McCoy Tyner’s Revolution

(McCoy Tyner’s 80th birthday is December 11, 2018.)

Tootie Heath remembers a day Lee Morgan came to get him at school, probably in 1951 or 1952. Although Morgan was a few years younger than Tootie, the future trumpet legend was precocious and always looking out for more local talent on the streets of Philadelphia. Morgan walked Tootie several blocks to a beauty salon. In the back of the salon was a kid Morgan’s age playing the piano. He was allowed to practice there because his mother owned the salon. Morgan and Tootie heard the torrents of keyboard sound, looked at each other, and said: “Wow!”

John Coltrane and McCoy Tyner began practicing together in the mid-50s. Coltrane recorded Tyner’s blues waltz “The Believer” in 1958; two years later Tyner joined Coltrane’s band. Coltrane’s 1960 hit recording of “My Favorite Things” with Tyner on piano was also a waltz.

Conventional wisdom suggests that Tyner was Coltrane’s disciple. This is true, but it also true that Coltrane got a lot from Tyner.  In one interview with Bob Dawbarn, Coltrane said, “Tyner plays some things on the piano, but I don’t know what they are.” For the big band album Africa/Brass, Coltrane told his arranger Eric Dolphy to get the voicings from Tyner.

Part of what those “things” are, those voicings, are chords stacked in fourths. Lacking a third, fourth chords have a mysterious stasis, refusing to commit to major or minor. Tyner told Len Lyons that Debussy and Stravinsky were two of his favorite composers. Both Debussy and Stravinsky used fourth chords, but it is a phrase in Ravel’s “La vallée des cloches” that seems to prefigure Tyner.  You could even use jazz notation for the harmony: G-flat lydian and F minor 11.

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I’m not suggesting that Tyner literally lifted his left hand harmony from four bars of Ravel! However, these four bars are the only thing from pre-1950 European piano literature that even remotely suggest Tyner’s future sound world.

“La vallée des cloches” is an attempt to summon bells. When a composer summons bells at the piano, it’s a way to undo conventional harmony. I’ve written an essay suggesting that Red Garland was connected to bells; I see McCoy Tyner in exactly the same tradition.

Before Tyner, Garland was Coltrane’s most important accompanist. Whether they were played by Garland or Tyner, bright, bell-related sounds at the keyboard were a perfect mesh with the cascades coming from Coltrane’s horn.

Tyner also loved Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk. As a kid he talked about them all the time, and eventually his high school running buddies called him “Bud Monk.” Powell gave him the message directly, frequently coming by to practice on Tyner’s piano, and Monk was another crucial member of the extended Coltrane musical family. In Lewis Porter’s book on Coltrane, there’s an important quote from Tyner about Monk and Coltrane, including the telling sentences, “The music of Monk is strange, fleeting, and presents the peculiarity of being at one time very shifting but also very grounded, with a very sure tempo. My playing, I believe, possessed also this metronomic rhythmic accuracy….because I have a good strong left hand, John knew that he could count on this rhythmic foundation….”

Harold Mabern gives Bud’s brother Richie Powell credit for the bitonal piano intro on the Clifford Brown/Max Roach “Delilah,” saying it was a source for McCoy Tyner’s harmonic innovations. Tyner himself name-checks the younger Powell in an early interview for his “sustaining chords.”

A profile by Ted Panken reveals another primary source:

African music entered Tyner’s consciousness in the early ’50s, when a Ghanaian drummer named Saka Acquaye arrived at Philadelphia’s Temple University to study political science, and earned tuition money by teaching African rhythms to local drummers at a dance school that employed the teenage pianist as an accompanist.

Acquaye; Monk; Powell younger and older, Garland; the rest of jazz and European literature. McCoy’s influences are discernible, but in end he sounded absolutely like no one else. As the Coltrane group grew more popular, Tyner’s approach traveled like a shockwave through the community. No one — not Art Tatum, not Powell, not Monk, not Bill Evans — dropped a bomb on jazz pianists quite like McCoy Tyner. There was pre-McCoy and post-McCoy, and that was all she rote.

As influential as he’s been, there’s something eternally mysterious about Tyner’s vocabulary. (Coltrane: “Tyner plays some things on the piano, but I don’t know what they are.”) That’s not true of Tyner’s two best students, Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea. After you transcribe Herbie or Chick, you look at the phrases and say, “I see what they are doing.” After transcribing McCoy, the phrases just sit there, refusing to give up any secrets.

