Tyner, (Alfred) McCoy

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Tyner, (Alfred) McCoy

Tyner, (Alfred) McCoy, influential jazz pianist, composer; b. Philadelphia, Dec. 11, 1938. Both his parents were from Murfreesboro, N.C.; his mother’s family moved to Philadelphia, and later his father’s family did so as well. He also has relatives in Ahoskie, N.C., and as a teenager he went to N.C. to work on tobacco farms. At his mother’s encouragement, he began playing piano around age 12; he studied some at the West Philadelphia Music School and the Granoff School. He also played conga drums for a period. When he was a teenager, Bud Powell lived around the corner from him for three or four months; Powell even played Tyner’s piano; he and his friends used to follow Powell around asking him to play. In addition to Powell, Thelonius Monk was a strong influence, and Tyner was sometimes called “Bud Monk”! He also listened to Bud’s pianist brother, Richie. Lee Morgan was a childhood friend and he and Tyner used to have jam sessions in North and West Philadelphia, where Tyner lived, as well as in Tyner’s mother’s beauty shop. He and Morgan played Atlantic city several summers; the two also played fraternity dances. He played some gigs with Gillespie, and worked with Cal Massey in the mid-1950s.

In May 1957, Tyner was in Massey’s group with Albert Heath, Jimmy Garrison, and saxophonist Clarence Sharpe at the Red Rooster, where, the following week, the same rhythm section accompanied Coltrane. Coltrane said “[I] promised myself to call him if I formed my own group one day.” From November 1959 Tyner was touring with the Jazztet of Benny Golson and Art Farmer, and when Coltrane asked him to join his new quartet he could not at first get free, but in late May 1960 he joined Coltrane at the Jazz Gallery in Manhattan. He and Coltrane influenced each other and Tyner’s powerful sound and solid sense of time became an important element in many of Coltrane’s most famous recordings and performances. When Coltrane began working with two drummers and with free rhythm (without a walking bass line), Tyner left near the end of 1965. In early 1966, he was working with Tony Scott and rehearsing to lead his own group. By April 1966 the McCoy Tyner group—a quartet—was performing at Slug’s on East Third Street in Manhattan. He worked with Art Blakey for about six months. In the late 1960s he taught in the Bronx in a program sponsored by the State of N.Y. that was organized by Bill Lee. He continued to lead his own groups, featuring, Freddie Waits on drums for two or three years, Calvin Hill on bass, and for a time Gary Bartz. Around 1969 this group was playing to small audiences—as were many acoustic groups of the day—but soon Tyner’s record sales and audiences began growing. In 1974 his new group with Sonny Fortune and Alphonse Mouzon thrilled audiences at the Berkeley, Calif., jazz festival and elsewhere. Other former group members include Eric Gravati, Azar Lawrence, and Marvin Peterson. He stabilized his group in the early 1980s by hiring Avery Sharpe. Aaron Scot has been his drummer since the late 1980s. In the late 1980s he began leading a big band for occasional tours and recordings. He taught in the mid-1990s at Rubin academy in Israel and Stanford Univ. He won Grammy awards for his recordings The Turning Pointand Journey. For a time he was a practicing Muslim (though not Nation of Islam) with the name Sulaimon Saud, but he no longer considers himself a Muslim.

Tyner’s dramatic style and technical brilliance have made him one of the most influential jazz musicians of the past 40 years. In his earliest recordings he displayed an ability to get deep inside chord progressions with lyricism, subtle chromatic detail, and virtuosity. During the mid-1970s, working with producer Orrin Keepnews, Tyner recorded a series of albums that showed a constant maturation and exploration, without succumbing to the “jazz-fusion” fever of the day.


Inception (1962); Live at Newport (1963); McCoy Tyner Live at Newport (1963); Nights of Ballads and Blues (1963); Reaching Fourth (1963); Today and Tomorrow (1963); McCoy Tyner Plays Ellington (1964); Real McCoy (1967); Expansions (1968); Time for Tyner (1968); Extensions (1970); Echoes of a Friend (1972); Sahara (1972); Song of the New World (1973); Trident (1975); Fly with the Wind (1976); Supertrio (1977); Passion Dance (1978); Together (1978); 4X4 (1980); Donble Trios (1986); Live at Musicians Exchange Cafe (1987); Live at Sweet Basil, Vols. 1 & 2 (1989); N.Y. Reunion (1991); Remembering John (1991); Soliloquy (1991); Turning Point (1991); Infinity (1995); Prelude and Sonata (1995); What The World Needs Now: The Music of Burt Bacharach.

—Lewis Porter