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How the late jazz great Chick Corea is being remembered — in concert

Chick Corea is known as one of the most powerful pianists, composers, and bandleaders in the history of jazz. He earned 27 Grammy awards and blazed trails across bebop, straight-ahead, free jazz, fusion and Latin jazz over the course of nearly 6 decades.

When he died unexpectedly last February from a rare form of cancer, he left dozens of musicians heartbroken. On Apr. 15, Jazz at Lincoln Centerwill celebrate Corea's legacy with a concert of his music performed by band members from every phase of his long career.

"His creative power, and his force, was so strong that you couldn't help but get swept up with it when you played with him. And it was exciting," says concert director and bassist John Patitucci. He played with Corea on hundreds of gigs since 1985.

"He was so prolific. He wrote so many pieces. So many tunes. We used to joke with him: If we gave him a half-hour, he would write a Suite of music, not just a tune. And he was able to combine so many elements, and retain an original sound, and a voice."

Corea's touch on the piano --the way his fingers bounced off the keys—made his sound unique.

A Defining Touch

Armando "Chick" Corea was born in 1941 in Chelsea, Massachusetts. His father was a bebop trumpet player. His grandparents on both sides were Italian immigrants. Yet in high school, he gravitated to Latin music when he joined a dance band.

"And the Conga player was one who really introduced me to Latin music, Corea told NPR during a 2016 interview. "So I connected with the Latinos right away, and the music and the rhythm of it."

Tom Vitale and Chick Corea at the Blue Note in 2016.
/ Tom Vitale
Tom Vitale
Tom Vitale and Chick Corea at the Blue Note in 2016.

When Corea moved to New York in the 1960s, that connection deepened. "Because the Puerto Ricans and Cubans were in New York. Eddie Palmieri was there. Tito Puente's band was there. My first major gig was with Mongo Santamaria."

In the late 1960s, Corea joined Miles Davis's band where he helped pioneer a sound that came to be known as "Jazz-Rock Fusion." He went on to form his own fusion group, Return to Forever, which sold hundreds of thousands of records. By the time bassist Christian McBride met him in 1993, he says Corea was already a living legend.

"And someone who we were just in awe of."

McBride went on to play with Corea on and off for 26 years. He says Corea was always kind, open, and genuinely interested in other people.

"If you met Chick on the street, you would not think that this man has been responsible for so much incredible genius music that the world loved so much. Just a regular dude. And I will miss that about Chick. A beautiful, beautiful man."

Chick Corea kept churning out new music until his death last February at age 79. He said his collaborations meant everything to him.

"Working with other musicians is what music is to me. If there were not other musicians, it would be some kind of abstractness of loneliness, out sitting on a cloud somewhere. And the particular music that I love is not just casual interaction with other musicians, but actually creative interactions with other musicians. That's what keeps me going man. I just love to create."

Celebrating Chick Corea takes place Apr. 15-16 at the Jazz at Lincoln Center.

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Tom Vitale