Bud Powell and Bill Evans use the conventional tonal system, so the great disciples of Powell and Evans can subsume and hide those influences reasonably quickly. Appropriating Tyner is harder. Tyner’s pitches seem to transcend conventional Western harmony. It is a private language of sound; it is bells and drums in a pre-colonial village; it is banging stones together at the first communal fire. Many students of Tyner — even ones with big careers — still play undigested bits of Tyner’s language. Tommy Flanagan and Barry Harris don’t really sound like Bud Powell; Steve Kuhn and Keith Jarrett don’t really sound like Bill Evans. But John Hicks, Harold Mabern, Ronnie Mathews, George Cables, Kenny Barron, and a host of other great jazz pianists can have moments where they really sound like McCoy Tyner.

Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea, who share something of a quicksilver brilliance and were there chronologically and spatially in New York when all eyes were on Coltrane and Tyner, figured Tyner out enough to let some of him go. Alice Coltrane also knew just the right amount to take from Tyner, especially from the spiritual side of the message. Eventually gospel pianists would absorb Tyner’s harmonies for Sunday morning church service, proving forever that Tyner’s innovations were authentic to the source.

The musicians know, the pianists especially know, but I wonder if the world at large knows. The vast dimensions of John Coltrane’s contribution has challenged clear-eyed perception of his pianist. This problem began right at the beginning, with Tyner’s voicings for Africa/Brass. The record label Impulse! did not credit Tyner for creative input. Adding insult to injury, the jacket listed the pianist as McCoy Turner.

Last month I went out to the Rutgers Jazz Institute to look at the reviews of Coltrane and Tyner in DownBeat during the early ’60s. It’s safe to say that the critics missed the boat. The reviews of Coltrane records barely mention Tyner, and the reviews of Tyner’s own discs generally avoid noting anything of real substance.

One of Tyner’s most exciting early solos was “Avalon” on Meet the Jazztet. Ira Gitler wrote, “‘Avalon’ is the low point of the set.”

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McCoy on “Avalon”:

John S. Wilson thought Tyner better than Freddie Hubbard or Hank Mobley on Goin’ Up, although only “within limited range.”

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In Pete Welding’s review of My Favorite Things, McCoy gets a brief mention for his contribution of the title song. From where I sit, there’s no “My Favorite Things” without Tyner’s completely original harmonic perspective.

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In his review of Olé, Richard B. Hadlock mis-identifies “Aisha” as a Coltrane ballad (it is by Tyner).

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In a long review of Africa/Brass, Martin Williams is severely unimpressed, although he does think Tyner “plays a good solo.” (Again, all the horn voicings on the album were given to Dolphy by Tyner.)

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Coltrane’s first live record at the Vanguard got a double review. Ira Gitler likes Tyner more than Coltrane; Pete Welding doesn’t mention the pianist by name.

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I personally regard the Coltrane studio version of “Soul Eyes” as a desert island track. Don DeMichael did not agree.

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McCoy on “Soul Eyes”:

Coltrane generated a lot of argument and introspection among the critics of the day. William Mathieu (also a valuable musician) has an interesting take on Live at Birdland.

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As the Coltrane reviews continue, Tyner is mostly ignored as a generative force. (Even Mathieu does not mention Tyner when reviewing Crescent, an LP that he gave only 3 and half stars.)  It seems like the critics assumed that Coltrane told Tyner what to play, but that’s simply not true. McCoy brought it all to the table. The group couldn’t have had any other pianist and retained the sound. While Alice Coltrane started as a bebop pianist —  and a great bebop pianist at that — she would eventually have to take on the mysterious McCoy language as Tyner’s replacement in her husband’s group.

Tyner’s contributions outside the Coltrane fold could also be downplayed, for example in Leonard Feather’s review of Art Blakey’s A Jazz Message.

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For me, Tyner’s solo on “The Song of You” is sublime.

Most of Tyner’s own albums got fair to good reviews. However, not one of them describe him as an innovator or a revolutionary.

Barbara Gardner on Inception.

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Don Nelsen on Reaching Forth.

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Harvey Pekar on Nights of Ballads and Blues.

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John S. Wilson on Live at Newport.

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Pekar on Today and Tomorrow.

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DeMichael on Plays Duke Ellington.

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I couldn’t locate a review of The Real McCoy, but the double review of Tyner’s Tender Moments and Herbie Hancock’s Speak Like a Child by Lawrence Kart is strikingly unsympathetic to both.

