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Reflections on McCoy
A recent arrival has getting quite a bit of airplay on my CD player, “McCoy Tyner Plays John Coltrane,” a trio session recorded live at the Village Vanguard that also features George Mraz on bass, and Al Foster on drums.

I’ve been a big McCoy fan since I first got turned onto Trane back in the late 60s. I’ve heard this remarkable pianist in person many times, and have most of his CDs. What makes this session different is the rhythm section. Most of his recent recordings have featured the bassist Avery Sharpe, and the drummer Aaron Scott. For my money, they are adequate, but here, Tyner takes a giant musical leap forward by using Mraz and Foster, two acknowledged masters.

McCoy has paid tribute to John Coltrane several times before, most notably on a 1972 solo effort, Echoes of a Friend. But he is a different pianist now than he was then. Once a player of volcanic force and considerable intellect, Tyner has become a more elegant, restrained stylist, yet the possibility of fireworks is ever present, as heard here on remarkable version of Trane’s composition, “Crescent.”

Although McCoy had a reputation has a young pianist in and around Philly, when he was a teenager, it was his membership in the classic Coltrane Quartet that brought him worldwide attention.

McCoy began studying the piano at thirteen, and has been performing professionally since he was 15. Beatrice Tyner, spotting early her eldest, son's musical inclinations, offered him a choice between piano or voice lessons. During that time McCoy was singing in the choir at Sulzberger Junior High in West Philadelphia. Once the 13-year-old McCoy decided on piano, his mother arranged for him to take lessons at the Philadelphia Music Center. Altogether, McCoy's formal music training lasted about three years.

By high school, McCoy began to pursue his own course in the field of jazz as his life's work, developing a highly percussive, model approach to the piano as a result of years of constant practice, as well as performances with many well known and local musicians leading up to and including the great John Coltrane Quartet.

McCoy claims pianists Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk and Art Titum as his early musical influences. McCoy met Bud Powell when he was 16 years old. The high point of that meeting was when Bud Powell came to his house one afternoon and actually played with McCoy's piano.

During his high school summer breaks, McCoy blossomed tremendously as a result of living like a musician would on tour, except he was only sixty miles from home. He would commute to Atlantic City to perform in clubs with people like saxophonist Paul Jeffries and trumpeter Lee Morgan.

Shortly after McCoy graduated form high school in 1959, saxophonist Benny Golson approached him, offering him a gig in San Francisco at the Jazz Workshop. Golson along with trumpeter Art Farmer, was instrumental in getting McCoy situated in New York before forming the Jazztet. Golson also helped McCoy break into the recording business. Meet the Jazztet was the debut album for the group even though it was actually McCoy's second professional recording date.

He joined Trane in 1960, and the rest is Jazz history.

Today, at 62, Tyner still possesses a drive to explore and innovate within his art form that few even a third his age embrace. In an interview, he recently said, “I like to go on an adventure when I play. I like to have the freedom to do that not just for the sake of doing something out there or different. I like to experiment and take people along the way and bring them back. It’s like a voyage. I want them to understand what I’m doing as opposed to trying to baffle them. I want them to see that’s what music is about. It’s about enjoyment and going on a trip.”

Bret Primack

Wed Feb 6 2002 (5:16:45 PM)


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