AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
One of the nicknames given to jazz pianist Chick Corea was the Chameleon. His career was a stylistic kaleidoscope - modern post-bop, jazz fusion, Latin and Spanish tinges.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHICK COREA AND RETURN TO FOREVER'S "SPAIN")
CORNISH: He was celebrated by several generations of jazz musicians so much so that he won 23 Grammy Awards. His Facebook page announced today that Chick Corea died on Tuesday of cancer. He was 79 years old. Nate Chinen of WBGO and Jazz Night In America is here.
Welcome back, Nate.
NATE CHINEN, BYLINE: Thank you.
CORNISH: How did he earn the nickname Chameleon? What did people mean by that?
CHINEN: Well, you know, few musicians over the course of their career have played as many different kinds of music as Chick Corea did. You know, his career lasted over 50 years, and he played, you know, modern post-bop and played a defining role in jazz fusion, Latin jazz. He played Mozart. You know, he collaborated with people like Bela Fleck and Bobby McFerrin. And he just always seemed to bring the same energy and enthusiasm no matter what the context was. And no matter how often those colors changed, so to speak, he always sounded exactly like himself. You always knew it was Chick Corea.
CORNISH: Can you tell me some of the reaction from the jazz community of his passing?
CHINEN: Just total shock, you know? This is a musician who has been prolific. You know, he's really been one of those figures who seem to defy his age, you know? He's 79 but really with the energy of someone maybe in his 40s. And some of that is in his music. You know, there's this effervescence in his playing and just a real sort of love of life that you hear in every note. And so I think for a lot of people, this is just really kind of unfathomable.
CORNISH: What is the legacy that he leaves in terms of the jazz piano specifically, meaning, what kind of player was he? And have there been others who have come up in his style?
CHINEN: Well, I'll start with the last part of the question. He's been hugely influential. A lot of pianists have emulated him. And his contribution is - you know, it happens on multiple registers. One of his very first albums, "Now He Sings, Now He Sobs," is really in the small circle of definitive post-bop piano trio recordings.
CORNISH: In what way? What does that style mean?
CHINEN: Well, you know, it's this extremely modern, streamlined, very progressive approach where harmony and rhythm are both sort of turbocharged. And, you know, this recording has just been a touchstone for generations. But speaking of touchstones, you know, he was also a part of the group of musicians with Miles Davis who really ushered in the fusion era. And after playing with Miles on albums like "Bitches Brew," Chick then formed a band called Return to Forever that became one of the sort of defining fusion bands of the '70s - extremely popular and also hugely influential. So there's - this legacy has multiple touch points. You know, he means a lot of different things, really, in different areas of the music.
CORNISH: That was Nate Chinen of WBGO and Jazz Night In America, remembering the jazz great Chick Corea. Corea died on Tuesday of cancer. He was 79.
Nate, thank you for sharing these memories with us.
CHINEN: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHICK COREA, CHRISTIAN MCBRIDE AND BRIAN BLADE'S "ALL BLUES (LIVE)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.