is really a portrait of them? And usually they do.”
Late last year, Corea was working had two commissions: A trombone concerto for the New York Philharmonic and a percussion concerto for the Philadelphia Orchestra. “I get interested in something and then I follow that interest. And that’s how my music comes out,” he said then. “I’ve always followed my interest. It’s been my successful way of living.”
He’s also started teaching online, creating the Chick Corea Academy to offer his views on music and share the opinions of others, take questions and chat with guests. He hopes his students will explore their freedom of expression and think for themselves.
“Does everyone have to like what I like? No. And it’s what makes the world go around that we all have different likes,” he told the AP. “We come together and we collaborate.”
Corea is survived by his wife, Gayle Moran, and a son Thaddeus.
Béla Fleck, a virtuoso on the banjo, who recorded and toured with Corea, called him “my hero, mentor and friend,” adding “The world has lost one of the great ones. I’m so honored to have known him.”
AP Music Editor Mesfin Fekadu contributed to this report.