Technically, the first time I ever heard Chick Corea on record was as a teenager when I bought Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, pretentiously thinking I was so much more sophisticated than my rock loving peers. But I didn’t actually know which musicians I was listening to, apart from Miles himself, and I couldn’t make sense of what I was hearing anyway (and to make matters worse, I really didn’t like the trumpet then. No amount of fabulous electric piano playing was going to change that). By the time I had been fully bitten by the jazz bug years later, and Bitches Brew revealed itself to me in all its glory, I knew who Chick was, and I admired his playing immensely. From there, the doors to the jazz/fusion world were blown off their hinges, and jazz became as vital to me as any other genre of music had been (and much more so in many cases). I jumped in with both feet and discovered not only Return To Forever (and all their contemporaries), but Chick’s own albums from his vast catalogue too. You would have needed a shovel to pick my jaw up off the floor the first time I heard and connected with albums like Now He Sings, Now He Sobs or that first RTF album in all their wondrous elegance and artistry. These were absolute revelations, and even now in middle age, they still blow my mind. Not simply for the level of musicianship, but for the sheer beauty of the notes contained within those grooves. For as many accolades as Chick and his bandmates received for their technique, it was the pure, palpable joy of playing the music of their souls that dwarfed every other aspect.
Where other musicians plateaued and coasted through their lives and careers having garnered sufficient recognition, Chick endlessly strived to better himself and to expand his palette, and this penchant for progress seeped into those who worked with him. He won an astonishing 23 Grammys, yet even those seem hollow and ill-fitting, as though the relative ugliness of competition was ever something that drove him. The true artist wants only one thing: to inspire. And inspire he did, over his many decades as a professional musician, equally content tickling ivories in an intimate setting with a group of unknowns as he was alongside fellow luminaries in famous venues. It would be vulgar and pointless to rattle off his scorecard, especially now. He’s earned his place in history and in the collective hearts of his students and admirers, with an astonishing body of work that can never be taken from him or us. Transcendent music that heals, soothes, motivates, influences, stirs, dazzles, and captivates. We are understandably wistful and subdued with a loss of this magnitude, but our world is infinitely richer for having had Chick’s contributions enliven it for so long. So from the barest and most honest part of me, Chick, let me sincerely say: thank you, thank you, thank you.
‘You don’t have to be Picasso or Rembrandt to create something. The fun of it, the joy of creating, is way high above anything else to do with the art form.‘ – Chick Corea, 1941 – 2021