Chick Corea: who was the Spain composer and Return to Forever founder - and what was he known for?

Corea died at the age of 79 after being recently diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, a statement on his website said

Renowned American jazz pianist and composer Chick Corea has died at the age of 79 from a rare form of cancer which he was only recently found to have, according to an announcement.

“He was a beloved husband, father and grandfather, and a great mentor and friend to so many,” a statement on his website said. “Through his body of work and the decades he spent touring the world, he touched and inspired the lives of millions.”

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He accrued 67 Grammy nominations across a 50-year career, making him the fourth most nominated artist in the Awards' history – he won 23.

In a message composed ahead of his death, Corea said: 'I want to thank all of those along my journey who have helped keep the music fires burning bright' (Photo: Giorgio Perottino/Getty Images for OGR )

Here is everything you need to know about him.

Who was he?

Born in Massachusetts in 1941, Corea was introduced to jazz at a young age by his father, himself jazz trumpeter who led bands throughout the 1930s and 40s.

Influenced initially by bebop and artists like Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Horace Silver, and Lester Young, Corea developed his piano skills by exploring music on his own.

Corea is the fourth most nominated artist in the Grammy Awards' history - he won 23 (Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

He began performing publicly during his high school years after his father gifted him a black tuxedo, and soon after he moved to New York City for a musical education.

Corea only managed one month at Columbia University and six months at another school after quitting, finding both disappointing.

He developed an interest in L. Ron Hubbard's science fiction novels in the early 1970s, and later became a Scientologist – the religion which Hubbard founded – which he said allowed him to “see my potential for communication was a lot greater than I thought it was.”

His professional career began in the early 1960s, and Corea released his debut album – Tones for Joan's Bones – in 1968.

Corea said the religion became a profound influence on his musical direction in the early 1970s, and he was infamously excluded from a concert during the 1993 World Championships in Athletics in Germany after the state government announced it was reviewing its subsidies for events featuring avowed members of Scientology.

Members of the United States Congress would go on to denounce Corea’s ban as a violation of his human rights in a letter to the German government.

He was also known for promoting and fundraising for a number of social issues.

What music was he known for?

Corea was of Italian descent, and played with some of the biggest names in jazz, including Dizzy Gillespie and Herbie Mann; he was already a star in his own right in the 1960s when he started playing in Miles Davis’ ensembles.

In the 1970s Corea formed the group Return To Forever, who were at the forefront of the jazz fusion movement, and maintained a prolific output over the decades.

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Corea is known for composing famous arrangements including ‘Spain’, ‘500 Miles High’ and ‘La Fiesta’, all of which are widely considered jazz standards.

‘Spain’ was composed in 1971; one of its most famous performances came nearly 40 years later in 2008, when it was performed by Stevie Wonder at a concert in London.

What did Corea himself say?

In a message composed ahead of his death, Corea added: “I want to thank all of those along my journey who have helped keep the music fires burning bright.

“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.”

Corea died at his home in the Tampa Bay area of Florida on 9 February 2021. He is survived by his wife, Gayle Moran, his son, Thaddeus, his daughter, Liane, and two grandchildren.