Back now with Day to Day, and happy birthday greetings to pianist McCoy Tyner. He is 70 years old today. McCoy Tyner made his name as a member of the legendary John Coltrane Quartet in the 1960s. Since then, he's forged a solo career, composing and playing on dozens of his own records. Today, he has a new CD out. Tom Vitale reports.

(Soundbite of song "You Taught My Heart To Sing")

TOM VITALE: McCoy Tyner sits at the Bosendorfer grand piano on stage at the Blue Note trying to remember the changes to a ballad he wrote 20 years ago called "You Taught My Heart to Sing."

Mr. MCCOY TYNER (Musician, Composer): With so many songs, sometimes I say, what did I do here?

(Soundbite of laughter)

VITALE: But Tyner has no trouble recalling "Passion Dance," a tune he wrote more than 40 years ago.

(Soundbite of "Passion Dance")

VITALE: When you hear McCoy Tyner play, you don't forget his sound.

Mr. TYNER: That's your identity, your sound. It's like when you speak. You may not be able to see the person, but you recognize the voice.

VITALE: Tyner's sound was forged on the piano in his mother's Philadelphia beauty shop in the decade following World War II. It was galvanized over the five years beginning in 1960, when he played with one of the most storied groups in the history of jazz - the John Coltrane Quartet.

(Soundbite of jazz music)

VITALE: When Tyner met Coltrane, both were living in Philadelphia. The saxophonist was playing in Miles Davis's band. McCoy Tyner was just a teenager the first time they played together.

Mr. TYNER: We got to be really good friends. I loved his playing, his sound. It's unbelievable. And so he told me, he said, the next time I leave Miles, I want you to join my band. Because we did a couple of gigs together, and he liked my playing. So, he was like a big brother to me.

VITALE: And Tyner says playing Coltrane's music was like being in a classroom.

(Soundbite of jazz music)

Mr. TYNER: He used to tell me, keep moving harmonically because he was hearing a lot of different things. And I would just listen to him, and when he would go to another key, or he would just go somewhere else, and I would try to build something harmonically under what he was doing. I learned so much just about what can be done with this wonderful instrument called the piano.

(Soundbite of jazz music)

VITALE: McCoy Tyner himself has been a teacher and an inspiration for generations of younger musicians. Some of them join him on his new recording called "Guitars." Besides banjo player Bela Fleck, there are guitarists Marc Ribot, John Scofield, Bill Frisell and Derek Trucks.

Mr. DEREK TRUCKS (Guitarist, The Derek Trucks Band): He was there for some of the most profound music ever recorded. He was in the room and a catalyst for a lot of it. And, you know, it's an honor to be in a room with somebody like that and to get to play with him.

(Soundbite of song "Greensleeves")

VITALE: 29-year-old Derek Trucks is probably best known for playing slide guitar with the Allman Brothers Band. But Trucks is a big jazz fan and named his daughter Naima after a Coltrane composition, and Trucks is a big fan of McCoy Tyner.

Mr. TRUCKS: He created this style, this cascading, a lot of stacking fourths. And it's a beautiful sound, and it's a really forward-moving sound. And his style's always been that way. Every time I hear him, you feel like there's a freight train coming.

(Soundbite of music)

VITALE: The propulsive sound of Tyner's piano comes, he says, from his early days as a drummer.

Mr. TYNER: I used to play conga drums. No really, I did. I used to play conga drums because we had a percussion group in my neighborhood. I had to stop because I used to get my joints in my fingers would be irritated from hitting the rim of the congas.

VITALE: It's surprising his joints don't hurt today, given how high his hands rise up from the keys before plunging back down to create those massive chords. Tyner says the secret is simple.

Mr. TYNER: Well, I like carrot juice.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TYNER: I have a juice machine at home that helps. Carrot juice is real good for you. Carrot and celery, don't forget celery.

(Soundbite of laughter)

VITALE: McCoy Tyner has seen most of his mentors and many of his peers die long ago. John Coltrane, for example, passed when he was just 40. So, Tyner is grateful for the juice to keep going at 70. For NPR News, I'm Tom Vitale in New York.

(Soundbite of jazz music)

BRAND: McCoy Tyner. Day to Day is a production of NPR News with contributions from I'm Madeleine Brand.


And I'm Alex Cohen.

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