Grammy-winning jazz pianist Chick Corea had a sweeping and influential music career
Armond Anthony “Chick” Corea, who grew up in Chelsea and would go on to become an internationally known superstar in the music industry and win 23 Grammy Awards as a jazz pianist, died on Feb. 9 after a gallant battle against cancer. He was 79.
Born in Chelsea, he was the son of Armando and Anna (Zaccone) Corea. Chick attended the Williams School where he was popular among his classmates and elected president of his ninth grade graduating class. Minna Karas Marino, a lifelong friend and classmate at Williams, recalled that Chick was enrolled in the college preparatory course at Williams and his classmates voted him “Most Likely to Succeed,” “Most Cooperative,” and “Most Musical.”
Chick continued his education at Chelsea High School for his sophomore year and most of his junior year before his parents bought a home in Everett, which required that Chick enroll in the Everett school system. He went on to graduate with the Everett High School Class of 1959.
But Chick always held a very special place in his heart for Chelsea and that’s why it meant so much to him when Minna Karas Marino and Councillor-at-Large Leo Robinson worked together to get Chick an honorary diploma as a Chelsea High School Class of 1959 graduate.
“Chickie was so happy to receive that diploma because he never really wanted to leave Chelsea,” said Karas Marino.
A street in Chelsea, Chick Corea Way, was named in his honor during “Chick Corea Tribute Day” in 2001.
Mr. Corea always loved coming back to Boston and performing at Symphony Hall and other local venues. At a sold-out concert at Symphony Hall in Boston in 2019, Mr. Corea and his group performed an amazing, jazz-oriented rendition of the “Happy Birthday” song for Minna Karas Marino. The caopacity crowd roared in its approval, some shouting their own birthday wishes to Minna, who was seated next to her husband, Nick, in the audience, and couldn’t believe the spotlight that her friend had shone on her in the middle of the concert.
Following the concert, Karas Marino and her husband went to greet their friend backstage. A multitude of fans of Mr. Corea, some from Chelsea, showed up at the backstage entrance.
“Chickie asked me, ‘Are all those people with you?”’ recalled Karas Marino. “He was so gracious. He took photos with everyone who requested one. That’s the type of kind and humble man he was.”
Lenny Nelson was among the Chelsea friends in attendance at the concert. Nelson was a classmate and played the drums in one of Chick’s early bands as a youth. So too, was classmate Butch Bradley, who performed in the Williams School Glee Club with Chick under the leadership of music director Alvin Toltz.
As the dean of city government and a close, personal friend of Chick Corea, Leo Robinson developed a strong bond with the legendary entertainer. He recalled how appreciative Chick was when he informed him that the city was going to name a street in his honor.
Robinson attended many of Chick performance’s in front of sold-out venues. “Going to the concerts with Minna, her husband, and friends was a lot of fun – we were Chick’s Chelsea group,” said Robinson. “Chick never forgot his Chelsea roots and we will always remember him not only for his tremendous musical talent but for being a tremendous person.”
Karas Marino related how she had one of Chick’s early music albums and he wrote on it, “From First Grade to Forever” as a heartfelt message symbolizing their grade school to Grammy-winning friendship.
“Chick was just a special, special person, so gracious and an incredible musician,” said Karas Marino. “I remember he played the piano, the trumpet, and the drums when he was growing up in Chelsea. His father had his own band and he started Chickie on the piano when he was four years old. Everybody loved him in Chelsea. As sweet as he was to people throughout his career, that’s how sweet he was in junior high and high school.”
Chick Corea’s incredible success story began in Chelsea and continued for a lifetime with admirers worldwide. Mr. Corea was nominated in 2020 for two Grammy Awards in the categories of Best Improvised Jazz Solo and Best Improvised Instrumental Album. The Grammy Awards will be televised March 14 on CBS.
Karas Marino said she is saddened by the loss of her lifelong friend.
“He battled his illness so bravely. He died very peacefully with his wife and children and grandchildren at his side. I still can’t believe he’s gone – I miss my friend,” said Karas Marino.