At the forefront of jazz, one name stands out: Chick Corea. Since the 1960s, Corea has brought music to life as a prominent jazz pianist and composer, winning 25 Grammy Awards throughout his career (and over 60 nominations).
Corea is considered largely responsible for the birth of jazz fusion, a genre that combines jazz harmony and improvisational technique with rock music, funk, and rhythm and blues. Corea passed away at age 79 this past February, leaving behind an impressive discography spanning decades. Today, June 12, let's celebrate what would have been Corea's 80th birthday by revisiting some of this legend's greatest hits.
Chick Corea was born Armando Anthony Corea in Chelsea, Massachusetts, on June 12, 1941. He began playing piano at age 4, largely inspired by his musician parents and the vibrant jazz community in Boston at the time. Further, Corea's first piano teacher was Salvatore Sullo, a talented pianist who instilled proper technique in the young artist as well as an appreciation of European classical influences such as Mozart and Beethoven. By high school, Corea was already performing with a trio at a local jazz club.
In the early 1960s, Corea began his professional career as a jazz pianist. Alongside jazz greats such as saxophonist Stan Getz, flutist Herbie Mann, and trumpeter Blue Mitchell, Corea recorded his debut album, Tones for Joan's Bones, in 1966 (released in 1968). While the album marked Corea's first official recording, his breakthrough moment truly came with the release of his trio album, Now He Sings, Now He Sobs (1968). This album solidified Corea's place as not just an excellent pianist and composer, but a brilliant musical mind. It's now considered a jazz classic, and cemented Corea's place in the jazz universe as a pianist of incomparable skill.
Soon after, Corea met and began work with legendary Miles Davis. Alongside Davis, Corea recorded, toured and played into the 1970s, often experimenting with his sound by using a device called a ring modulator. Using this style, Corea appeared on several of Davis' albums until departing to form his own avant-garde quartet called Circle with saxophonist Anthony Braxton and drummer Barry Altschul.
In 1971, Corea formed the band Return to Forever, relying on both acoustic and electronic instrumentation and initially drawing upon Latin American music styles. It wasn't until 1973 that Corea returned to more rock-influenced styles that characterized the jazz fusion movement, adding electric guitarist Bill Connors and drummer Lenny White.
In the late 70s, Return to Forever disbanded, and Corea turned to duet and solo work. Most prominently, Corea embarked on a series of concerts with fellow pianist Herbie Hancock. At the same time, Corea released a series of solo projects, including his album The Mad Hatter (1978). Into the 1980s, Corea looked to reinvent electric and acoustic jazz with his groups Elektric and Akoustic, respectively. Alongside saxophonist Eric Marienthal, guitarist Frank Gambale, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Dave Weckl, Corea breathed new life into the fusion scene.
In the 90s and early 2000s, Corea continued to do what he did best: improvise, create, and innovate. During the later part of his career, Corea explored contemporary classical music. He composed his first piano concerto – and an adaptation of his signature piece "Spain" for a full symphony orchestra – and performed it in 1999 with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. In the early 2000s, Corea toured with the third iteration of Return to Forever.
It goes without saying (but we'll say it anyway) that Chick Corea dedicated his entire life to the pursuit of better music. He leaves behind a vast body of work and innumerable contributions to the jazz scene. Learn more about this legendary musician below.