“ It's not that it's easy being an artist, but what is easy? Something worthwhile does require a certain amount of energy, a certain amount of dedication and I'm glad that I'm an artist... ”
For the better part of nearly five decades McCoy Tyner has remained the most pervasively influential, highly acclaimed, widely imitated jazz pianist in the world ' universally acknowledged for the invention of a style that continues to be uniquely personal, powerfully passionate and consummately creative. From his early association with the great John Coltrane, through his most recent work with the venerable vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, Tyner has determinedly delivered to adoring audiences music that is both consistently challenging and spiritually uplifting. An unusually soft spoken, honest and humble individual, he graciously agreed to devote some time from his busy schedule to discuss his art with AAJ.
All About Jazz: You've been using different rhythm sections recently after an approximately 15 year association with bassist Avery Sharpe and drummer Aaron Scott. Does your choice of new band mates reflect a (subtle) change in your approach to creating new music?
McCoy Tyner: It's a gradual process, which is only natural. It doesn't have to be drastic, but I'm definitely hearing some different things. I think that the group that I had before was a really great group, but sometimes one has to make a change and move along with your' development. It was good for the amount of time that it existed, really good. Everybody was very talented, but sometimes you have to move, especially after twenty years. That's a long time.
AAJ: Sometimes you have to change your environment just to be in a situation where you can change.
MT: That's right. As my old agent Jack Whittermore used to say, 'Nothing ventured, nothing gained.'
AAJ: How did you decide on the new players? Are there any younger (or older) musicians you might be considering for your band?
MT: That all depends. It's something that's hard to predict because you don't know what you'll be hearing a year from now, or two years from now. If it's working then okay you stay with it. If it's growing and if you feel comfortable and it's not inhibiting then it's worth it to keep the band together. Right now it's a good move.
Eric Harland was with Betty Carter for a while. She was a school. She reminded me of Art Blakey. She really trained people who played with her She was like a teacher, the same with Art. We were overseas, actually we were in Lebanon, it was part of a European tour. So Betty was on the show and I had a chance to hear him (with her). I'd heard about him. A friend of nmine is in Texas, which is where Eric is from. Betty went down there and made a gig at a concert and he heard Eric and told me, 'Yeah, he might be kinda good with you.' So I kept that in mind and I happened to hear Eric on that gig and I said, 'Oh yeah. I think he's right.' I was looking for something like that.
AAJ: Throughout your early and middle years as a bandleader you usually chose a saxophonist as the other main melodic voice in your small groups. Recently you've been utilizing vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson in that role. Is there a reason for your preference of the vibes instead of saxophone these days?
MT: Bobby and I are musically very close. We came up in the same generation. We recorded together in the past. We moved around some of the same people . . . Naturally there are differences, in a sense, but we have a lot of things we can associate with together and we has a lot of fun; past, present and maybe the future. It's not a regular thing. He's got his own band, I have my own group. I was just in Brazil with my big band. Then I may have a quartet sometimes. It all depends on what happens. Bobby and I don't work together all of the time, but we do work together quite often. We do a lot of things together.
Last year Michael Brecker played with me New Year's Eve at the Iridium and he's done some other things with me and there may be some gigs coming up. Joe Lovano was with me, and Kenny Garret, not together, but separately at Yoshi's, because every year I do an artist in residence (there) for a couple of weeks. It's been ten years and he still wants it to happen.
AAJ: Your other regular working unit is the big band. How often do you get to play with the larger group? Who does the arrangements?
MT: It's not a problem, but we don't work that much. We've been to Europe (like) three times. We just came back from Brazil, they wanted the big band in particular. We were down there, played one concert, then came back. I'm looking for a corporate sponsorship so we can tour the states. We've played in Mount Hood, Playboy Jazz Festival. We've played a lot of cities. Chicago Fest we played recently, but not back-to-back gigs. Unless we're on a tour and that usually happens in Europe. We've never done a tour in the states. So we're thinking that one of these big corporations like where we are now [Starbucks] could sponsor us. Maybe if I drink enough coffee (laughs).
Dennis Mackrel has done quite a bit of the arranging. Steve Turre has done some arrangements and I have. But even if I have a song . . . like Dennis arranged 'Passion Dance' and a lot of songs that I've written. I don't compare me and him to Billy Strayhorn and the Duke, but he knows a lot of things about my harmonics and my style.