You are here
It is not an overstatement to say that modern jazz has been shaped by the music of McCOY TYNER. His blues-based piano style, replete with sophisticated chords and an explosively percussive left hand has transcended conventional styles to become one of the most identifiable sounds in improvised music. His harmonic contributions and dramatic rhythmic devices form the vocabulary of a majority of jazz pianists.
Born in 1938 in Philadelphia, he became a part of the fertile jazz and R&B scene of the early '50s. His parents imbued him with a love for music from an early age. His mother encouraged him to explore his musical interests through formal training. The young pianist fell under the spell of blues and bebop at an early age leading jam sessions in his mother's beauty shop and winning talent shows. Tyner's decision to study piano was reinforced when he encountered the legendary bebop pianist Bud Powell, who was a neighbor. Another major influence on Tyner's playing was Thelonious Monk, whose percussive attacks would inform Tyner's signature style. As a teenager in the 50s, Tyner often found opportunities to learn directly from other notable Philly-based musicians. He played with numerous natives of the thriving hometown jazz scene, including trumpeter Lee Morgan and the Heath Brothers, and even led his own septet.
At 17 he began a career-changing relationship with Miles Davis' sideman saxophonist John Coltrane. While Tyner patiently waited for Coltrane to leave Miles' group and start his own band, another saxophonist, Benny Golson, invited Tyner to join him and trumpeter Art Farmer in forming a New York-based ensemble, Jazztet.
Tyner finally joined Coltrane for the classic album My Favorite Things (1960), and remained at the core of what became one of the most seminal groups in jazz history, The John Coltrane Quartet. The band, which also included drummer Elvin Jones and bassist Jimmy Garrison, had an extraordinary chemistry, fostered in part by Tyner's almost familial relationship with Coltrane.
From 1960 through 1965, Tyner's name was propelled to international renown, as he developed a new vocabulary that transcended the piano styles of the time, providing a unique harmonic underpinning and rhythmic charge essential to the group's sound. He performed on Coltrane's classic recordings such as Live at the Village Vanguard, Impressions, and Coltrane's signature suite, A Love Supreme.
In 1965, after over five years with Coltrane's quartet, Tyner left the group to explore his destiny as a composer and bandleader. But when Tyner broke out as a leader, he found that the American musical landscape was changing, with rock-n-roll replacing jazz as the darlings of music consumers.
Through faith and determination, Tyner prevailed as a soloist and sideman. Among his major projects is a 1967 album entitled The Real McCoy, on which he was joined by saxophonist Joe Henderson, bassist Ron Carter, and fellow Coltrane alumnus Elvin Jones. His 1972 Grammy-nominated album Sahara broke new ground by the sounds and rhythms of Africa. Since 1980, he has also arranged his lavishly textured harmonies for a big band that performs and records when possible. In the late 1980s, he mainly focused on his regular piano trio featuring Avery Sharpe on bass and Aarron Scott on drums. As of today, this trio is still in great demand. He returned to Impulse in 1995, with a superb album featuring Michael Brecker. In 1996 he recorded a special album with the music of Burt Bacharach. In 1998 he changed labels again and recorded an interesting Latin album and an album featuring Stanley Clarke for Telarc.
Tyner has always expanded his vision of the musical landscape and incorporated new elements, whether from distant continents or diverse musical influences. More recently he has arranged for big bands, employed string arrangements, and even reinterpreted popular music.
Aside from his prodigious career as a leader, Tyner has lent his talents to a Who's Who of modern jazz artists including Art Blakey, Michael Brecker, Eric Dolphy, Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, Bobby Hutcherson, Milt Jackson, Elvin Jones, Hank Mobley, Wayne Shorter, Stanley Turrentine, and many others.
Today, Tyner has released nearly 80 albums under his name, earned four Grammys, and was awarded Jazz Master from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2002. He continues to leave his mark on generations of improvisers, and yet remains a disarmingly modest and spiritually directed man.