Chick Corea and Chucho Valdés at a rehearsal space, in the days before their joint appearance at Jazz @ Lincoln Center, November 2019. Photo courtesy of Lorena Salcedo Valdés ©

The announcement of the death of keyboardist composer and bandleader Chick Corea on February 9 at 79 brought about shock, sadness, and a flood of deserved praise. But the announcement also delivered one last composition by Corea, as vital and generous as so much of his music.

“I want to thank all of those along my journey who have helped keep the music fires burning bright,” wrote Corea. “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.”

One of those musicians was Cuban pianist, composer, and bandleader Chucho Valdés, 79, a longtime fan of Corea. It was not surprising then that, when offered a choice of a guest for his concerts at Jazz at Lincoln Center in November 2019, Valdés chose Corea.

Days after the announcement, Valdés still sounded shaken by the news.

“As a musician, I believe every pianist in the world has learned something from him,” said Valdés. “As a human being, I was amazed by his greatness, his simplicity, and his humanity. Vaya, I have no words to describe him. In my life, I’ve met few people like him.”

He recalled first hearing of Corea back in Havana in the late 60s when the closely-knit community of jazz musicians and fans got most of their news and music listening to Willis Conover’s “Jazz Hour” on The Voice of America.  

“That’s how I had discovered Herbie [Hancock],” he noted. “But it was Carlos Emilio [Morales, his long time friend and guitarist of Irakere) who came and told me ‘I heard on Willis Conover a new record by Stan Getz. Man, he has a pianist that’s out of this world. His name is Chick Corea.’ It was 1967, and that’s when I started listening to Corea, and of course, then came Return to Forever and from then on, I followed his career to this day.”

They eventually met at a jazz festival in Sardinia in the 1980s, “and then we crossed paths at many festivals,” recalled Valdés.

“Sometimes, with people you admire, you can’t believe that they are gone. Chick dead? It can’t be,” he added. “Look, for me, Chick has left such a big void, not only in jazz but in music, that it will be very difficult to fill.”