We just got the sad news that McCoy Tyner passed away at 81. McCoy cemented his place as a giant of jazz music when he played in John Coltrane's quartet in the 1960's. He established his own distinctive sound that is instantly recognizable by jazz fans, and continued to play incredible, life-changing music into the current decade. McCoy's sound was rooted by strong bass notes which he let ring as he played over them, (what we call "pedal tones.") He played harmonies based on intervals of fourths rather than thirds (called "quartal" harmonies), which ring out with an open and powerfull sound that inspired the soloists he played with to improvise more freely and creatively. Finally, he played intricate solos which often included very fast runs into the highest register of the piano.
Aside from being a living legend on piano, McCoy was a warm and generous person who touched many lives and helped many younger musicians along. My facebook feed has been exploding all weekend with tributes and stories from musicians who met him over the years. I used to hear him live whenever I could, first at the Amazingrace coffeehouse North of Chicago where I grew up, and then when I was in college at University of Miami, where he played at a local club. That music touched me more deeply than any live concert I've heard before or since. I kept going back to hear him night after night and sat there with my eyes closed, head hanging, completely taken by the music. One of the waitresses kept raising a fist and whooping when the music got intense and McCoy would look up from the piano and smile.
That week one of the students at U of M convinced McCoy to come and do a workshop at the University. He played for us, and then took questions. I asked how he sustained such a religious feeling in his music whenever he played. He answered, "I believe in what I'm doing and approach it seriously." Stuff like that you never forget.
Here is a playlist of my favorite of McCoy's music, starting with his solo piano recording of "My Favorite Things" and including tunes from groups he led as well as when he accompanied John Coltrane, Joe Henderson, and Wayne Shorter. Please listen and enjoy - this music is a treasure.