International Jazz Day: A Celebration of Chick Corea
As we celebrate International Jazz Day 2021, Yamaha Jazz Artists and former technicians pay tribute to the genius of influential pianist, keyboardist, composer and bandleader Chick Corea.
To have changed the course of music just once would have marked Chick Corea as an innovator of considerable note, but to have consistently revolutionised the direction of jazz throughout his lifetime is to define the very concept of genius. Indeed, such was his versatility as a jazz piano improviser, keyboardist and bandleader that his legacy is keenly felt across a number of other genres including latin, rock and classical music in a career that spanned six decades.
Having played with some of the biggest pioneers of jazz at the dawn of his career - these included Cab Calloway, Sarah Vaughan and Stan Getz – he proved a key and instrumental figure in helping trumpeter Miles Davis push jazz into totally groundbreaking and previously unimaginable territories with series of genre-busting albums that included ‘In A Silent Way’, ‘Bitches Brew’ and ‘On The Corner’.
Similarly, he blazed a trail with the avant-jazz ensemble Circle as well as expanding his horizons with his fusion band Return To Forever. So influential and vital was Chick Corea to modern jazz that his compositions ‘La Fiesta’, ‘Spain’ and ‘Armando’s Rhumba’ became standards for a new generation of musicians.
Having received the prestigious National Endowment For The Arts Jazz Master in 2006, his career continued right up until his passing at the age of 79 in February 2021. Little wonder, then, that his cultural contributions were recognised by 23 Grammy Awards, having been nominated an incredible 60 times.
We at Yamaha were proud to have worked closely with Chick Corea since 1967. Speaking in 2015 of his new Yamaha CFIIIS Grand Piano, Chick Corea said: “If I have an idea of what I want a sound to be and I put it on the piano, what happens with this piano, is that it’s able to give back to me just what my imagination, at its best, is saying that it is. The response of the piano is so beautiful that it inspires me to keep playing.”
And, as evidenced by the fulsome praise of the musicians who have been inspired by him, Chick Corea will undoubtedly continue to make waves for many decades to come…
Chick Corea is still a master even though he’s no longer here. He influenced me a lot. His dry touch and brilliance were unique and instantly recognisable. I think McCoy Tyner influenced Chick Corea, and you can hear that inspiration in the album ‘Now He Sings, Now He Sobs’. You also feel that he assimilated classical musicians like Béla Bartók without ever losing his great personality, and of course he had his genius, which actually made the difference. The lesson Chick Corea taught us is to be able to assimilate without losing our personality.
In Chick Corea I found a world of music that opened paths for me and put my harmonic sensibilities on a trajectory that I continue to explore to this day.
When I was 16 years old and listening to ‘Return to Forever’, I spent an entire summer transcribing and trying to reproduce his solos… an experience that inspired me to embrace fusion as the fundamental approach to my musical creation. Chick Corea is – and continues to be –- one of the most important catalysts for many Cuban musicians – pianists or otherwise.
I was introduced to Yamaha pianos by Chick and I am so thankful now to be part of the beautiful Yamaha family. Thank-you to Chick for all of the magic and wisdom he has left us. May his Spirit always illuminate our music and accompany us in this beautiful world of musical creation and interpretation!
I never had the honour of playing with Chick Corea, but I did meet him on several occasions and I was always struck by his kindness, curiosity and genuine interest. As luck would have it, I worked with many of the musicians who had years of collaborating with him. Feeling his spirit through their playing always inspired me, but it’s also a clear and present reminder of his profound impact.
My first encounter with his music was as a teenager with ‘Part 2’ on the ‘Three Quartets’ album. I was totally blown away - not only by his distinct personal sound, but also his musicianship, his clear vision and how he composed, making room for every member of the band.
Chick Corea’s compositions are deceptively easy on the ears, but delightfully challenging to play. There’s also enormous freedom in his music, but it requires your full attention and creativity to honour this gift. And still, with all this freedom, you recognise him and his sound, immediately.
It’s hard to say which part of his genius is the most important. Naming one doesn’t make sense. All aspects of his musicianship will live forever. It will inspire, teach, enlighten, sooth, energize generations to come. Right now, I’m thinking about the way he played and composed. He made it essential, more than ever, that music is a group effort, on every level and at any moment of interplay. Playing, improvising and composing like he did, can only inspire you to reach for the stars.
