Birthday greetings to pianist McCoy Tyner, who celebrates No. 73 today.
Tyner is still best known for his association with John Coltrane, though that was — chronologically — a short part of his career and a long time ago. It’s been 46 years since the two split — Tyner left two years before Coltrane’s death in 1967 — and 51 since Tyner first became a member of Coltrane’s most famous quartet (with bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones).
“(Coltrane) wasn’t dictatorial at all,” Tyner said in an interview with jerryjazzmusician.com. “He didn’t tell you what to do, he left the playing up to you. If he had something specific he wanted out of the melody, he would tell you, and the rest was up to you. So, we had fun!
“It was because it was like that, that we had that sort of freedom, we would surprise ourselves, we would reach certain points together . . . Jazz is a very good moral teacher. You have to respect the other guy who is on stage with you in order to achieve what you are looking for. You have to respect the music and the person that is next to you, that way you can get the best out of the situation.”
You can suggest Tyner’s best came after Coltrane, even if it’s not his best-known, or even best-appreciated by audiences. I can remember seeing Tyner some 30 years ago as the second half of a concert bill with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers; a third or more of the spectators vacated the venue after Blakey was finished.
“McCoy Tyner, so thoroughly identified with the rolling muscularity of Coltrane’s rhythm section, experienced a dry spell after he parted company in 1965,” wrote Gary Giddins on the liner notes to La Leyenda de La Hora (The Legend of the Hour). “. . . Many people wondered how and if he’d be able to sustain a career on his own. Tyner wondered, too, and there was a moment when he contemplated leaving the music scene.”
Fortunately, the moment passed. Like an actor most renowned for a role early in his career, Tyner’s name goes with Coltrane’s, even if he has long since evolved in his art.
“I asked McCoy in what direction he wanted his music to go from this point on,” wrote Nat Hentoff in the liner notes to 1967′s The Real McCoy. ” ‘I don’t think in those terms,’ he said. ‘You see, to me living and music are all the same thing. And I keep finding out more about music as I learn about myself, my environment, about all kinds of different things in life. I play what I live . . . I just want to write and play my instrument as I feel.”
A link to the title track of Tyner’s 1976 album Fly With the Wind below:
Sources: jerryjazzmusician.com, npr.org, wikipedia.org