Remembering Chick Corea

Jazz legend was intent on February gigs and beyond

It’s always really eerie to interview somebody and then just a few weeks later read that they are no longer with us.

Gosh, music legend Chick Corea seemed so full of life, healthy, anxious to explore new grounds in 2021 when we met up in November for one of his final interviews.

The question I posed to him back then was if he looked forward to getting back to tour again one day, post the pandemic. He stopped me short and jumped right in.

“No,” he said. “We are going back on the road. We will go back on the road. This phase we are in will pass.”

Corea, who died Tuesday 2/9 from what reps say was a sudden, rare form of cancer, told me of dates he would be doing in Florida in the coming months, (ones that eventually got canceled) but that February would be the “first month where I really hit it hard touring.”

Sadly, that wasn’t to be. I interviewed Corea for the NAMM #BelieveinMusic Show, the trade convention for music retailers that went all-digital for 2021. Beyond product intros and industry chat, it also featured folks like myself interviewing music legends on Zoom, and presenting the video for attendees.

Corea played with the greats, from Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Gary Burton, Stanley Clarke, Bela Fleck and so many others, and he was best known for his stint with the jazz-rock fusion group Return to Forever, and his signature song “Spain.” In the interview, I asked him how he felt about touring at age 79.

“When you find something you love to do and you do a lot of it…you feel good,” he said. “For me to play for audiences, record, write music, write arrangements….this is what I love to do. The more of it I do per day, per week…equals my own personal morale and my own personal health.”

You can see the complete #BelieveinMusic interview here:


Los Angeles Times

New York Times

Before he passed, Corea dictated some thoughts to be passed on to his Facebook fans.

“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.

Anyone who has followed me through the years knows how much I agree with Corea. What’s cooler than playing a great song?

Making Music

Now before I tell you about my first meetup with Chick back in 2014, which was also memorable, let’s talk his music. In a few words, the jazz that Corea created was lyrical and romantic, inspired by classical and Spanish melodies, and oh so sweet to listen to. I’ve been a fan for decades.

I did ask Corea twice, during interviews, to spotlight a Chick playlist for newbies to check out his music. He declined, saying it was like picking out his favorite babies. Asked to name favorites, “My top one is the one I'm working on,” he said. “It always is.”

When I first posed the question, in 2014, I personalized it by asking him to create a Chick playlist for Sean Fujiwara, the young video producer who worked with me on the interview. He turned the tables away from Chick music, and instead offered a sampler to get Sean into jazz, by suggesting the Miles Davis classic “Kind of Blue,” and Horace Silver’s “Blowing the Blues Away.” (Check the clip below.)

So I’ll give you two playlists. If you have Spotify, check out this collection of 5 key Chick Corea albums. You’ll either agree with me or disagree, but you’ll have a great time listening to the music: “Light as a Feather,” “Crystal Silence,” “My Spanish Heart” “Two,” the live recording with banjo master Fleck and an album of solo piano compositions. And below that, 5 of my favorite Chick tunes.

The 2014 Meetup

When I first met up with Corea, I was told by his reps that the Florida resident would be staying a “private Hollywood hotel,” and that’s where we would meet.

Private hotel? Is there really such a thing? Yes indeed, it’s the “Celebrity Centre” for the Church of Scientology, of which Corea was an active member. It’s actually a really old landmark on Franklin Avenue that should have been creepy, except that everyone was really nice to Sean and myself. No one tried to indoctrinate us into the fold, thankfully.

In the interview, the interaction with Chick suggesting jazz classics for Sean of course stood out over everything else. And I loved asking how little Armando Corea became known as Chick.

We ended the 2014 interview with me asking him about how he envisioned the next 20 years of his life.

“I’m still doing it!” (Making music.)” Corea said he would be “incomplete” without both playing and performing music for audiences. “That’s the game I’ve played since day one, composing and touring,” and it’s “endlessly enjoyable.”

As Corea returns to forever, he leaves behind his wife Gayle, son and a daughter and grandkids, millions of fans, and better yet, hours and hours of amazing music that so many of us find “endlessly enjoyable,” to listen to. For all time.

Thank You’s

I posted recently that being a journalist is the greatest job in the world, because you get to meet really interesting people and ask them all about their lives.

I believed it then, I believe it now! I got to sit down twice with Chick Corea! I’ll never forget it.

So a big thank you to former USA TODAY exec Jeremy Teres who gave me the “Talking Your Tech,” video show and then editor Nancy Blair for encouraging me to do great things with it.

Chalise Zolezzi and Jeanne O’Keefe came to me last year and asked if I’d do some interviews for the NAMM Show. Of course! How soon could we set them up?

When Jeanne asked who was at the top of my wish list for the series, I quickly responded with Chick Corea, since he was doing amazing things on Facebook, showcasing his practice sessions daily for fans. He was doing what he loved, and finding new ways to reach the public, even in a pandemic.

An inspiration to us all.

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