McCoy Tyner – Carrying the Torch for Trane

McCoy Tyner at Kongsberg Jazz festival 1973

Many have written about the message of John Coltrane.

This is a story about the person who carried on his message.

Some of the most powerful music of the modern world was recorded by McCoyTyner in the 1970s. His work with producer Orrin Keepnews created some legendary albums. Many jazz aficionados know about Tyner but his influence does not go too far outside a particular group of followers of his music.

Tyner has taken the years he spent with his mentor John Coltrane in the famous quartet and has faced being his own person after Trane has died.

The story begins in the year after Trane’s death. We follow the career of McCoy Tyner during this time. What direction would he go? He was the premiere jazz pianist of his time.

The story goes through the 1970s with one brilliant album after another.

The story confines itself to the ten years between 1967 and 1977 in the life of McCoy Tyner.

Tyner takes the music of Coltrane and shapes it into the most positive music of modern times. At the same time, Coltrane’s wife Alice is also pursuing the ideas of her late husband in her music. However, it could be argued, that once she met her Indian guru (in the early 70s) Alice was dedicated to her eastern spiritual leaders more than to perpetuating the music of John Coltrane.

With Tyner it is different. Not only a brilliant pianist but also a brilliant composer and arranger. On a level with a modern Duke Ellington. Yet so few have realized this.

The last years of Coltrane had ended in such confusion and disappointment to his fans. The music directed not outwardly as much as inwardly, the audience changing from others out there in the club to just himself. Trane got more and more into his own head. All of this made McCoy Tyner leave the group in the mid-60s. Alice Coltrane took over as pianist. It wasn’t an easy decision for Tyner. He had known Trane for many years through growing up in Philadelphia.

That’s why the best modern update of the music of John Coltrane for our post, post-modern world is through the music of McCoy Tyner. But through it these ten critical years of it. It was one of the most incredible periods of artistic creation in the history of our nation. A feat that can easily challenge any others. Certainly in the music world. But also in any other creative world. The music of McCoy Tyner from 1967 to 1977 is the best update of Coltrane into the modern world today.

Unlike Coltrane in his final years, Tyner channels Coltrane in his most powerful years, 1957, the years between 1962 and 1965. Everyone has his or her favorite. The music of Coltrane explodes forth from Tyner’s powerful piano. There is the exploration of Coltrane in his music. But there is also the peace of discovery in the music. Coltrane’s music always remains a music of exploration. McCoy Tyner’s music is a music of arrival after all of the exploration.

* * *


McCoy Tyner

Selected Chronology/Discography

(1968 – 1978)



A year after Trane’s passing, McCoy Tyner releases Time for Tyner and Expansions. It might have been new to some but Time for Tyner was actually Tyner’s 9th album since Inception in 1962. His development was astounding through this period.


In A Silent Way from Miles Davis. Perhaps the most powerful answer to questions many were asking as to where jazz going after Trane’s death. The piece “In A Silent Way” is perhaps one of the most powerful pieces of music created in modern times. Listen to the 19:53 minute version from the “Original Mix” of 1969. Easily obtainable on iTunes. More than any other piece of music, this particular piece by Miles Davis seems to offer up a bridge from the jazz of the 60s into a new direction. There is the continual drone sound in the background. A beautiful expression of the entire late 60s era. Going into a new decade that seemed so scary to so many.

Interesting, but not surprising, In A Silent Way was recorded in February 1969 just 6 months before another legendary Miles Davis album Bitches Brew. The piece “Peace” off In A Silent Way could easily go with a track from Bitches Brew. With Bitches Brew Davis’ electronic music tentacles extend outward to create a new type of electronic jazz with bands like Weather Report and Return to Forever. Much of this new music is a direct descendant from In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew.

With these two albums, Miles Davis puts a large part of jazz into a new electronic direction. Yet it is a beautifully contemplative, direction. The music of the piece “Peaceful” flows in over the world like some great trance-like fog. So many leaders of the new world of jazz on this date. Corea. Hancock. Zawinul. McLaughlin.

