McCoy Tyner’s name is one of the most celebrated names in the world of music due to his time with John Coltrane’s quartet. Widely known for his complex harmonies, unique block chord styles and bringing African fusion to American Jazz, Tyner is the prime source of inspiration for many emerging pianists. The winner of numerous GRAMMY awards, Tyner is truly a legend.
Tyner’s family fostered within him a great love of music and introduced him to piano from a very early age. This elementary training proved fruitful in alleviating Tyner’s remarkable talent and enriched his pianist skills extensively. Tyner started off with small jazz performances with other emerging musicians of his time in his neighborhood, including other future greats like Lee Morgan. He also gigged with many small bands in a local Jazz club.
Tyner’s recording debut took place with Art Farmer and Benny Golson. But, the reason behind Tyner’s eminence and extensive recognition was his work with the John Coltrane quartet. This famous band of the 60’s harbored a unique chemistry unseen in the history of music. Tyner performed on Africa Brass, A Love Supreme, and My Favorite Things, and gained supreme acknowledgment. Alongside the quartet, Tyner also recorded solo albums such as the famous classic “Inception.”
After leaving Coltrane, Tyner focused on his individual performances and recordings that stirred up a big name for him. He worked with numerous famous artists of his time including Elvin Jones, Ron Carter, Michael Brecker, Stanley Clarke alongside setting up his own famous trio with Avery Sharpe on bass and Aarron Scott on drums.
Tyner has collaborated with many labels, the most prominent being the Blue Note label. He was the first client to become part of Blue Note management after partnering with Blue Note Jazz Club in New York in 2005.He also owns a recording label named The McCoy Tyner Music. Tyner’s album “Quartet” is reminiscent of the John Coltrane’s quartet due to the chemistry between the players. This proud pianist, composer and bandleader continue to mesmerize and move his listeners with his unique style, hence winning the title of Jazz Master from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2002.
McCoy Tyner was born on the 11th of December, 1938, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Tyner’s love for music was triggered by his mother from a very young age. He got lessons to play piano by the age of 13 and then there was no looking back. McCoy studied at the West Philadelphia Music School and later at Granoff School of Music.
Tyner started off initially by jamming with Jazz musicians in his neighborhood such as trumpeter Lee Morgan, saxophonist Archie Shepp, pianist Bobby Timmons, and bassist Regie Workman. He also played at a local Jazz club where he befriended John Coltrane and formed the infamous John Coltrane quartet. Tyner’s professional debut took place in 1959, recording for Benny Golson in Golson’s and Art Farmer’s legendary Jazztet.
The turning point for Tyner occurred at the age of 17 after leaving Art Farmer’s group and joining John Coltrane to assist him in the most legendary band of his time; The John Coltrane Quartet. The band produced famous albums such as My Favorite Things, Africa Brass and A Love Supreme. This band harbored a unique chemistry which mostly fostered from the companionship of Coltrane and Tyner. But what remained to be the most notable aspect of this seminal group was Tyner’s ability to present his own unique influential composition without being overpowered by Coltrane. In fact, his unique block-chording style coupled with his complex and speedy notes brought him into the limelight, endowing the band countless praise. Tyner also recorded his individual albums during this time, with notable labels such as Impulse. His well-known classics include Inception, Night of Ballads and Blues, and Live at Newport.
In 1965, after five years of yielding fascinating music, Tyner left the quartet and continued as a solo pianist and composer. In 1967, he presented the notable album The Real McCoy with saxophonist Joe Henderson and bassist Ron Carter. One of the proudest moments occurred for Tyner in 1970, when his album Sahara won two GRAMMY nominations and was named ‘Record of the year’ in the Down Beat Critics Poll. Since then, he has worked with Sonny Rollins, Ron Carter and Al Foster in 1978 and led his own trio with Avery Sharpe on bass and Aarron Scott on drums.
From 1992 to 2004, Tyner won four prestigious GRAMMY awards for his albums “The Turning Point”, “Journey”, “Infinity” and “Illuminations,” respectively. In 2008, He won the Presidential Merit Award from the Grammy Foundation.
From 1995 and onwards, Tyner continuously changed labels recording for Impulse and TelArc, featuring Michael Brecker and Stanley Clarke respectively. He set up his own label named The McCoy Tyner Music, which is a subsidiary to Blue Note’s in-house record label, Half Notes Record. The label launched the famous album “Quartet” in 2007, whose chemistry is reminiscent of the John Coltrane’s Quartet.
Tyner’s early career was influenced by the dynamic Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk and Art Tatum. His music exhibited his individualistic approach in later years becoming a source of influence for many emerging artists especially Chick Corea.
Tyner, still alive today, continues to capturing the hearts of Jazz lovers. He lived true to what he believed in, that is:
‘The jazz is my life, my wife, my love.’
McCoy Tyner’s musically proficient family taught him piano from a very young age. This contributed to the ever growing and flourishing style of Tyner. Tyner’s style cannot be termed by a single classification or jazz style. Many artists refer to his style simply as the McCoy Tyner Style. Tyner introduced an entirely new touch to the post-bop genre of music with his exemplary bop chording style and tendency to induce African heritage in American Jazz.
The combination of Tyner’s sophisticated but successful experiments with chord voicings, his blues-based piano style, and the product of his harmonious left hand gave rise to the McCoy Tyner Style, inspiring many jazz players to infuse this melodious style into their music. His much renowned style stems from his early gigs with famous musicians and artists of his neighbourhood.
Tyner’s style of music incorporated the use of low notes of fourth and the fifth rather than the traditional third. These notes were then carried out with great speed producing an unusual but unforgettable melody that managed to entice not only the listeners but other jazz pianists too.
Tyner’s style is also described as a forceful production of a lot of dense, complex yet enthralling notes that take you on a journey of textual exploration. His piano displays a richly percussive and cascaded combination of notes. His work has been influenced by John Coltrane greatly but not overpowered. This is because of Tyner’s inclination to expand his musical horizons by adopting from other continents and influences and assimilating those aspects into his music.
The John Coltrane Quartet served as the peak of Tyner’s career with the production of the most famous and captivating albums of his time. As Coltrane puts it:
‘McCoy has an exceptionally well developed sense of form, both as a soloist and accompanist….He also gets a very personal sound from his instrument; and because of the clusters he uses and the way he voices them, that sound is brighter than what would normally be expected from most of the chord patterns he plays.’
Tyner worked with numerous famous artists such as Bill Evans, Ron Carter, Bud Powell and Art Tatum alongside leading many bands and recording numerous albums. He still continues on his journey to produce contemporary jazz without adhering to modern-day trappings and conventions.
Videos and Recordings
McCoy Tyner Trio with George Benson playing Stella by Starlight