McCoy Tyner’s death was announced on his Facebook page earlier today. Tyner, most famously linked to John Coltrane, was a gale force of rhythmic complexity and ingenuity on the piano. Joining with Coltrane while still a teen, his double-barreled approach to the aural intricacies of modern jazz cannot be fully appreciated. The genius of Tyner’s musicality is still being deciphered.
I heard McCoy Tyner before I knew it. But once I knew it, it was his piano that pulled me deeper into the abstractions that Coltrane was doing. Without Tyner, I would have been lost, so many of us would have been. Tyner is gone now but his sound remains eternal.
Here are a selection of songs that are important to Tyner, to jazz, and to us all:
“Chim Chim Cheree:” This song is the gateway to the late era of Coltrane’s quartet. It is complex, daring, and links the more accessible music of the quartet’s past to Coltrane’s sonic explorative future by way of the regimented dynamism in Tyner’s playing.
“Reaching Forth:” This slow burn ballad makes one wonder what would have happened had Tyner’s trio with bassist Henry Grimes and drummer Roy Haynes continued on. Elegant in the hands of three remarkable musicians who let ego slip into the balance for the sake of the song, this is the sound you put on when darkness takes root in your heartbeats.
“My Favorite Things:” From Tyner’s 1972 Echoes of a Friend recording which he dedicated to John Coltrane, this solo take of “My Favorite Things” delivers compunction, brilliant pianissimo, and the pugilistic advance of emotion across the song’s thematic shifts. Tyner had fought the looseness of Coltrane’s later recordings, leaving his mentor in 1965, two years before Coltrane’s death. But Tyner never lost the thread of their connection, their friendship and the avant garde push that Coltrane dropped onto his piano in sheets of soloing brilliance, session after session, show after show.
“One For Dea:” A muscular adventure in Duke Ellington’s “Prelude to a Kiss.” Here, Tyner combines his love of Ellington with that of Bud Powell and it is athletic, engaging and tough enough to let in the mist of emotion.
“A Love Supreme Pt. 1:” Tyner himself said of this recording, “It’s hard to choose one over the other, but A Love Supreme was really a great, great record. Of course, the band had reached a very high level by that time and I think John was into spiritual meanings and stuff like that. He wanted to dig deep and bring us up to another level. And that’s what he did.”
1938 | 2020
Henry Cherry is Jazz Critic at Riot Material Magazine. Mr. Cherry is a photographer, writer and documentary filmmaker who lives in Hollywood. His work has appeared in Huck, PBS, OC Weekly, Los Angeles Review of Books, Artillery, and LA Weekly. A documentary film on master jazz musician Henry Grimes is in the works. For contact information go to his website: henrycherry.com