The real McCoy

Slapping the keys: Pianist McCoy Tyner.

Slapping the keys: Pianist McCoy Tyner.  

Over the past month, jazz fans have had a double shock with the death of two great pianists. On February 10, the talented Lyle Mays, best known for his work with guitarist Pat Metheny, passed away at 66. Last week, we lost the unique McCoy Tyner, one of the most influential players of the instrument.

Pure music

Tyner is best known for being a member of the great saxophonist John Coltrane’s famed 1960s quartet, along with bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones. Their 1965 album, A Love Supreme is considered a milestone, whereas the contributions of Tyner, Jones and bassist Steve Davis on the earlier track ‘My Favorite Things’ are legendary.

Tyner, who was 81, has been regarded as one of the unique jazz piano voices of the 1960s and thereafter, along with Herbie Hancock, Joe Zawinul of Weather Report, Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett and Joe Sample of the Jazz Crusaders. He was staunch believer in acoustic instrumentation, and stayed clear of electronic keyboards and synthesisers. The story goes that despite the Coltrane quartet’s popularity in the first half of the 1960s, Tyner was unhappy with the loud direction the band was taking. After quitting, he released many albums both as leader or sideman.

All time greats

For those who haven’t followed his work after the Coltrane era, I’ve chosen five albums to begin with, with a mention of one or two landmark tracks from each. All these recordings are vastly different in terms of sub-genre and sound, but yet reflect the man’s true genius. This is, but a part-representation of Tyner’s glorious career.

The first choice has to be the 1967 set The Real McCoy, where Tyner is joined by the marvellous saxophonist Joe Henderson, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Jones. Though the trance-like ‘Passion Dance’ is a concert favourite, listeners should check out the calm and beautiful ‘Search For Peace’.

Next up is the 1974 album Sama Layuca, that features different types of saxophones, oboe, flute and vibraphone. The 16-minute closer ‘Paradox’ is absolutely pure genius. On the 1977 recording Supertrios, Tyner divides work between two rhythm sections, and begins with Antonio Carlos Jobim’s ‘Wave’.

Cut to 1985, and Tyner teamed up with alto saxophonist Jackie McLean on It’s About Time. The funk-driven title track was popular, but we would go for the pure romance of ‘You Taught My Heart To Sing’. Finally, we have another collaboration with violinist Stephane Grappelli on the 1990 album One On One. Mostly containing adaptations of older tunes, this has stunning coordination between the two greats. The take on Coltrane’s ‘Mr PC’ especially is a treat.

All through, Tyner set an example with his technique, soul and improvisation. As trumpeter Wynton Marsalis rightly said in his tribute, “There isn’t a quality pianist who’s playing the music today who can’t reach for some McCoy in their sound.”

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Printable version | Apr 10, 2020 7:40:17 PM |

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