Jazz at Lincoln Center honors legendary pianist Chick Corea Chick Corea loved to collaborate. His former bandmates are honoring his memory with two star-studded concerts.

How the late jazz great Chick Corea is being remembered — in concert

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DANIEL ESTRIN, HOST:

When legendary jazz pianist Chick Corea died unexpectedly last year, he left behind hundreds of recordings. Those recordings earned a total of 27 Grammy Awards. Corea also left behind dozens of musicians he mentored. This weekend, the organization Jazz at Lincoln Center celebrates Corea's legacy with a concert featuring bandmates from every phase of his career. From New York, Tom Vitale has the story.

CHICK COREA: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. How you doing?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: How you doing? How you doing?

COREA: Yeah, yeah, yeah - nice to see you.

TOM VITALE, BYLINE: One of the remarkable aspects of Chick Corea's six-decade career was how many different types of music he played - bebop, straight-ahead jazz, free jazz, fusion, Latin and classical music. Six years ago, Corea sat at the Yamaha Grand Piano at the Blue Note on West Third Street and told me that change is the essence of jazz.

COREA: That kind of freedom of choice and of imagination, of trying things, of experimenting, you see? So I don't view myself as this kind of musician or that kind of musician. I love it all. I love - everything I've done, I'm proud of.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHICK COREA AKOUSTIC BAND'S "ON GREEN DOLPHIN STREET")

VITALE: Bassist John Patitucci, who organized this weekend's tribute, played with Chick Corea on hundreds of gigs over 36 years beginning in 1985. He says Corea's creativity knew no boundaries.

JOHN PATITUCCI: His creative power and his force were so strong that you couldn't help but get swept up with it when you played with him. And he was able to combine so many elements and retain an original sound and a voice.

VITALE: Chick Corea's touch on the piano made his sound unique. He learned to play drums when he was 8, four years after he started playing piano. Corea said at the keyboard, he thought of his fingers as drumsticks or mallets.

COREA: The piano is like - I think of it as, like, tuned drums - that drum, that drum and so forth, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

COREA: Yeah. So...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

COREA: Right?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

COREA: There's so many possibilities of putting it together when you've got 10 mallets and 88 drums.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHICK COREA SONG, "SPAIN")

VITALE: Armando "Chick" Corea was born in 1941 in Chelsea, Mass., just across the river from Boston. His grandparents on both sides were Italian immigrants. Yet in high school, he gravitated to Latin music when he joined a dance band.

COREA: And the conga player was the one who really introduced me to Latin music. He showed me...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

COREA: So I connected with the Latinos right away and the music and the rhythm of it.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELA FLECK AND CHICK COREA'S "SENORITA")

BELA FLECK: The technique he has and the rhythmic intensity that he has are very, very rare. When you hear three notes, you know it's Chick Corea.

VITALE: Banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck played duets with Corea for a dozen years beginning in 2007.

FLECK: He was a mentor and a hero to me, a friend and somebody I learned more from maybe than anybody.

VITALE: In the late 1960s, Chick Corea joined Miles Davis' band, where he helped pioneer a sound that came to be known as jazz-rock fusion.

(SOUNDBITE OF MILES DAVIS' "BITCHES BREW")

CHRISTIAN MCBRIDE: When I first met Chick in 1993, obviously, he was already a living legend.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHICK COREA'S "BUD POWELL")

VITALE: Bassist Christian McBride played with Chick Corea on and off for 26 years. He says all the musicians were in awe of the band leader, who, as it turned out, was just a regular dude.

MCBRIDE: If you met Chick on the street, you would not think that this man has been responsible for so much incredible, genius music. His everyday demeanor was just like a regular old guy. And I will miss that about Chick - beautiful, beautiful man.

VITALE: Chick Corea kept churning out new music until his death last year at the age of 79 from a rare form of cancer. He said his collaborations with other musicians meant everything to him.

COREA: It's what keeps me going, man. I just love to create.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHICK COREA'S "LA FIESTA")

VITALE: For NPR News, I'm Tom Vitale in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHICK COREA'S "LA FIESTA")

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