This music is so referential to Bitches Brew that would follow by in a few months. It could easily be a track on Bitches Brew. This is the first time that the new direction of Miles is really stated. One might term it an electronic direction but the truth is, I don’t think any critic has ever been able to adequately define this new period in the career of Miles Davis. It did turn jazz on its ear and create legendary groups like Weather Report and Return to Forever.


Three albums from Tyner in 1970: Cosmos, Extensions and Asante.

McCoy Tyner resists being put into anyone else’s music. He avoids the direction of Herbie Hancock and others. What music would come from Tyner? He releases Extensions. No electronics on this piece. Another direction in modern jazz. An alternative to the electronic influx into jazz from the influence of Miles? Yet more a type of return to that particular spiritual essence found in only one other person: John Coltrane.

Has McCoy Tyner become the “disciple” of the “prophet” John Coltrane? Many others certainly honored the voice of Trane. But only a few (perhaps only one) chosen to carry on this voice. Perhaps Tyner is the one? Along with Alice Coltrane?

His recordings with the Milestone label over the next six years show the presence of Coltrane more than any other source except for the music of Alice Coltrane. Tyner’s major producer during this period? The venerable Orrin Keepnews the legendary jazz producer. First producing Monk on the Riverside label in the 50s.


Tyner moves to the Milestone label and records the fantastic Sahara (a Grammy Award winner). Also releases Song for my Lady and Echoes of a Friend. The album Song For My Lady is a powerful dedication to the woman in Tyner’s life. An album version of Trane’s song to his woman called “Naima.” And, Echoes of a Friend is dedicated to his friend and teacher John Coltrane.


Tyner records Enlightenment and Song of the New World.


Tyner releases Sama Layuca and Atlantis.


The album Trident with “Impressions” recorded by McCoy Tyner at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley.

Tyner records Trident.


Recorded was Fly With the Wind, perhaps Tyner’s most majestic album. And perhaps his best. A beautiful orchestration that proves that Tyner has become a powerful composer on the scale of a modern Duke Ellington.

Also, the powerful album Focal Point.


The year 1977 produced two albums. One was Super Trios and the other was Inner Voices. The author is partial to Inner Voices as he discovered Tyner through this album when he living in San Francisco. And through the music of Tyner he went backward and discovered the music of John Coltrane. In 1980, he wrote a manuscript called Spirit Catcher: The Life And Art of John Coltrane. He self-published the manuscript in 1995. It won Top Biography Award from the Small Press Association in 1997.


The author of Spirit Catcher has been in touch with the world’s greatest authority on John Coltrane and let him know that a screenplay on Coltrane was in the works. He has agreed to help but nothing formal has been worked out yet, pending the production of a screenplay and its registration with WGA.

Our current screenplay Desert Springs, about a focus on the desert and a political scandal around water.  Somewhat of a Chinatown moved east to the California desert.

But the story of McCoy Tyner and John Coltrane continue to evolve.

We’ve developed outlines for both of them. The Coltrane outline is 6,900 words. The Tyner outline is 3,283 words. They continue to be simply outlines without being overlaid with the structure of a screenplay. The outline on Trane can be viewed on other pages of this site. The Tyner material on just a discography is presented above more of a short  biography below.

 * * *

Shaping Modern Jazz

(From www.McCoyTyner.Com )


Tyner’s blues-based piano style, replete with sophisticated chords and an explosively percussive left hand has transcended conventional styles to become one of the most identifiable sounds in improvised music. His harmonic contributions and dramatic rhythmic devices form the vocabulary of a majority of jazz pianists.

Born in 1938 in Philadelphia, he became a part of the fertile jazz and R&B scene of the early ’50s. His parents imbued him with a love for music from an early age. His mother encouraged him to explore his musical interests through formal training. His influences were Bud Powell, Richie Powell and Thelonius Monk.

At 15, he started his own R&B band and at 17 he began a career-changing relationship with Miles Davis’ sideman saxophonist John Coltrane when Trane was between gigs with Miles Davis. But it was difficult for Tyner to pursue music and make a living. As late as 1959, he was working as a shipping clerk during the day. His first career boost came when he joined the Jazztet of Art Farmer and Benny Golson in 1960 during its extended stay at the Jazz Gallery.

