New York Time Obituary, March 7, 2020 – McCoy Tyner, Jazz Piano Powerhouse, Is Dead at 81
With his rich, percussive playing, he gained notice with John Coltrane’s groundbreaking quartet, then went on to influence virtually every pianist in jazz.
McCoy Tyner, a cornerstone of John Coltrane’s groundbreaking 1960s quartet and one of the most influential pianists in jazz history, died on Friday at his home in northern New Jersey. He was 81. His nephew Colby Tyner confirmed the death. No other details were provided.
Along with Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and only a few others, Mr. Tyner was one of the main expressways of modern jazz piano. Nearly every jazz pianist since Mr. Tyner’s years with Coltrane has had to learn his lessons, whether they ultimately discarded them or not. Mr. Tyner’s manner was modest, but his sound was rich, percussive and serious, his lyrical improvisations centered by powerful left-hand chords marking the first beat of the bar and the tonal center of the music.
That sound helped create the atmosphere of Coltrane’s music and, to some extent, all jazz in the 1960s. (When you are thinking of Coltrane’s playing of “My Favourite Things” or “A Love Supreme”, you may be thinking of the sound of Mr. Tyner almost as much as that of Coltrane’s saxophone). To a great extent he was a grounding force for Coltrane. In a 1961 interview, about a year and a half after hiring Mr. Tyner, Coltrane said: “My current pianist, McCoy Tyner, holds down the harmonies, and that allows me to forget them. He’s sort of the one who gives me wings and lets me take off from the ground from time to time.”
Mr. Tyner did not find immediate success after leaving Coltrane in 1965. But within a decade his fame had caught up with his influence, and he remained one of the leading bandleaders in jazz as well as one of the most revered pianists for the rest of his life.
Alfred McCoy Tyner was born in Philadelphia on Dec. 11, 1938, to Jarvis and Beatrice (Stephenson) Tyner, both natives of North Carolina. His father sang in a church quartet and worked for a company that made medicated cream; his mother was a beautician. Mr. Tyner started taking piano lessons at 13, and a year later his mother bought him his first piano, setting it up in her beauty shop
He grew up during a spectacular period for jazz in Philadelphia. Among the local musicians who would go on to national prominence were the organist Jimmy Smith, the trumpeter Lee Morgan and the pianists Red Garland, Kenny Barron, Ray Bryant and Richie Powell who lived in an apartment around the corner from the Tyner family house, and whose brother was the pianist Bud Powell, Mr. Tyner’s idol. (Mr. Tyner recalled that once, as a teenager, while practicing in the beauty shop, he looked out the window and saw Powell listening; he eventually invited the master inside to play.)While still in high school Mr. Tyner began taking music theory lessons at the Granoff School of Music. At 16 he was playing professionally, with a rhythm-and-blues band, at house parties around Philadelphia and Atlantic City. Mr. Tyner was in a band led by the trumpeter Cal Massey in 1957 when he met Coltrane at a Philadelphia club called the Red Rooster. At the time, Coltrane, who gre up in Philadelphia but had left in 1955 to join Miles Davis’s quintet, was back in town, between tenures with the Davis band.The two musicians struck up a friendship. Coltrane was living at his mother’s house, and Mr. Tyner would visit him there to sit on the porch and talk. He would later say that Coltrane was something of an older brother to him. Like Coltrane, Mr. Tyner was a religious seeker: Raised Christian, he became a Muslim at 18. “My faith,” he said to the journalist Nat Hentoff, “teaches peacefulness, love of God and the unity of mankind.” He added, “This message of unity has been the most important thing in my life, and naturally, it’s affected my music.”In 1958, Coltrane recorded one of Mr. Tyner’s compositions, “The Believer”. There was an understanding between them that when Coltrane was ready to lead his own group, he would hire Mr. Tyner as his pianist.