Kart’s suggestion that Cecil Taylor threatens Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner with irrelevancy typifies a certain trope of jazz criticism. (Even today, Cecil Taylor can be used as way to complain about musicians who swing and play the blues.) In my view there is no reason to pit musicians against each other. In 1967, all three pianists were operating at an extraordinary high level, all making work that would stand the test of time.

Maybe McCoy Tyner didn’t care about his coverage in DownBeat during the 1960s, I don’t know. But the story goes that Tyner was really down and out for a few years at the end of that decade. If that’s true, the generally lackluster support given Tyner by the major jazz magazine would have been part of the problem.

It was a hasty search through microfiche, but as far as I could locate, there was only one good DB article on McCoy Tyner, from 1963, a profile by Stanley Dance called “Tyner Talk” that is exclusively quotes from the pianist.

We talk a lot about freedom in Jazz, but there are underlying disciplines too. When you have the discipline of religion, as I have, I think you can meet the demands of music and function better. There are still a lot of pressures in musicians’ lives, and it is easy to understand why some fall by the wayside. But you have to strengthen yourself to meet those pressures. You can’t wait for them all to be removed from your environment.

There are reasons for the pressures and problems. People will usually think of God at a time of tragedy but not when everything is running smoothly. But most musicians believe in God, because most of them are very sensitive individuals. When I first started in music I never realized how sensitive music is, nor how sensitive we are.

My mother played a little piano, and she wanted us to take an interest in music. We had the choice between singing and piano lessons, so my brother and I both took piano. I wasn’t too interested at first, but after a while I began to like it and devote most of my time to it. Although I didn’t study the classics extensively, I think I had a pretty good foundation.

When I was about 16, I had my own jazz group. I had met another boy who had bought a set of drums, and then we added trombone, trumpet, and alto saxophone. The drummer, Garvin Masseaux, has been playing conga with Olatunji.

I was mainly influenced by records at that time, because there wasn’t too much jazz on the radio. Bud Powell and his brother were living just around the corner from me in Philadelphia, but they didn’t have a piano in their apartment, and Bud came to my mother’s house to play. I wasn’t familiar with his work and didn’t know who he was. It was hard to understand everything he was doing, but I liked it.

Judging from the records he made with Max Roach and Ray Brown, I think he had reached his prime then, and I learned quite a lot from him and his brother Richard. They were profound musicians, harmonically and in many other ways. Bud had so much taste and creative ability that I couldn’t help learning from him.

He had worked opposite Art Tatum and had plenty of other opportunities to hear him, and Bud had been greatly influenced by Tatum. I know he had a lot of admiration for pianists who preceded Art, too, just as I have.

Tatum had really become a virtuoso. His music always sounded so neat and compact. I never thought of it as being arranged, but rather as the result of his tremendous knowledge of the instrument. Anything he could hear he could play.

After I graduated from high school, I worked days and played around home for a time. There were a lot of very good musicians in Philadelphia then and more clubs than there are now. I played with a lot of out-of-town musicians who were brought in as singles, and I worked in Calvin Massey’s band around Philadelphia. Calvin had a nice band. He’s a trumpet player, and he writes. Charlie Parker recorded his Fiesta.

I was about 17 when I first worked with John Coltrane. He had left Miles Davis for a period, and he was a close friend of Calvin Massey, who introduced me to him. I was working with Calvin at the Red Rooster, and John was going in there for a week. He asked us if we wanted to work with him.

After that, he would contact me whenever he came to Philly with Miles. I think he liked my playing, but we would also have long discussions on music, during which he would sometimes sit down at the piano and play. He had a lot of ideas, and we were compatible. We saw eye to eye on so many things even at that time, and I could hear the direction he was going. I didn’t know what it would be like, or how involved it would be, but I could hear something in his playing that was beautiful, and we enjoyed working together.

Benny Golson came to Philadelphia when I was about 20, and I played a concert with him. He asked me to go to San Francisco with him, where we would pick up a bassist and a drummer.

Then the Jazztet was formed, and that was very good experience for me. The original group consisted of Art Farmer, Curtis Fuller, Addison Farmer, Dave Bailey, Benny, and myself. It was a very musicianly band, and it had a lot of possibilities, but sometimes I felt there ought to have been more room allowed for improvisation. Eventually there was.

After about six months with the Jazztet, I got another call from John. He was forming his own group. I had a decision to make. I knew there was something with his group that I wanted to do, but yet the fellows in the Jazztet had been so nice to me, and they had helped me quite a bit, musically and otherwise, that I felt I owed something to them. I had to be honest with them and myself, and in the end I decided the best thing to do was to go where I could be really happy, where I could contribute more and really do some good. So I went with John.

