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McCoy Tyner: The Pianist
Produced by Sonya Williams

McCoy Tyner  

Pianist McCoy Tyner’s artistry and innovation embrace a multitude of styles, from African and Latin rhythms to the modal harmonies of the post-bebop era. His amazing versatility has enabled him to excel in a wide variety of settings.

Listen to saxophonist Joe Ford, singer Dianne Reeves, and pianist Mulgrew Miller discuss McCoy Tyner's piano playing

Born Alfred McCoy Tyner on Dec. 11, 1938, Tyner grew up in the fertile musical hotbed of Philadelphia. 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.

Listen to Tyner recall how his mother encouraged his musical growth


I love to play ballads. I think it's because it shows that you have some passion in your life.
--McCoy Tyner  

McCoy’s decision to study piano was reinforced when he encountered the legendary bebop pianist Bud Powell, who was a neighbor of the family's. Another major influence on Tyner's playing was Thelonious Monk, whose percusive attacks would inform Tyner's signature style.

Listen to Tyner explain how Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk influenced his playing

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 for a while.

When Tyner and Philadelphian saxophonist John Coltrane first played together, Tyner was just 17 and Coltrane was still busy making history with Miles Davis’ band. But John often confided his interest in leading his own band with Tyner.

Listen to Tyner reflect on his early days playing with John Coltrane


Benny Golson  

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.

Listen to Golson (left) remember how Art Farmer was hesitant to allow McCoy to join the Jazztet

Tyner finally joined Coltrane in 1965 for the classic album My Favorite Things, 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.

Listen to writer A.B. Spellman and Tyner describe the symbiotic nature of Coltrane's relationship with Tyner


John Coltrane  

Tyner’s inventive block chords distinguished him from other pianists, and became essential to the group's sound. Both Tyner and Coltrane left embraced Eastern musical ideas, such as pentatonic scales and modal structures, which elevated the group's performances to a spiritual levels.

Listen to vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson and drummer Elvin Jones describe the group dynamic of The John Coltrane Quartet

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 musicallandscape was changing, with rock-n-roll replacing jazz as the darlings of music consumers.

I never felt intimidated by John Coltrane, because I knew his mother, his cousin Mary, and his family. He used to pat me on the back,"This is my little brother, here."
--McCoy Tyner  

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-award nomination album Sahara, broke new ground by the sounds and rhythms of Africa.

Listen to Hutcherson and Tyner reflect on the Afrocentric nature of his album Sahara

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.

Now, in his mid-60s, Tyner is still expanding his musical world and leading diverse ensembles, from his big band to trios. His vibrant playing with John Coltrane sounds as fresh and hard-hitting as it did 40 years ago, and it continues to influence legions of pianists.

Listen to Tyner refelct on his career


SHOW PLAYLIST

View the McCoy Tyner show playlist

NPR RESOURCES

More InfoBrowse the NPR Jazz Web feature -- McCoy Tyner

More InfoBrowse the NPR Jazz Web site -- NPRJazz.org

OTHER RESOURCES

More InfoBrowse Telarc Records: McCoy Tyner page