The City of Chelsea lost one of its greatest native sons with the passing of jazz great Armando Anthony “Chick” Corea this past week at the age of 79.
Chick Corea (whose nickname “Chick” derived from the nickname “Cheeky” that an aunt, who would pinch his cheeks, had given to him when he was a youngster) was born and raised in the city, attending the Williams School and Chelsea High School, though he graduated from Everett High in 1959 when his parents bought a house in that city in the middle of his junior year in high school.
Chick Corea’s immense musical talent was nurtured from a very early age by his father, Armando, who himself was a jazz musician, and continued through his years in the Chelsea school system.
Corea took music lessons at the Williams School from Alvin Toltz and was a member of the St. Rose Scarlet Lancers Drum and Bugle Corps. Interestingly, Corea developed an interest in drums as a youth before eventually switching to the piano exclusively, but it was his drum-playing as a youngster that inspired his use of the piano as a percussive instrument that ultimately led to the development of his unique style that led to his recognition as a world-renowned jazz keyboardist.
Chick Corea performed with all of the world’s great musicians over the past half century. He was a member of the Miles Davis Band in the 1960s before establishing his own band that eventually led to 23 Grammy awards and more than 60 Grammy nominations, all the while performing with the greatest musicians, jazz and otherwise, of his era.
Despite his world-wide fame and success, Chick Corea always remained a humble person who never forgot his Chelsea roots, often reconnecting with classmates from Chelsea High when he came to the Boston area for concerts. He was especially proud when he received an honorary Chelsea High diploma many years later because he always considered himself a Chelsea boy at heart.
Among those who remembered Corea was John Mayer who wrote on Instagram: “Chick Corea was the single greatest improvisational musician I have ever played with. Nobody was more open, more finely tuned to the moment, changing his approach with every new offering by the musicians around him. If you hit a wrong note, he’d immediately pick it up and play it as a motif so as to say ‘all of this has value, whether you see it or not.’ What an immeasurable loss in so many ways.”
Chick Corea’s last words, via his family on Facebook, were these: “I want to thank all of those along my journey who have helped keep the music fires burning bright,” he wrote. “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.
“And to my amazing musician friends who have been like family to me as long as I’ve known you: It has been a blessing and an honor learning from and playing with all of you. My mission has always been to bring the joy of creating anywhere I could, and to have done so with all the artists that I admire so dearly — this has been the richness of my life.”
The world will miss Chick Corea. May he rest in peace.