For a while Mr. Tyner worked with the Jazztet, a hard-bop sextet led by the saxophonist Benny Golson and the trumpeter Art Farmer. He made his recording debut with the group on the album “Meet the Jazztet” in 1960. Coltrane did eventually form his own quartet, which opened a long engagement at the Jazz Gallery in Manhattan in May 1960, but with Steve Kuhn as the pianist. A month later, halfway through the engagement, Coltrane made good on his promise, replacing Mr. Kuhn with Mr. Tyner. That October, Mr. Tyner made its first recordings with Coltrane, participating in sessions for Atlantic Records that produced much of the material for the albums “My Favorite Things,” “Coltrane Jazz,” “Coltrane’s Sound” and “Coltrane Plays the Blues.”
Mr. Tyner was 21 when he joined the Coltrane quartet. He would remain — along with the drummer Elvin Jones and, beginning in 1962, the bassist Jimmy Garrison — for the next five years. Through his work with the group, which came to be known as the “classic” Coltrane quartet, he became one of the most widely imitated pianists in jazz. The percussiveness of his playing may have had to do with the fact that Mr. Tyner took conga lessons as a teenager from the percussionist Garvin Masseaux, and learned informally from the Ghanaian visual artist, singer and instrumentalist Saka Acquaye who was studying at the time at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Harmonically, his sound was strongly defined by his use of modes — the old scales that governed a fair amount of the music Mr. Tyner played during his time with Coltrane — and by his chord voicings. He often used intervals of fourths, creating open-sounding chords that created more space for improvisers.“What you don’t play is sometimes as important as what you do play,” he told his fellow pianist Marian McPartland in an NPR interview. “I would leave space, which wouldn’t identify the chord so definitely to the point that it inhibited your other voicings.”
The Coltrane quartet worked constantly through 1965, reaching one high-water mark for jazz after another on albums like “A Love Supreme,” “Crescent,” “Coltrane Live at Birdland,” “Ballads” and “Impressions,” all recorded for the Impulse label. Between tours, Mr. Tyner stayed busy in the recording studios. He made his own records, for Impulse, including the acclaimed “Reaching Fourth.” He also recorded as a sideman, particularly after 1963; among the albums he recorded with other leaders’ bands were minor classics of the era like Joe Henderson’s “Page One,” Wayne Shorter’s “Juju,” Grant Green’s “Matador” and Bobby Hutcherson’s “Stick-Up!,” all for Blue Note. When Coltrane began to expand his musical vision to include extra horns and percussionists, Mr. Tyner quit the group, at the end of 1965, complaining that the music had grown so loud and unwieldy that he could not hear the piano anymore. He was a member of the drummer Art Blakey’s touring band in 1966 and 1967; otherwise he was a freelancer, living with his wife and three children in Queens. Mr. Tyner’s survivors include his wife, Aisha Tyner; his son, Nurudeen, who is known as Deen; his brother, Jarvis; his sister, Gwendolyn-Yvette Tyner; and three grandchildren.
Just before Coltrane’s death in 1967, Mr. Tyner signed to Blue Note. He quickly delivered “The Real McCoy,” one of his strongest albums, which included his compositions “Passion Dance,” “Search for Peace” and “Blues on the Corner,” all of which he later revisited on record and kept in his live repertoire. He stayed with Blue Note for five years, starting with a fairly familiar quartet sound and progressing to larger ensembles, but these were temporary bands assembled for recording sessions, not working groups. It was a lean time for jazz, and for Mr. Tyner. He was not performing much and, he later said, had considered applying for a license to drive a cab.
He moved to the Milestone label in 1972, an association that continued until 1981 and that brought him a higher profile and much more success. In those years he worked steadily with his own band, including at various times the saxophonists Azar Lawrence and Sonny Fortune and the drummers Alphonse Mouzon and Eric Gravatt. His Milestone albums with his working group included “Enlightenment” (1973), recorded at the Montreux Jazz Festival, which introduced one of his signature compositions, the majestic “Walk Spirit, Talk Spirit.” He also recorded for the label with strings, voices, a big band and guest sidemen including the drummers Elvin Jones, Tony Williams and Jack DeJohnette.
