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MCCOY TYNER,
1938-2020

The influential pianist McCoy Tyner, whose work with John Coltrane’s quartet in the 1960s pushed the genre into a new era that valued experimentation and new compositional approaches, died Friday at his home in New Jersey. He was 81.

His family announced his death on his Facebook and Twitter pages, saying “McCoy was an inspired musician who devoted his life to his art, his family and his spirituality.

“McCoy Tyner’s music and legacy will continue to inspire fans and future talent for generations to come.”

Tyner’s style was heavy on percussive block chords, his left hand providing a powerful force behind and alongside Coltrane’s exploratory saxophone work. He provided a bluesy and church-inspired foundation for Coltrane's adventurous sonic flights; his sound so forceful it demanded listeners' attention.

He appeared on many of Coltrane’s most important albums—A Love Supreme, Giant Steps, My Favorite Things—and his work has been studied and dissected as much as that of Coltrane.

Tyner left Coltrane in 1965 and would record scores of albums for Blue Note, Impulse, Telarc and Milestone, winning five Grammy Awards. His last win was for 2003’s Illuminations.  

As a youth in Philadelphia he idolized Bud Powell and started working in local jazz bands. Tyner met Coltrane in Philly in 1957 when the saxophonist was a member of Miles Davis’ group. Coltrane saw promise in Tyner as a musician and as a composer: he recorded a version of Tyner’s “The Believer” in 1958, though Prestige did not release it until 1964.

Tyner made his debut on record in 1960 with Benny Golson and Art Farmer on their Meet the Jazztet, a hard bop classic that included the song that put them on the map, “Killer Joe.”

That same year, Coltrane brought Tyner into his new band to replace the pianist Steve Kuhn. He was 21.

During his tenure in the Coltrane band, Tyner also recorded as a leader for Impulse and worked with other musicians such as Joe Henderson, Wayne Shorter, Grant Green and Bobby Hutcherson; much of his sideman work, especially on Blue Note albums, is among the era’s best.

Blue Note signed him just before Coltrane died in 1967, and his first album for the label, The Real McCoy, is considered among his finest work.

He recorded for Milestone from 1972 to 1981. Unlike many of his peers who ventured deeper and deeper into electric instrumentation at the time, Tyner stayed largely acoustic, enhancing his sound by working with strings, bands of various sizes and by employing the koto. He also recorded for Telarc and Impulse when the label was revived in the 1990s.

In 2002, Tyner was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master.

 

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