Obituary: Prolific jazz pianist Chick Corea, 23-time Grammy winner, dead at 79

Chick Corea

Chick Corea performs at Blue Note in Milan, Italy, on March 8, 2013. Photo: Sergione Infuso/Corbis.

When I covered several Grammy Awards presentations in Los Angeles over the last decade, there were few people as prevalent at every turn down a walkway or media work room than Chick Corea. The jazz great, who died of cancer on Feb. 9, may not have been often featured on the primetime show, but his name being called in the un-televised portion of the ceremony, where most of the jazz and classical awards live, was as much of a given as an LL Cool J fist-bump or a greeting by Pauley Perrette of “NCIS.”

His death was reported on his social media accounts.

Twenty-three: that’s how many Grammy Awards the pianist has won over 50 years in the music industry. That’s more than any other artist. He was not only terrific, influencing multiple generations of jazz greats, but prolific, releasing more than 100 albums. He won his first Grammy in 1968 with Now He sings, Now He Sobs. The award show was in its 18th year at the time.

In 1968, Chick Corea replaced Herbie Hancock in Miles Davis’ group, playing on In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew. He also played on several of Davis’ live albums.

He formed his own groups, Circle and Return to Forever. Corea frequently played with Hancock and vibraphonist Gary Burton. He was also constantly exploring musical ground outside of jazz: in classical music, American standards and Latin music. He won four Latin Grammys in addition to the others. His most recent album was 2020’s live double album, Plays. Corea compared his passion to that of a runner who goes mile after mile—he didn’t feel like stopping.

On his Facebook page, Corea left messages to fans and other musicians.

“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.”

It is with great sadness we announce that on February 9th, Chick Corea passed away at the age of 79, from a rare form of…

Posted by Chick Corea on Thursday, February 11, 2021

Corea is nominated for another two Grammys at this year’s March 14 ceremony: for best improvised jazz solo for “All Blues” and best jazz instrumental album for Trilogy 2. Corea regularly appeared at SFJAZZ performances and festivals, and was scheduled to perform at its Summer Sessions last year, which were canceled due to COVID-19.

Corea’s management team said he died of a “rare form of cancer which was only discovered very recently.” On social media, tributes came from musicians in many genres. Bay Area drummer Sheila E. wrote, “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. Chick, you are missed dearly, your music and brilliant light will live on forever.” Q-Tip called Corea “one of the coldest pianist/keyboardist/songwriters of all time.”

At the Grammy Awards I attended, Corea was the artist you could always count on to talk to the press and offer a smile. He wasn’t forced to do either. In fact, many artists bypass the pre-cast ceremony and press rooms altogether. Much like he did with his music, he didn’t feel like stopping.

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