Tyner joined Coltrane for the classic album My Favorite Things (1961), and remained at the core of what became one of the most seminal groups in jazz history, The John Coltrane Quartet. The band, which also included drummer Elvin Jones and bassist Jimmy Garrison, had an extraordinary chemistry, fostered in part by Tyner’s almost familial relationship with Coltrane.

From 1960 through 1965, Tyner’s name was propelled to international renown, as he developed a new vocabulary that transcended the piano styles of the time, providing a unique harmonic underpinning and rhythmic charge essential to the group’s sound. He performed on Coltrane’s classic recordings such as Live at the Village Vanguard, Impressions and Coltrane’s signature suite, A Love Supreme.

In 1965, after over five years with Coltrane’s quartet, Tyner left the group to explore his destiny as a composer and bandleader. Among his major projects is a 1967 album entitled The Real McCoy, on which he was joined by saxophonist Joe Henderson, bassist Ron Carter and fellow Coltrane alumnus Elvin Jones. His 1972 Grammy-award nomination album Sahara, broke new ground by the sounds and rhythms of Africa. Since 1980, he has also arranged his lavishly textured harmonies for a big band that performs and records when possible. In the late 1980s, he mainly focused on his piano trio featuring Avery Sharpe on bass and Aarron Scott on drums. Today, this trio is still in great demand. He returned to Impulse in 1995, with a superb album featuring Michael Brecker. In 1996 he recorded a special album with the music of Burt Bacharach. In 1998 he changed labels again and recorded an interesting Latin album and an album featuring Stanley Clarke for TelArc.

In the summer of 2005, Tyner joined forces with the Blue Note Jazz Club in New York and became the first client of Blue Note Management. That summer, Tyner began work on some unique projects, including performances with tap-dancer Savion Glover and the development of the Impulse! Septet, featuring his trio with some of today’s top horn men.

Tyner’s partnership with the Blue Note has led to the formation of his own record label, aptly titled McCoy Tyner Music. The label is a subsidiary of the Blue Note’s In-House record label, Half Note Records. The label launched on September 11, 2007, upon the release of Tyner’s latest CD, “Quartet” featuring Joe Lovano, Christian McBride, and Jeff “Tain” Watts. Recorded live on New Year’s Eve 2006, the album features a working band at its finest with some of today’s “legends in training.” Additionally, the record shows that Tyner, who now carries the torch as the only surviving member of the John Coltrane Quartet, is still at the top of his game as a composer, performer, and bandleader.

In review of Tyner’s latest album “Quartet,” Thomas Conrad of Jazz Times wrote, “‘Quartet’ succeeds not only because everyone plays so well, but also because they play so well together. The pairing of Tyner and Lovano is synergistic. The McBride/Watts rhythm section, for intelligent propulsion, is state-of-the-art. ‘Quartet’ succeeds once more because of its excellent sonic quality. Engineer Phil Edwards at Yoshi’s in Oakland, Calif., over New Year’s Eve weekend 2006, recorded it. Almost always, even the best-sounding jazz albums require you to make a choice. You can have the visceral in-the-moment reality of a live recording, or the full bandwidth resolution of a studio session. This one has both.”

McCoy Tyner’s second release for the McCoy Tyner Music label is scheduled for a summer 2008 release. The recording features the stellar rhythm section of Tyner, Ron Carter, and Jack DeJohnette with four modern guitarists (and one banjo) of our time: Bill Frisell, Marc Ribot, John Scofield, Derek Trucks, and Bela Fleck. The package will be a CD/DVD featuring state-of-the-art technology that allows the viewer to manually choose which musician(s) they would like to view in the studio at any time during each track. In 2009, Tyner will release his third recording for McCoy Tyner Music, a solo piano performance recorded live in San Francisco during the summer of 2007.

