Portrait of McCoy Tyner

Photo by Tom Pich

McCoy Tyner

Pianist, Composer

Bio

"Art is a wonderful way to express who we really are, and what we desire to be. Thank you very much. What an honor to be selected."

McCoy Tyner's powerful, propulsive style of piano playing was an integral part of the John Coltrane Quartet in the early 1960s and influenced countless musicians that followed him. His rich chord clusters continue to be imitated by many young jazz pianists.

Growing up in Philadelphia, Tyner's neighbors were jazz musicians Richie and Bud Powell, who influenced his piano playing. Studying music at the West Philadelphia Music School and later at the Granoff School of Music, Tyner began playing gigs in his teens, and first met Coltrane while performing at a local club called the Red Rooster at age 17. His first important professional gig was with the Benny GolsonArt Farmer band Jazztet in 1959, with which he made his recording debut.

Soon he began working with Coltrane, a relationship that produced some of the most influential music in jazz. From 1960 to 1965, Tyner played a major role in the success of the Coltrane quartet (which included Elvin Jones on drums and Jimmy Garrison on bass), using richly textured harmonies as rhythmic devices against Coltrane's "sheets of sound" saxophone playing.

After leaving the quartet, Tyner demonstrated his tremendous melodic and rhythmic flair for composition on such albums as The Real McCoy, which featured "Passion Dance," "Contemplation," and "Blues on the Corner," and Sahara, which featured "Ebony Queen" and the title track. Tyner has continued to experiment with his sound, pushing rhythms and tonalities to the limit, his fluttering right hand creating a cascade of notes. In particular, he has explored the trio form, recording with a series of different bassists and drummers, such as Ron Carter, Stanley Clarke, Art Davis, Al Foster, Elvin Jones, and Tony Williams. In the 1980s, he recorded with a singer for the first time, Phyllis Hyman.

In the 1990s, he led a big band in new arrangements of previously recorded songs, used Latin American rhythms and forms, and revealed the romantic side of his playing with a surprising album of Burt Bacharach songs. While experimenting with his sound, Tyner eschewed the use of electric pianos, preferring the warm sound of an acoustic piano, and earned five Grammy Awards for his recordings. 

Selected Discography

The Real McCoy, Blue Note, 1967
Sahara, Original Jazz Classics, 1972
Remembering John, Enja, 1991
Illuminations, Telarc, 2003
Guitars, Half Note, 2006