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A Fireside Chat with McCoy Tyner

By Published: October 29, 2003

MT: Yeah, it was very fresh, even today. It is funny, Fred, because we used to play the music and that was sort of a plateau that we reached, a level we had reached, so every place we went, every plateau we reached, it was used as a launching pad for something else or another idea that happened to come along. That would come along and we would develop that. So A Love Supreme was a culmination of a lot of things that we were doing from the year before ('63) to that time. The music matured and A Love Supreme was definitely indicative of the place we had gone, the place we had reached through all of our playing, all of the experimentation, all through the years. It was a thing where we didn't need music. We had a set of course where we could do literally what we wanted. That band was so in tune with each other that we could actually go different places without actually, there was very little verbal communication. Our music was the language.

FJ: Did you ever sense that Coltrane felt limitations?

MT: Well, his whole concept was no limitations and his quest that he took upon himself was to open everything up, just whatever you want, do it. And yet, there was still a feeling or a groove still going on, even though it was very free at times. We would experiment with time and no changes and no format. It was just, let's get together and play. We had played so well together over the years that we could do that. We could start off with one note and end up with a whole song, a whole series of events musically. It was really interesting because it was like total communication.

FJ: In 1967, you recorded an album for Blue Note called The Real McCoy. It features some of the best playing by Joe Henderson on record.

MT: Joe put up (laughing). I was a guest on some of his recordings and I must say that on The Real McCoy, Joe really put on a show, not that he didn't play good all the time, but that was a special thing. He was fabulous. The playing in that, Ron Carter and Elvin, yeah, Fred, you're right.

FJ: Your Blue Note years are unheralded and the vast majority of the recordings that you made, Tender Moments, Expansions, and Extensions are unavailable and out of print.

MT: Well, they have been doing it sort of by piece mail, putting them out. I think that if there are enough requests for them, I haven't actually spoken to them, but I will, the next time I speak to Bruce (Bruce Lundvall, President of Blue Note) or Michael (Michael Cuscuna, producer), I will be sure to mention that people would like to hear that music on CD. I don't talk to them that much, but I will mention that if I do.

FJ: For a period of time, you led a big band.

MT: It was scary (laughing). It was scary. It was so good, man. I realized that when music is on paper, it is a guideline, but it is not the band. What I learned from Duke Ellington, because he was the icon in terms of big band and in terms of having one of the greatest bands that ever existed. Of course, his persona was unbelievable. I know what he thought because I think he just wanted to write for his band and hear what he had written and experience that every night. That is why I say it was scary because to keep a big band together, you really, really have to, it's more than a notion. There is a lot of people you have to travel with and you have to know each individual. That is what I learned, that each guy in my band had his own individual talent and that certain songs that these guys play on raises all of that out. It's a lot of things, but it is a beautiful kind of scary. I haven't had a big band gig in a while. We traveled, we went to Europe and we did three tours in Europe. We played the Newport Festival and played here in New York, a couple times at the Blue Note and we did a lot of recording at the Blue Note. It was a lot of fun. We haven't done anything, but we have a gig, here at the Blue Note in May. So I have to put pencil to paper and get some new charts out. I'm looking forward to that.

FJ: You also have a Latin band.

MT: Yeah, we were in Europe. Actually, we were in Yugoslavia last year. I have got a story, Fred. We played Paris and we were flying to Belgrade because we had a concert to play and sitting across from me was United Nations Ambassador, Richard Holbrooke, but he was negotiating down in that area. It was funny. I told him that I said, "I'm playing in Yugoslavia, do you think it's safe?" He said, "Yeah, don't worry about it. All the action is twenty-four hours from you." That was really assuring (laughing). It was great and then when I looked at the television and saw all the stuff that was going on, I couldn't believe it. The band is very nice. It's just great. I like to put myself in different situations. We worked at Yoshi's out in Oakland for five years. It was an annual event. We're not doing it this year. There is something else going on.

FJ: What possessed you to do an album of Burt Bacharach tunes ( What the World Needs Now: The Music of Burt Bacharach )?

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