Let us take a moment to appreciate and celebrate Chick Corea, the legendary jazz keyboardist who passed away on Tuesday, February 9th at age 79.
Born on June 12th, 1941, Corea had short stints studying at Columbia and Juilliard, but it was his early live performances with the likes of Stan Getz, Herbie Mann, and Blue Mitchell that really sent the wheels of his career into motion.
After recording his solo debut Tones for Joan’s Bones at age 25, the album didn’t see release until two years later in 1968. The highly regarded record was an indicator of thing to come in Corea’s remarkable and lengthy career. Noting the influence of late, multiple GRAMMY award-winning pianist McCoy Tyner, AllMusic’s Jim Todd wrote of Tones, “Anybody with an interest in this vital and exciting period will find this session indispensable.”
Corea followed up his debut effort with another classic that also saw release in 1968. Recorded one year after Tones for Joan’s Bones, Now He Sings, Now He Sobs showcased Corea’s deft skills on the piano alongside the flawless playing of drummer Roy Haynes and bassist Miroslav Vitous.
According to Corea, the desired chemistry between the three players took some time to develop. He credited Haynes for bringing the necessary levity and rhythm to make things work. “The recording sessions had a concentration and intensity that was thick in the atmosphere of the studio,” he told Don Heckman in a 2014 interview on the GRAMMY website. “[Drummer] Roy [Haynes] and [bassist Miroslav Vitouš] were meeting for the first time and we had all these new tunes to deal with without any rehearsal. So it was tense for a while. But then, when Roy put his beat on things and added his humor and lightness as our "elder," things loosened up and the music started to fly.”
Cited as an all-time favorite album by multi-genre singer songwriter Bilal, Now He Sings, Now He Sobs was inducted into the GRAMMY Hall of Fame in 1999. This nod from the Recording Academy was one of many—Corea won 23 GRAMMY awards during his career in addition to being nominated for 67.
Corea consistently managed to create deeply absorbing compositions, even on his less-celebrated projects. In 1978 he released three solo studio albums including Secret Agent, a modest critical success and somewhat forgotten part of his vast catalog. Though the album didn’t have the same accoldates as some of his other records, it still provided listeners with many powerful musical moments.
A modernized rendition of Hungarian composer and pianist Béla Bartók’s “Bagatelle #4” is a particularly compelling selection. Featuring somber keys coupled with the layered harmonies of Corea’s wife and vocalist Gayle Moran, the song takes a gorgeous, unexpected turn when he starts wailing on a synthesizer around the 55-second mark. It literally sounds like he’s trying to communicate with the heavens above while he plays, evoking a broad range of emotions in the process.
The fact that a musician could creative something so strikingly beautiful and not have it counted as one of their best compositions is a testament to the rare level of mastery Chick Corea demonstrated throughout his career.
His loss will be deeply felt by many, but there’s no doubt his music will continue to provide comfort and inspiration for countless generations.
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