Longtime Chicago jazz pianist Corky McClerkin, 73, and his wife, Winnie Mae Cole-McClerkin, 72, died Sunday afternoon near 57th Drive and Hyde Park Boulevard, according to their daughter, Casemmie Cole-Kweli.
The couple's car crashed into a tree in a single-car accident, according to the Chicago Police Department.
McClerkin was beloved in Chicago jazz circles for the exuberance and virtuosity of his pianism. "He was so full of joy when he would play, he would just make you laugh," said Joanie Pallatto, co-owner of Southport Records, which released McClerkin's critically applauded album "The Power of One" in the 1990s. "For Southport, he was our first-call pianist."
In performance, McClerkin displayed a regal command of the keyboard, throwing off complex figures even amid the speedy tempos he preferred. His harmonic sense was sophisticated, his chords streaked with unexpected dissonance and, often, a blues sensibility.
"He had his own sound, really," said Curtis Prince, who accompanied McClerkin on drums for more than three decades. "You'd hear a little bit of everybody in him. A little bit of Ramsey Lewis, Herbie Hancock, a little of Ahmad Jamal – all from Chicago."
McClerkin succeeded Hancock as pianist in the jazz band at Hyde Park High School, according to McClerkin's website. He received an undergraduate degree from Roosevelt University and an M.A. degree in urban studies from Loyola University, according to the website.
He served as pianist and musical director for singer Sasha Daltonn and shared a stage with Elvin Jones, Jack DeJohnette, Sonny Stitt and Dee Dee Bridgewater, among other jazz masters. "This is a great loss to the music community," said Daltonn.
"Not only was he great musician, he was a great humanitarian, and he was an intellect."