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Jazz piano giants: McCoy Tyner

He still plays trio music as if it was all fresh and newly exciting to him ...

McCoy Tyner

MCCOY TYNER is a living jazz legend – still performing all over the world, he is respected everywhere he goes both for his own powerful music and for his years in the 1960s with the John Coltrane Quartet, one of the most influential jazz bands ever.

Tyner has played orchestral music, fusion and Latin-jazz, as well as playing in the classic piano-trio format – and he still plays trio music as if it was all fresh and newly exciting to him, though he’s now in his late 60s. He was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and two piano-playing neighbours, the brothers Bud and Richie Powell, were important early influences. Richie Powell liked playing chords based on intervals of fourths (that is, pitches four steps apart), and this is still a quality of Tyner’s playing today. He also liked Thelonious Monk, who played the piano as much like a drummer as a pianist.

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Pentatonic just means five notes, so any five-note scale

Gareth Williams

McCoy Tyner was leading his own jazz band at the age of 15, and first worked with John Coltrane at the Red Rooster in Philadelphia, in the 1950s. Then he worked in the Jazztet with trumpeter Art Farmer and saxophonist/arranger Benny Golson, before getting the call from Coltrane in 1960. Coltrane used scales and modes as the basis for long improvisations, and Tyner’s job was to sustain a tonal centre for the saxophonist to launch himself from – but he was also a stunning soloist, making constantly changing variations from the simple, repeating core of the music. In 1966 McCoy Tyner left Coltrane, and in the 70s began a successful solo career.

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