I think I made the right move. I wasn’t concerned then with whether or not John’s group would be successful, for I feel that the majority of good listeners will always support good music.

I know a lot of good groups are formed and disappear, but usually they break up because of personal differences. If the guys conducted themselves right, thought more about producing good music, and generally took care of business, then I believe they would stay together longer. Music has to be the first interest. More dollars will come later.

It’s important, too, for a group to be composed of men — real, true men — who will accept their responsibilities. I am proud to be part of an organization where each one is dedicated to the whole. And I really enjoy it.

People sometimes say our music is experimental, but all I can answer is that every time you sit down to play, it should be an experience. There are no barriers in our rhythm section. Everyone plays his personal concept, and nobody tells anyone else what to do. It is surprisingly spontaneous, and there’s a lot of give and take, for we all listen carefully to one another. From playing together, you get to know one another so well musically that you can anticipate. We have an over-all different approach, and that is responsible for our original style. As compared with a lot of other groups, we feel differently about music. With us, whatever comes out—that’s it, at that moment! We definitely believe in the value of the spontaneous.

So far as we are concerned, too, a lot depends on what John does. A rhythm section is supposed to support and inspire the soloist, and it is a very sensitive thing. How each one of us feels can determine so much, but when I come to solo I may be inspired by what John has played and by the support Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison are giving me. It’s all too personal to analyze on paper, anymore than it’s possible to say why one person likes chocolate and another likes cookies.

Sometimes, when John is soloing, I lay out completely.

Something important is involved here, I think. The pianist tends to play chords that the soloist knows are coming up next anyway. Normally, all the pianist does is try to give him a little extra push in the accompaniment and possibly to suggest some new ideas. When the piano isn’t there, the soloist can concentrate purely on what he has in mind with fewer limitations or boundaries. Otherwise, what the pianist plays can attract his attention away from his original thought. So it is all a matter of giving the soloist more freedom to explore harmonically. Nevertheless, there is a foundation and a point of return. We all know where we are working from.

You can establish your feeling in music so that the public recognizes it, but you can also develop it within a recognizable framework. Sometimes people don’t want to hear the development. They only want to hear it as it was in the primary stages. “He isn’t playing the way he was,” they’ll say. “I don’t understand what he is doing.” But the roots are actually still there, and when the flower blooms the people may not accept it, though it’s all part of the same thing. Then their acceptance will depend on their getting more familiarity.

That’s why I think there should be more good jazz on the radio — and at times when the music can be exposed to a larger listening audience.

I’ve often contemplated that word “jazz.” I believe early jazz came out of the churches, through the spirituals, which were a form of worship. Then there was the period of the blues, which were played in very different places. Back in those days “jazz” used to mean something else, and that’s one of the reasons, I think, why many people still look down on it now. Yet I believe the music itself is one of the most beautiful art forms that exist, but the word used to describe it is just not good enough.

You are exposed to so much music today that you cannot always pinpoint influences. I know that when I used to listen to Max Roach’s band I was impressed by the harmonies Richard Powell used to play and by his use of the sustaining pedal on chords. In fact, one of the strong points of his playing was his beautiful harmonic conception. I never copied what he did, but I certainly appreciated it.

I may find myself playing a phrase from another musician, but I never consciously copy, Guys ask me sometimes how I do this or do that, but I don’t have any preconceived formula. You can almost subconsciously acquire technical devices, of course, like Richard Powell’s way of sustaining chords.

One reason I have so much respect for the older pianists is that in their period there were so many different styles. There were many good musicians among them, and they knew their instrument, and it wasn’t so much a matter of copying one another. Many of the younger musicians today involve themselves in a particular style instead of trying to learn the instrument, which I think is very important.

I’m not saying they don’t know the instrument, but I think they make an error in trying to duplicate another style rather than try to play the way they feel about things. I’ve been told that at one time everyone was trying to play like Earl Hines. That could have been good, provided you didn’t get hung up and limited to what he was able to do. I think another musician can show you the way, maybe inspire you, but I’ve never wanted to be an exact copy of anyone else. I’m 24, and I guess I’m still evolving. You can’t rush maturity. —MCCOY TYNER AS TOLD TO STANLEY DANCE IN 1963

My own quick notes on the early McCoy Tyner albums:

Two tunes unreleased at the time
McCoy Tyner, piano; Steve Davis, bass; Elvin Jones, drums
October 1960
Lazy Bird
In Your Own Sweet Way

It was a marathon series of sessions for Atlantic that produced My Favorite Things, Coltrane’s Sound, and Coltrane Plays the Blues. The trio also tried out these two tracks that first saw release in the 70s in a widely listened to anthology with Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, and Keith Jarrett. “Lazy Bird” is fast and exciting, “In Your Own Sweet Way” is down the middle. Both have cute arrangements and personalized chord progressions.

