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A Fireside Chat with McCoy Tyner

AAJ Staff By

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I hadn't done a quintet record in a while and I do things in contrasts.
While McCoy Tyner has certainly benefited from his allegiance to John Coltrane, his legacy (right or wrong) continues to be eclipsed by the beloved icon. But by virtue of juxtaposition, Tyner remains a dominant influence on modern jazz.

All About Jazz: After the quartet recording with Bobby Hutcherson, Eric Harland, and Charnett Moffett (Land of Giants), Illuminations features a new lineup (Gary Bartz, Terence Blanchard, Lewis Nash, and Christian McBride).

McCoy Tyner: Gary Bartz is a wonderful musician, very creative, with a wonderful sound. His concept is really amazing. He was in my band in the '70s. He's been playing with me for a long time. It is always a pleasure to have him involved with everything that I do musically. Terence has a really brilliant sound. Coming out of the New Orleans tradition, he has a distinct sound. He's got his own concept and his own sound. It was wonderful to have him on the project. Christian McBride is my special buddy. He grew up in my neighborhood and went to school with my sister. He is a very talented bassist. I can tell Ray Brown has had a great influence on him, but he's building his own direction and it is just nice to see him develop. And Lewis Nash is a fabulous percussionist, very dependable, very creative, and an enlightened guy on the instrument. I really had a good time and I think it came out really well.

AAJ: The Land of Giants band was appealing, had it run its course?

MT: I hadn't done a quintet record in a while and I do things in contrasts. If I've done a trio album, I will try to do a quartet and then the next time I will do something solo. I try to mix it up. I put myself in the fan's position and instead of having every project being the same, I like to change it. I think this was a welcome change to what I had done previously. I try to make it interesting for the listener.

AAJ: Are you at peace with your legacy being so closely associated with John Coltrane?

MT: I don't think it is something people can get past. I think it was more or less for some reason, people found it more practical to concentrate on this guy or that guy. I've never really had that kind of support from a record company. I think Milestone was the most supportive company that I've been with and I still have close ties to them. I don't worry about that at all. At one time, I used to wonder, but now, I never let something like that stop me from doing what I need to do creatively. It can be very detrimental when you sit and worry about what you're not getting. I would rather put that energy into creating something. You have to carry on and keep focused.

I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with great musicians like John Coltrane. He loved what I did and he was a big brother to me. I was a very lucky guy. I try and look at things on a personal level regardless of what people say. There were times when I wasn't even in the polls at all. I guess people will have to face facts that I do exist and that I am a creative force in this music. I did not plan it that way. That is just the way providence is. Things happen whether you like it or not.

AAJ: By virtue of affiliation, you remain one of the most influential pianists in modern music.

MT: I have been told that. Even Chick Corea told me that. But I am not going to live being antagonized by critics. I am concerned with music and what I have to say. My legacy has always been about music. It is not important to me what people write in the magazines. I don't worry about it. I will give you an example. I remember Paul Chambers, this was before he died and after he had left Miles Davis. We did a few hits together and Paul had been voted the top bassist for three years prior to that. And then one year, he wasn't number one anymore according to the polls and he was so upset. It was a shock to him. I asked him, "Do you love what you're doing? Do you really like to play music?" He said, "Yeah." I said, "What are you worried about? Do you need a magazine to tell you that you are not good anymore and another guy is better?" For him to let it affect him that way, not that I am immune to everything, but I don't make those things a priority. What is a priority is the music.

AAJ: And earlier this year, you continued your residency at Yoshi's.

MT: This is coming up on the eleventh year. They are straight shooters, honest and nice people to deal with. It is about the music. There is no club like it and I play in a lot of places around the world. There is just something about Yoshi's. It starts at the top and they love the music and they show you they love it. It is not just lip service.

I love coming out there. Before the Jazztet, I went to San Francisco with Benny Golson. He called me and said he was doing a jazz workshop up in North Beach and would I come. I thought about it and although it was a long way from home, I said OK. Prior to that, I had met Coltrane and he was with Miles. He said that after he left Miles, he wanted me to join his band, but he took so long. Every time he wanted to leave Miles, Miles encouraged him to stay. And so when Benny came and said that he and Art Farmer were forming the Jazztet and he wanted me to be the pianist in the band. I said that there was only one thing, I made a verbal commitment to John that whenever he would leave Miles, I would join him. I let them know that that was a priority that had to be honored. They accepted that, but ever since, I've loved San Francisco. Mayor Brown, he made a McCoy Tyner Day. I forgot what day it was (laughing). I love coming out there. The fans are just fantastic.


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