On May 20, 2001, the City of Chelsea honored Chick Corea, the home town boy made good, by renaming the block of Everett Avenue between Arlington and Walnut Streets to Chick Corea Way. Chick was there, with family and friends…but I don’t know if he played. I mean, he must have played, right? They were naming a street after him.

Photo of Chick Corea

The Chick Corea Way

Pianist, composer, and bandleader Armando Anthony “Chick” Corea was born in Chelsea on June 12, 1941, and his trumpet-playing father sat him down at the piano at about age five. Corea always knew he was going to be a musician. While still in high school, he gigged with trumpeter Phil Edmunds, and he had his own groups—a sextet where he first tried his hand at arranging, and a trio with drummer Tony Williams, who was even younger, and Don Alias, then playing bass. His second trio, with drummer Joe Locatelli, played at the Stable. Though underaged, that’s where Corea spent his free time, picking up gigs and soaking up the wisdom of Herb Pomeroy and his men.

Corea entered Columbia University in 1959 but dropped out after a few months, then tried the Juilliard School and wasn’t happy there either. Back in Boston with Al Natale’s band at the Mayfair, Corea worked with his first big name, Cab Calloway. Then he went on the road in the early 1960s, working across the jazz spectrum, from Billy May to Mongo Santamaria to Blue Mitchell to Sarah Vaughan. In March 1968 he made the classic trio recording of Now He Sings, Now He Sobs with Miroslav Vitous and Roy Haynes, and Corea jumped to the front of the line among the young piano players.

Then came Miles, Return to Forever, the  Elektric Band, and the rest of Corea’s well-documented history. Corea has accumulated awards and award nominations steadily over the past 40 years: 59 times nominated for a Grammy Award and 20 times a winner; 20 times a winner in the DownBeat readers poll and 16 times in the DownBeat critics poll; 13 firsts from the Japanese mag Jazz Journal, and 17 more from Keyboard magazine. There are literally dozens more. Sometimes he’s recognized as a pianist or electric pianist, sometimes as a composer, sometimes for his groups. He’s been DB’s artist of the year twice, and he entered the DownBeat Hall of Fame in 2010. Any way you look at it, that’s a lot of hardware.

Renaming the street in 2001 was fine, but Corea participated in a musical tribute just weeks ago that will spread across the world via the internet. As part of the 50th Anniversary of Jazz at MIT, the Council for the Arts at MIT commissioned Corea to compose a work to honor Herb Pomeroy, who founded the MIT program in 1963. Corea’s piece, “From Forever,” was played for the first time by the MIT Festival Jazz Ensemble on April 27, 2013. Then Corea turned around and played it himself, with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, on May 16. That’s a win-win-win: for Corea, for MIT, and for jazz listeners.