Thursday Jazz: McCoy Tyner

Words By Zach Zeidner


McCoy Tyner can easily be hailed as one of the most influential Jazz pianists of all time, his contributions to the hard-bop and post-bop world are innumerable. His intricate work on the piano with his left hand creating dominant countermelodies that rightfully compliment the right hand work proves to be quite astonishing. McCoy Tyner began playing piano at the age of thirteen where he cited bebop pianist Bud Powell as his main influence. In his early career he played with a Benny Golson and Art Farmer in Jazztet. Eventually he left to become a consistent player for John Coltrane’s quartet that included Elvin Jones on drums and Jimmy Garrison on bass. Tyner played and toured extensively with Coltrane until 1965 when he left to pursue his solo career. Tyner explained how Coltrane’s work had become too atonal and free due to his hardcore involvement in the avant-garde movement for him to contribute anything worthwhile to the music; as a result Tyner felt the need to create his own projects. Tyner went on to record a number of post-bop albums that established him as a forefront of innovation in the post-bop world.

In 1974 McCoy Tyner played two shows, one on August 31st and one on September 1st, at the Keystone Korner in San Francisco, CA. These shows proved to be astounding demonstrations of Tyner’s incredible improvisational abilities on originals as well as standards. The album begins with an 18 minute long piece that begins with bells and gongs as if to evoke a meditational ambiance. Tyner comes in with a beautiful solo as the percussion builds and builds. The dream-like atmosphere created in the opening piece allows for reminiscence to the work of John Coltrane. Immediately the saxophone work of Azar Lawrence conjures up images of Coltrane’s post 1965 works that included free improvisation and intense spacial exploration. As soon as it gets too spacey, Guilherme Franco drops the percussion and almost in immediate succession, Wilbey Fletcher drops a driving bop drum line that pushes the tune. Jonny Booth responds with intense walking bass lines on the upright and creates a perpetual motion in the piece that seems to increase with time. Tyner seems to lullaby the whole tune as he acts as the dominating force of the rhythm section as he lines up tightly with Fletcher on drums. This tune explores the lavish improvisational abilities of each musician as they demonstrate their virtuosity and undeniable talent and prove they have the chops to keep up with a dominant pianist like Tyner. The standards on the album “In A Sentimental Mood” and “My One And Only Love” allow for the band to slow down a bit and demonstrate their incredible precision abilities on their instruments as they explore the range of the their talent in a ballad atmosphere. Each song creates a Coltrane-like ambiance that demonstrates the immense amount of influence John Coltrane had on McCoy Tyner while they played together. These live recordings are nothing but astonishing and will leave you bewildered and give you a intense sudden urge to obtain McCoy Tyner’s entire discography. Enjoy!

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