McCoy Tyner Trio – Inception
McCoy Tyner, piano; Art Davis, bass; Elvin Jones, drums
January 1962
Inception
Sunset
Effendi
Speak Low
There Is No Greater Love
Blues For Gwen

The first phrases of “Inception” recall hard bop, something like “Jordu.” “Effendi”  delivers Coltrane-era modality. The standards are more in a Red Garland kind of zone. Everything is played to perfection; all in all, a stunning debut disc. It’s a particularly good showing for Elvin Jones as well.

McCoy Tyner Trio – Reaching Fourth
McCoy Tyner, piano; Henry Grimes, bass; Roy Haynes, drums
November 1962
Reaching Fourth
Goodbye
Blues Back
Have You Met Miss Jones
Old Devil Moon
Theme For Ernie

A different kind of feel ensues with the presence of Roy Haynes and Henry Grimes. The standards are creatively reharmonized. Certainly no one else has played this version of “Have You Met Miss Jones.”

I love the pile of sheet music on the piano in the pictures of Coltrane, Tyner, and Johnny Hartman together.

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John Coltrane adored the American Songbook; so did McCoy Tyner. Tyner’s arrangements of standards always have surprising details.

Tyner was starting to make a point of always including a blues on his records as well.

McCoy Tyner – Nights Of Ballads & Blues
McCoy Tyner, piano; Steve Davis, bass; Lex Humphries, drums
March 1963
Star Eyes
We’ll Be Together Again
‘Round Midnight
Days Of Wine And Roses
Blue Monk
Satin Doll
For Heaven’s Sake
Groove Waltz

This is a “local” rhythm team if there ever was one. Steve Davis was Tyner’s brother-in-law and Lex Humphries was a Philadelphia cat who also played with Tyner in the Jazztet. Nights Of Ballads & Blues is a mellow disc, almost a Red Garland album.  Apparently Impulse! and the pianist are working together to pose Tyner as a more accessible artist than his label-mate John Coltrane. For me the highlight is “Star Eyes.”

McCoy Tyner – Live At Newport
Clark Terry, trumpet; Charlie Mariano, alto sax; McCoy Tyner, piano; Bob Cranshaw, bass; Mickey Roker, drums
July 1963
Monk’s Blues
All Of You
Woody’n You
My Funny Valentine
Newport Romp

A jam session of trio and quintet. Mickey Roker and Bob Cranshaw are smoking, so is everybody else. Charlie Mariano is especially good on “My Funny Valentine,” every member brings it to the max for “Newport Romp.” This is the  only time McCoy is heard playing “Woody’n You,” as least in this era.

McCoy Tyner – Today And Tomorrow
McCoy Tyner, piano; Jimmy Garrison, bass; Tootie Heath, drums
June 1963
Autumn Leaves
Five Spot After Dark
A Night In Tunisia
You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To
When Sunny Gets Blue
Flapstick Blues
Thad Jones, trumpet; Frank Strozier, alto sax; John Gilmore, tenor sax; McCoy Tyner, piano; Butch Warren, bass; Elvin Jones, drums
February 1964
Contemporary Focus
Three Flowers
T ‘n A Blues

A full standards date with another Philadelphia rhythm section was cut in half and joined with three horn pieces recorded a year later. On CD you can hear the complete set of tracks. It’s all essential McCoy, unquestionably the finest of his dates for Impulse! as a leader. Thad Jones stuns on “Contemporary Focus,” which also has memorable statements by John Gilmore and Frank Strozier. Butch Warren proves he can hang with McCoy and Elvin. In a  rare and pleasing moment, it sounds like Gilmore is quite confused by the changes of “Three Flowers.” From the trio, Tootie Heath stays on brushes throughout.  “A Night in Tunisia” offers a soaring piano statement.

