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Pioneer of jazz fusion Chick Corea dies of cancer at 79

Members of the Chick Corea Jazz Electric Band standing next to one another smiling with a white background, all wearing dark clothing
Chick Corea was known for his innovation in the genre of jazz fusion. (UMKC Libraries)

Chick Corea, a legendary jazz musician, composer and keyboardist, died of a rare form of cancer on Feb. 9, 2021, at the age of 79. 

“Throughout his life and career, Chick relished in the freedom and the fun to be had in creating something new, and in playing the games that artists do,” read a statement posted on his Facebook page. “Through his body of work and the decades he spent touring the world, he touched and inspired the lives of millions.”

Corea was well known for being a prolific jazz pianist and an earnest collaborator with other musicians. In 2006, he was named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts, and has won 23 Grammys over the course of his career. In an article from NPR, he was called “one of the most revered figures in contemporary jazz.”

“I think that Chick will be remembered for his innovation and his collaboration.” said Chuck Haddix, the curator of UMKC’s Marr Sound Archive. “He was on the cutting edge of so many different movements of jazz, from his first recordings in the 1960s where he kind of redefined jazz piano, trio music. And then, of course, his work with Miles Davis, where he took Miles from a very traditional place to bring rock and roll into jazz.” 

The Marr sound archives at Miller-Nichols Library provide a wealth of music recordings from the past two centuries. (Kayl Auch).

As a member of Miles Davis’ band in the 1960s, they broke ground forming a new genre known as jazz fusion. Music known as jazz fusion contains elements of jazz improvisation, rhythm and blues, funk, and rock. 

“When I first heard that, I’d never heard anything quite like it, and it was something that really changed how I listened to music and what I was interested in,” said Haddix. “Like many young rock and rollers who became interested in jazz, it was Chick Corea who really opened my eyes and my ears to jazz music and the possibilities of that music genre.” 

Haddix recalled when he saw Chick perform music from “Return to Forever” at Memorial Hall in the 1970s.

“It just blew my mind,” Haddix said. “I never heard anything quite like that. And I had seen Janis Joplin, I’d seen The Grateful Dead at Memorial hall, a lot of shows. That one really is one that stands out in my mind after all those, because it was so different than anything I’d ever heard before.”

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