After school, my high school jazz band would gather in the band room. For 30 minutes before rehearsal, the student musicians would socialize, share music and licks and improvise together. It was a discordant but friendly atmosphere. One day, someone called out “Spain” and everyone’s face lit up. The drummer counted us in, and everyone started playing. It was the first time I had heard of the piece, and I had to google the chart, but I was instantly enamored with it. It was so fresh, so bright and very compelling.

I went home that day and listened to more Chick Corea on YouTube. It was there I discovered the legendary album Light as a Feather he recorded with Return to Forever. I had never heard music that was so brimming with life. 

Chick Corea was one of the great musicians of our time. He was a jazz pioneer, unrivaled in his ability to connect jazz with other genres. Like the other greats, he had the ever-elusive ability to make music come alive and make music something meaningful — not only sonically, but spiritually and emotionally as well. 

He was a musician’s musician, but also a people’s musician, with a style accessible to the public but also satisfactory to the music aficionados. He was an avid believer in the freedom of music, always bending genres as he wished. In doing so, he carved out his own path in the vast jungle of music, through which many of his contemporaries and disciples followed. 

Corea died unexpectedly on Feb. 9 from a rare form of cancer. People from all over the world went online to share their grief and appreciation for the late maestro. For me, a lover of jazz and a keyboard player, his death hit particularly close to home. I spent hours listening to his music, playing his charts and copying his solos. He was a shining beacon of musical inspiration to artists and listeners alike. He managed to stand out with his unique styles of playing, composing and improvising, something I realize more and more is incredibly hard to do in the field of music, which is saturated with talent and distinct voices. 

Looking at his career, it’s hard to think of any musician that has spanned more genres and done more diverse collaborations than Chick Corea. From Miles Davis to Bobby McFerrin, Corea had worked with so many legendary musicians, giving us collaborations that we desired, sometimes didn’t expect, but always appreciated. It’s hard to comprehend the fact that the same person that worked on Bitches Brew with Miles Davis also wrote a jazz-classical piano concerto in a collaboration with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Corea loved all kinds of music and sought to incorporate as many influences as he could into his work, from Latin to Bartok. To him, genres did not exist — they were only arbitrary lines drawn in the sand.

There’s a playfulness, virtuosity and joy in Corea’s work, a reflection of who he was as a person. In that sense, he was truly the Mozart of jazz. His style morphed seamlessly into any genre or collaboration. From an infinite tenderness in Love Castle with Gary Burton, or his explosive power in his duets with Hiromi Uehara, his musical vocabulary was as expressive as it was vast. 

You will be missed. Thank you, Mr. Corea.

Daily Arts writer Jason Zhang can be reached at zhangjt@umich.edu. 

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