Chick Corea is a great source of inspiration for any improvising musician.
The first time I came across his musicianship was in 1971 when I heard his playing on the ‘Miles Davis Live At Fillmore’ album. The music was mindblowing and so was Chick, playing electric piano. It was a sound I had never heard before and I knew instantly that this was the music of the future.
When Return To Forever’s third studio album ‘Hymn Of The Seventh Galaxy’ hit my ears in 1973, I was once more totally blown away by the power and musicianship on the album.
I actually got the offer to join Chick’s band at one point. His manager at the time, Ron Moss, contacted me and asked if I would be interested. I was, but it didn’t happen. I’m still grateful for even being considered.
Today, I’m somewhat older but hopefully still aspiring, and I just wish that Chick was still among us. He is an eternal source of inspiration to all improvising musicians and as long as I live, I will cherish his memory.
A very sad privilege to write these words. Chick Corea was a unique, brilliant and generous musician who gave beauty and emotions to millions of people with his music. His irrepressible eclecticism was an unprecedented strength, it was simply the desire to know, to explore, to go beyond. His physical approach to the piano, his incredible rhythmic engine, his compositions. All of this must be remembered today, on a day of celebration for the music that he honoured at best. The Fest of Music, like "La fiesta", his famous song. For Chick music was always a festival, we could feel it in every note of him. He reminded us of it even shortly before leaving us, unexpectedly, a few months ago.
Personally it is difficult for me to forget the first impact with his music. Listening to his overwhelming cult record "Now he sings, now he sobs" was a turning point for me. I told him, the first time we met, back in 1984. I also told him - and he had a good laugh - that I had "stolen" several things that that record revealed. For me he was also a great friend I will miss him, we will all miss him.
I hugely admired Chick and got to meet him a number of times. I saw him live with his trio and remember how his technique was perfect – it completely blew me away! Chick was super-humble and sweet every time we hung out.
For me, Chick Corea was one of the greatest jazz pianists to ever walk the planet.
I was 15 years old when I first heard him. My father brought me a videotape with a concert of his project, The Chick Corea Elektric Band and I was amazed and captivated by his unique music and sound.
From that moment I felt that Chick Corea would be the musician to inspire and guide me through his music in my career as a jazz pianist. Many of my compositions are influenced by his style. These include elements from the flamenco music, Latin and funk, musical genres that he frequently used. This is what made his music so complex and unique.
I think it’s because I loved his music so much - and it was such an important inspiration in my career - that destiny helped me to meet Maestro in person. In 2017 I had the honour of performing in the opening act for him at the Jacksonville Jazz Festival. I will never forget the words he said to me after he heard my performance: “Keep up the great work and spread your talent with the world”
Thank you for your music, Maestro! Thanks to you, the Earth is a much more beautiful place!
Chick Corea has been an endless source of inspiration for one generation after another. His ‘Children´s Songs’ was a sliding door during my teen years. I consider his masterpiece ‘Spain’ as one of the earliest example of World Music. Chick Corea taught to all of us to be musicians without borders, searching for the beauty in thousands of ways and forms.
Chick Corea will always be an incredible inspiration to me - his playing, his compositions, but most importantly his attitude; he never stopped learning and trying new things, looking for new ways to express his unparalleled musical imagination.
He always sounded fresh, constantly reinventing his art while staying true to himself at all times. This, to me, is the ultimate goal as a jazz musician and Chick Corea was the epitome of that dream. May he rest in peace and continue live on in his incredible music and wisdom that he graciously shared with us.
Chick has always been right at the top of the family tree of my musical heroes, ever since the time I started to become a jazz musician in my early teens. A school trip to one of his concerts with Gary Burton (playing the music from the album ‘Native Sense’) was an unforgettable experience, and I’ll never forget how inspiring it was to hear him play that evening.
If I had to pick one element of his playing, I think the most important one to mention now would be the sense of pure fun when he played. Like a child exploring in a sand pit! Finding idea after idea, and developing them to joyful and energetic conclusions…
What a great inspiration to all musicians, but especially younger ones. It’s so easy to focus on the rudiments and techniques of music making when you’re studying, but to create and convey that much joy and light in one’s music was a very special and unique gift indeed, and something we should all aspire to.
What’s also important to remember are the tools of Chick Corea’s trade – in this case the Yamaha CFX Grand Piano. Here, the technicians who ensured that Chick Corea’s instruments were always at the peak of their abilities share their memories of working with the jazz titan.