McCoy Tyner Plays Ellington
McCoy Tyner, piano; Jimmy Garrison, bass; Elvin Jones, drums; Johnny Pacheco, Willie Rodriguez, Latin percussion
December 1964
It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)
I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good)
Mr. Gentle And Mr. Cool
Gypsy Without A Song
Solitude
Caravan
Duke’s Place
Searchin’
Satin Doll

While generally not in sympathy with the reviews republished above, I do agree with DeMichael that “Solitude” is the standout track from this slightly underwhelming record. Nothing is wrong, exactly, but it does seem like a producer-driven project: Ellington was currently being promoted on several Impulse! dates including wonderful collaborations with Coltrane and Coleman Hawkins.

One of the odder bits of jazz trivia: McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, and Elvin Jones went out to Rudy Van Gelder’s New Jersey studio on December 8, 1964 to record four conservative takes of Ellington with two percussionists. The next morning Tyner recorded with Milt Jackson in New York. Then, in the evening of December 9, Tyner, Garrison, and Jones went back out to Van Gelder’s and recorded A Love Supreme with John Coltrane.

McCoy Tyner – The Real McCoy
Joe Henderson, tenor sax; McCoy Tyner, piano; Ron Carter, bass; Elvin Jones, drums
April 1967
Passion Dance
Contemplation
Four By Five
Search For Peace
Blues On The Corner

After leaving Coltrane, Tyner didn’t have anything more to do with Impulse!. Among Alfred Lion’s last signings to Blue Note was Tyner. Tyner’s first Blue Note has proven to be one of the greatest jazz LPs in history. I can’t believe anyone reading this far into a DTM deep dive wouldn’t know The Real McCoy already, but, just in case: This is the one. A masterpiece from top to bottom, a band of giants, everyone on the top of their game, and five of Tyner’s most indelible themes.

It’s the same configuration as the Coltrane quartet, but there’s a big difference in the orchestration. Tyner never doubled the melody with Coltrane, with one minor exception, the 12-tone line of “Miles’ Mode.” On The Real McCoy Tyner doubles Joe Henderson during every head.

McCoy Tyner – Tender Moments
Lee Morgan, trumpet; Julian Priester, trombone; Bob Northern, French horn; Howard Johnson, tuba; James Spaulding, alto sax, flute; Bennie Maupin, tenor sax; McCoy Tyner, piano; Herbie Lewis, bass; Joe Chambers, drums
December 1967
Mode To John
The High Priest
Man From Tanganyika
Utopia
All My Yesterdays
Lee Plus Three

Tender Moments prefigures the many large Tyner projects of the 1970s and 1980s, when Tyner was at last one of the biggest names in the jazz industry. It’s a wonderful disc but they did it all in one day, and here and there the ensembles are a little ragged. “Utopia” is a memorable composition and Joe Chambers is the perfect drummer for the even-eighth grooves. It’s pure bliss when Lee Morgan plays a quartet blues with the rhythm section at the end.

McCoy Tyner – Time For Tyner
Bobby Hutcherson, vibes; McCoy Tyner, piano; Herbie Lewis, bass; Freddie Waits, drums.
Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, May 17, 1968
Little Madimba
May Street
I Didn’t Know What Time It Was
Afrika Village
The Surrey With The Fringe On Top
I’ve Grown Accustomed To Your Face

The quartet tracks with Bobby Hutcherson are good but the standout track is the trio “The Surrey With the Fringe on Top,” which is possibly Tyner’s greatest ever recording of a standard. Herbie Lewis and Freddie Waits help Tyner swing out and about, transforming the slender Rodgers and Hammerstein material into a vibrating column of funky and abstract sound. There’s nothing like it, no one else has come close to playing this way.  It’s the perfect conclusion to Tyner’s early revolutionary period.

Billy Hart told me when he frequently went to see the Coltrane quartet, he loved watching McCoy Tyner play better and better, especially on “Mr. P.C.” and “Impressions.”

At one point I trimmed out a fair number of McCoy Tyner solos live with Coltrane on those two tunes. It’s amazing how much Tyner really is improvising within the confines of an authentic language.

“Impressions”

Earliest one, when Dolphy was still in the band.

An epic one from the Showboat in Philadelphia.

Stuttgart, early 1963.

Two from fall ’63 tour of Europe. October 22.

November 4.

At the Half Note in 1965, some of the more astonishing piano playing ever captured on tape:

“Mr. P.C.”

November 25, 1961.

At the Showboat.

Fall 1962 European tour. Two gigs on November 17. One.

Two.

November 28.

A year later, in 1963, they are even more smokin’. October 22.

November 1.

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