Mr. Tyner did not use electric piano or synthesizers, or play with rock and disco backbeats, as many of the best jazz musicians did at the time; owning one of the strongest and most recognizable keyboard sounds in jazz, he was committed to acoustic instrumentation. His experiments outside the piano ran toward the koto, as heard on the 1972 album “Sahara,” and harpsichord and celeste, on “Trident” (1975).
In 1984, he formed two new working bands: a trio, with the bassist Avery Sharpe and the drummer Aaron Scott, and the McCoy Tyner Big band. His recordings with the big band included “The Turning Point” (1991) and “Journey” (1993), which earned him two of his five Grammy Awards. He also toured and made one album with the nine-piece McCoy Tyner Latin All-Stars. He was signed in 1995 to the reactivated Impulse label, and in 1999 to Telarc. From the mid-’90s on he tended to concentrate on small-band and solo recordings.
In 2002, Mr. Tyner was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master, one of the highest honors for a jazz musician in the United States. He resisted analyzing or theorizing about his own work. He tended to talk more in terms of learning and life experience. “To me,” he told Mr. Hentoff, “living and music are all the same thing. And I keep finding out more about music as I learn more about myself, my environment, about all kinds of different things in life. I play what I live. Therefore, just as I can’t predict what kinds of experiences I’m going to have, I can’t predict the directions in which my music will go. I just want to write and play my instrument as I feel.”
The great 12-String Guitar virtuoso Leo Kottke started out his high school musical career as a trombone player and, for whatever reason, he later switched to guitar and the world became a better place. Similarly, Dani Strong also started out in high school on trombone. I believe her father had other ideas and gave her a guitar. Once again, the the world is a better place. I have nothing against trombone players but I imagine it is hard to develop your song writing skills on a trombone. Dani moved to the Cranbrook area about 18 months ago and, between tours and performances, she works at the Top of the World Ranch out near Fort Steel. Apart from her day job Dani is cruising under the radar as a country music artist but, in fact, she is much more than that. She is a very talented singer / song writer. She avoids all the usual cliches and tags of country music and does what all good writers do. She writes about what she knows. With the exception of a cover of Otis Redding’s Dock of the Bay she presented an evening of original material. Accompanied on guitar and keyboard she played such songs as Run to the Hills, Walk the Mile (Top of the World Ranch), Dirt Road Mountain, Wishing Well, Daddy Called me Pumpkin, Gold Fever, Ashes, Out of Darkness, Mrs Jones, What You Need, Free to Be, Healing, etc. There was not a gin soaked lyric or truck driving song in the whole batch. That’s not entirely true. I think a truck was mentioned in one song. With her stage patter Dani brought the whole package together for a completely entertaining evening. Singer / songwriters always run the risk of bombarding their audience with unfamiliar lyrics and tunes. First and fore most, a good song is a story and sometimes the back story needs to be presented so the audience has a context to allow them selves to be immersed in the song. With lots of stories, dark moments and humor Dani delivered context in spades.
It was a sold out crowd. So much so the organizers had to move the show from Studio 64 to the larger space upstairs. Once again thanks to Keith, Ray and the volunteers who made the evening possible. A special thanks goes to the new guy on the lights. He did a superb job.
FIRST CONCERT OF THE FIFTH SEASON – January 22, 2020
OPENING ACT – TALL TIMBERS featuring Drew Prinn on vocals; Ken Vargas on guitars and vocals; Landon Vargas on guitars, Ukulele, congas and vocals.
MAIN ACT – KOOTENAY LATELY featuring Pam Ruby on vocals; Theresa Reichert on upright bass; Bryan Reichert on guitar and Chad Andriowski on drums and backing tracks.
Thanks must go to the organizing committee of Fisher Peak Performing Arts Society, Key City staff and volunteers and all the sponsors of this series.