Though it’s become increasingly difficult to convey my feelings as I continue to work and travel throughout this pandemic, I’m struggling to contain my tears over the loss of Chick Corea.
I first became aware of Chick Corea as a teenage piano student. I saw his posters and records in stores and heard people speak of his musical genius. I loved that he not only expressed himself with a piano but that he could also bring out the best in any electronic keyboard. He made music seem easy and fun - even when it was serious – and so be became one of my youthful idols.
As a piano technician, I’m grateful for the training I received at Yamaha, which put me in good stead for going on tour with Chick Corea. I had the honour of preparing his piano for the last 16 years. His tour manager, Brian Alexander, was also a piano technician and after the first tour told me that Chick liked my work. I was so grateful to hear this that, despite my nerves, I continued to do my best for the man that was so important to me and everyone else.
But Chick didn’t want to be viewed as important. He just really enjoyed making music with others in whatever style he wanted. He never complained about the piano. On the contrary, he continually praised the work and knew how to get the best out of his instrument without ever mistreating it. The piano was his best friend. He took care of it and gave it a lot of importance, but not him.
I remember at the end of one concert, and two kids approached the stage with vinyl records under their arms and carrying marker pens. They were calling out for an autograph before the other musicians had even reached the dressing room. By this point, Chick had already performed several concerts over consecutive nights and this had been a three-hour show, but he leaned over from the stage to reach them, waved, signed their albums and took a photo.
Suddenly everyone, instead of leaving, crowded to meet him and Chick Corea greeted his fans, signed their albums and took a photo with anyone who wanted one. The stage had already been cleared but Chick stayed behind for his fans. The fans were as important to him as the musicians he worked with.
That was the real Chick Corea. He was a humble man, hardworking, disciplined and respectful. That was the real Chick, even though we called him Chick Corea The Genius.
He was a master class for musicians and non-musicians alike. Thank you, Maestro, my idol forever.
Many are the artists who entrust the maintenance of their instrument to their technicians. The result of this collaboration manifests itself in the performance of the instrument itself, to the degree that the results are tailor-made for the artist. For this reason, the preparation of a piano begins well in advance, to allow for an optimal setup even before playing. But the preparation doesn’t stop there. After the piano is set up on stage and checked again, it is essential to attend the artist's soundcheck and rehearsals to listen to some of the nuances of sound that could be improved with a retouch, even shortly before the start of the performance.
Before meeting Chick, I believed that only classical musicians were extremely demanding about the quality and preparation of their instruments. But Chick’s requirements went far beyond theirs…
In the spring of 2003, Europe’s first Blue Note club opened in Milan. Chick Corea was the first artist to play there and he played two shows a night for a whole week. A few weeks ahead of the shows, we received a number of requests from Chick Corea relating to the Concert Grand piano that he would be using. These included its maintenance history, under what circumstances the piano was usually used, if the pedals been adjusted properly and who the piano’s technician was. Also included were a series of recommended procedures for the tuning of the piano as well as protocols for the acclimatization of the instrument to ensure its maximum effectiveness during the performance. This was the seriousness and high level of attention with which this jazz great approached his craft.
I personally met Chick Corea right on that stage in front of a big YAMAHA CF tail. I spent as week assisting this great artist and my duties involved tuning his piano before afternoon rehearsals as well before each of the evening performances. On the day of the last concert, I found inside his piano a poster signed with his thanks as well as a signed CD. I keep that homage of his with gratitude and I remember with true esteem his extraordinary ability to give thanks, as he wished to do so through the farewell message in his final greeting, before leaving this world.
This is what he wrote: “I want to thank all those who, along my journey, have contributed to keeping the fire of music alive. I hope that those who have the vague idea of playing, writing, performing or otherwise will. If not for you, then for the rest of us. It’s not just that the world needs more artists; it’s also a lot of fun.
“And to my fantastic musician friends who have been like family to me since I’ve known them; it has been a blessing and an honour to learn from you and play with all of you. My mission has always been to bring joy wherever I could, and having done it with all the artists I admire so much this has been the richness of my life.”
I worked with this gentleman of jazz on several other occasions, which included performances at the Milan Conservatory. There, he showed he was just as much at home with the music of Scarlatti and Bach as he was with jazz. These were moments of total musical joy.