Chick Corea, Influential Jazz-Fusion Pianist, Dead at 79

Photo: Paul Bergen/Redferns

Chick Corea, the prolific pianist who became a figurehead of jazz fusion, died on February 9, according to a message posted to his social media. Corea, who was 79, died due to “a rare form of cancer which was only discovered very recently.”

Corea began performing in high school, and made it his career after dropping out of Juilliard. He began recording and releasing music in the 1960s, eventually joining Miles Davis’s band. He performed with Davis through 1970, including on the classic Bitches Brew. After leaving Davis’s band, he formed the experimental jazz group Circle, then the fusion group Return to Forever, regarded as a leading jazz-fusion act for drawing from Latin and rock music. Around the same time, Corea began collaborating with musicians including fellow jazz-fusion pianist Herbie Hancock, the vibraphonist Ray Burton, and the banjo player Béla Fleck; he also formed the Chick Corea Elektric Band, the Chick Corea Akoustic Band, and the Chick Corea New Trio.

Throughout his career, Corea was known for provocative playing techniques including modulating his electric piano and plucking piano strings. Many of his songs have become standards, including “Spain,” “500 Miles,” and “Windows.” He won 23 Grammys and released nearly 100 studio and live albums, most recently Plays in September 2020. Corea is currently nominated for two Grammys for Best Improvised Jazz Solo and Best Jazz Instrumental Album for his work on Trilogy 2, a 2019 collaboration with bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade.

The post announcing Corea’s death included a final message from the musician. “I want to thank all of those along my journey who have helped keep the music fires burning bright,” he said. “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.” Corea went on to thank his “amazing musician friends.” “It has been a blessing and an honor learning from and playing with all of you,” he said. “My mission has always been to bring the joy of creating anywhere I could, and to have done so with all the artists that I admire so dearly—this has been the richness of my life.”

Chick Corea, Influential Jazz-Fusion Pianist, Dead at 79