SECOND CONCERT OF THE FIFTH SEASON – Wednesday February 19, 2020
OPENING ACT – Douglas Francis Mitchell: Vocal, Banjo, Guitar and Songwriter extraordinaire
Over the years Canada has been blessed with many, many singer/song writers who often defy pop culture expectations to produce songs and stories that entertain and truly document the extraordinary richness of the Canadian cultural mosaic. To the list of Gordon Lightfoot, Valdy, Murray McLauglan, Ron Hynes, Stan Rogers and others we can now add the name Douglas Francis Mitchell. Just the name of his songs tells a story. Heiden Guitar pays homage to a recently acquired instrument from the master Creston Luthier Michael Heiden; Rocky Mountain View is a happy reflection of local geography; Open Happiness and ode to demon drink (Coca Cola); Laughter of the Heart, Three Chords and the Truth, Change of Pace and the comic masterpieces Plumber Troubles, Prairie Oysters and Sibling Rivalry. With his songs and stories this open act was a tough act to follow.
MAIN ACT – CARMANAH – all the way from Vancouver Island with a musical mix that I can only describe as Van-Isle Reggae (what ever that means). The band featured Laura Mitic on guitar, vocal and fiddle; Lo Waight – back up vocals and percussion; Mike Baker – Keyboard and vocals; Pat Ferguson – guitar and vocals; Jamil Demers – bass and Graham Keehn. They presented a program of mostly original material.
Piano players and, to a lesser extent, guitar players are lucky. Without the need of having any one else in the room they can sit down and play unaccompanied music. Depending on their individual skill level they can do it all. Melody, harmony, rhythm, dynamics and sonic shadings. It’s all there under their finger tips. Horn players, woodwinds, string players, drummers and bass players are not that fortunate and usually have the need for other musicians in the mix to complete the musical picture. At an individual level that is a drawback but it does force those musicians into ensembles that can go beyond the limitations of individual solo performances. One such musical configuration is the jazz combo and lucky for us in Cranbrook-Kimberley area we have been recently blessed with another Jazz group. TAKE 4, featuring Randi Marchi on trumpet, fluegelhorn, valve trombone, guitar and vocals; Jim Cameron on electric bass; Steen Jorgensen on drums and tenor sax and Tim Plait on piano. All of these musicians are locals. Some, Randi Marchi and Tim Plait, have been away to other parts of Canada and the world and have returned to the Kootenays and our little slice of paradise. The group is newly formed and, I believe, this is their second engagement. For well schooled musicians such as these the advantage of playing jazz is that there is a vast standard repertoire of tunes that players can easily access. From simple tunes way up to very technical, and very complex music there is a lot of music out there to explore. Last Thursday night at Soul Foods the group served a varied mixture of tunes that included Beginning to See the Light, Satin Doll (Duke Ellington’s masterpiece), Summertime (from George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess), Blue Skies, King of the Road ( Roger Miller’s 1964 Hit song), All of Me (written in 1931), Beyond the Sea (Bobby Darin’s 1959 hit) and my all time favorite, A Day in the Life of a Fool, or as I prefer to remember it as, Manha de Carnival (Morning of the Carnival) from the magnificent 1959 Academy Award winning film Black Orpheus. This film introduced western audiences to the wonders of Bossa Nova and the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim and Luis Bonfa.The second set kicked off with The Way You Feel Tonight, Don’t Get Around Much Anymore (it is a 1940 classic by Duke Ellington originally called Never No Lament), and Quando, Quando, Quando ( originally a 1962 Italian Pop song written in the Bossa Nova Style).
Here are some images from the first set:
Towards the end of the evening Take 4 was joined on stage by Randy Tapp on tenor sax and Shindo Murata on valve trombone to play the tunes Flip Flop and Fly, Route 66 and Van Morrison’s Moon Dance. During these performances a young musician from the audience sat in on drums while Steen Jorgensen moved up front to join the horn section on tenor sax. For me the resulting sound brought back memories of the magnificent Gerry Mulligan Concert Band recordings from the 1960s. Bobby Brookmeyer’s valve trombone was part of the signature sound of that band.