Tyner has always expanded his vision of the musical landscape and incorporated new elements, whether from distant continents or diverse musical influences. More recently he has arranged for big bands, employed string arrangements, and even reinterpreted popular music. Today, Tyner has released nearly 80 albums under his name, earned four Grammys and was awarded Jazz Master from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2002. He continues to leave his mark on generations of improvisers, and yet remains a disarmingly modest and spiritually directed man.





2008   Presidential Merit Award from the Grammy Foundation

2005   Berklee College of Music President Roger Brown conferred honorary doctor of music degrees upon pianists McCoy Tyner and Hank Jones.

2004   Steinway and Sons conferred a special gold medallion to McCoy Tyner honoring his fiftieth year as a professional musician and his long association with Steinway as a Steinway Artist since 1977.

2004   McCoy Tyner’s album “Illuminations” receives a GRAMMY award for Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Individual or Group.

2003   The Philadelphia Chapter of the BMI Recording Academy awarded McCoy Tyner with a “2003 Hero Award”. The Chapter presents its Heroes Awards annually to honor outstanding individuals and institutions in the Philadelphia region that have improved the environment for the creative community.

2002   McCoy Tyner receives a Jazz Master award from the National Endowment for the Arts. (2002 NEA Jazz Masters recipient)

1995   McCoy Tyner’s album “Infinity” receives a GRAMMY award for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Individual Or Group.

1994   McCoy Tyner’s album “Journey” receives a GRAMMY award for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Performance.

1992   McCoy Tyner’s album “The Turning Point” receives a GRAMMY award for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Performance.

1988   The album “Blues for Coltrane – A Tribute to John Coltrane” receives a GRAMMY award for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Group. (The album features David Murray, McCoy Tyner, Pharaoh Sanders, Cecil McBee & Roy Haynes)

1977   McCoy Tyner was named “Pianist of the Year” in the Down Beat Critics Poll for the fourth year in row. (1974 – 1977)

1977   McCoy Tyner’s band was selected “Acoustic Jazz Group” of the year in the Down Beat Critics Poll for the fourth year in row. (1974 – 1977)

1973   McCoy Tyner’s album “Sahara” receives two GRAMMY award nominations and was named ‘Record of the year’ in the Down Beat Critics Poll.

* * *

McCoy Tyner

“Song For My Lady” (1972)

Review by Eugene Chadbourne


The early ’70s were an exciting recording period for this artist, whose initial forays outside the classic quartet of John Coltrane were just a bit too mellow, as if he was thinking, “Whew! Now I can relax.” This was one of several for the Milestone label that burned energetically, although in terms of the pianist’s overall career this concentrated thrust of stamina was simply a passing phase. He is captured here a few years before he settled into elder statesman status and began barely breaking a sweat on-stage. The emphasis here is often on pure power, the presence of a non-funky Alphonze Mouzon on drums something of a signature in band attitude. The nimble and fleet Calvin Hill is on bass, and Sonny Fortune is present on reeds during a stint of several years with Tyner. What really makes the album special is the enlarged ensemble that creates two of the album’s most extended tracks. “Native Song” and “Essence” add flugelhorn, violin, and conga, and the fine-tuning skill of Tyner the arranger becomes present, turning the lineup of three lead instruments into something nearly symphonic. Violinist Michael White is more than a bit overpowered by Tyner, as one would expect, but it is the opposite case in terms of fireworks between brass player Charles Tolliver and the boss. Tolliver fronted a band named Music Inc. during this period that also played hard, heavy, and unrelenting jazz, pianist Stanley Cowell coming on strong with many Tyner-ish-influenced moves. It is a great meeting of the minds, as two players with sympathetic approaches toward the post-Coltrane jazz language engage in high-powered dialogue. The program is quite typical of some of Tyner’s best albums for this label and Blue Note before that. All but one of the tracks are originals, featuring lovely melodies that either wash through a ballad mood or become anthems for rocket launchings, Mouzon splattering away on his cymbals like a happy child. The one standard, “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes,” gets a liftoff worthy of Coltrane. This is quite a fine collection of tracks and one of Tyner’s six best albums.






Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s