Soul Foods seems to have become a hot bed of live music with live performances every Thursday evening 7-9 pm.
“Live in the Gallery” with Jazz Guitarist Don Glasrud
This new series of pre-concert performances has been made possible by a grant from the BC TOURING COUNCIL, BC ARTS COUNCIL and THE BC GOVERNMENT. The grant has been made available to support performances by BC musicians. Don is a well known Jazz Guitarist in the community and has been a fixture on local scene as a teacher and performer for around 20 years. For the evening’s performance Don was playing his new GODIN Nylon Strung guitar. His repertoire, as usual, consisted of tunes from the Great American Song Book and well known Jazz standards. It was a wonderful opportunity to hear Don up close and personal in the Centre 64 Gallery .
Andrea Superstein – Jazz and Blues Fall Concert Series #3 – Stage 64, Kimberley 2019/11/23
“Andrea Superstein is a Montreal born, Vancouver based artist. Her music combines the jazz sound of the east and the indie scene of the west. She has been featured on a Women in Jazz compilation, has received international radio play, on top of being interviewed for a number of jazz publications. She was also invited to perform at the first jazz showcase at Canadian Music Week in 2012″. On this tour she was supported by fellow Montreal native Elizabeth Shepherd on piano and two young musicians, James Meser on bass and Kyle Hutchins on drums. James is a full time professional musician from Vancouver while Kyle works out of Montreal.The performance was mostly a mixture of originals from Andrea’s CDs with a few cover songs added to the mix. Of the originals the French song De Temps en Temps was the standout with some great textural percussion by the drummer Kyle Hutchins. Thoughout the performance he switched from jazz brushes to mallets with lots of sonic shadings before finishing with traditional sticks. Elizabeth Shepherd was responsible for the arrangement. A jazzy version of Bob Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice, it’s Alright was a novel interpretation of a well known Dylan song. Elizabeth also added to the mix with one of her originals Feeling Good from her CD release Rewind.
As always, thanks to the MC Keith Nicholas, the volunteers and staff of Centre 64 and the merchants around town who donated their food (The Burrito Grill) and accommodations ( )for the musicians. Together they make this series possible .
Elizabeth Shepherd is a Singer / Song Writer, Jazz Pianist, Composer, Arranger and all round superb musician. Elizabeth is from Montreal and, despite the great distances and weather challenges of this vast country she manages to visit and perform in this area on a regular basis. She was at Stage 64 in Kimberley last Saturday (November 23, 2019) as part of the Andrea Superstein band.
Kimberley Pipe Band benefit events are always a blast and this was no exception. This particular one was held in the convention center at the North Star Ski Hill in Kimberley and, as usual, featured the Kimberley Pipe Band, Hali Duncan & Liela Cooper Highland Dancers, a silent and live auctions and live entertainment. After the close of the auctions The Choice (James Neve – Guitar and Vocals; Rick Parsons playing five keyboards and Brian Hamilton on drums) took to the stage for an outstanding selection of classic rock tunes. They were later joined by The Brass Monkey featuring Jim Cameron on bass, Keith Kendall on Tenor sax, Randy Marchi and Shinobu Murata switching out on trumpet and valve trombone. They ended the evening with a full on big band experience. Money raised by the event is ear marked for the Kimberley Pipe Band’s planned trip to The Netherlands Remembrance Day Celebrations in 2020. Despite the atrocious lighting conditions in the center I did my best to capture images to document this fun event. Here they are and I apologize for the general poor quality of the images.
Pipe Major Jock MacDonald
Retired Brigadier General David Corbould
The Bands – The Choice & Brass Monkey….. Although the evening was a celebration of “Pipe Band Culture” and a somber tribute to the Remembrance Day Fallen it had to finish on a danceable note and that was provided by The Choice and The BrassMonkey with the band’s organ driven classic rock tunes and the crackling snap of a horn section.
In the near future I am sure there will be another fund raiser for “The Road to 2020”. I am looking forward to that.