McCoy Tyner Quartet - photo by Michael Sherer
The Ertegun Jazz Hall of Fame at Lincoln Center honored 2017 inductee McCoy Tyner at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola. The other inductees this year for the same honor are Tito Puente and Don Redman. It’s named after prominent financial contributor and supporter Ahmet Ertegun, the late co-founder of Atlantic Records in 1947 and a true jazz appreciator and aficionado. This prestigious honor is determined by vote between ten potential nominees by a fifteen musically orientated person panel.
The concert began with Todd Stoll, Vice President of Education at Jazz at Lincoln Center, giving a thoughtful and sincere introduction, invoking Mr. Tyner’s importance and influence, and noting a bit about the induction process and history. From there, the other members of the quartet came to the stage and played for about fifteen minutes. Those musicians are bassist Gerald Cannon, drummer Francisco Mela, and saxophonist Sherman Irby. Mr. Tyner then joined them on a gorgeous Steinway & Sons grand house piano, whereby the whole quartet proceeded to play a stirring and excellent set.
The acoustics, sight lines and lighting are all excellent at this modern, 140 seat capacity, high rise venue in Columbus Circle, Manhattan. It has the feel of of being in a luxury apartment’s large living room overlooking midtown’s west side below. There’s a fine bar and dinner menu, and the walls are touchingly adorned with photographs of jazz artists.
The musicians in Mr. Tyner’s ensemble are stellar and expressive as they support and embellish Mr. Tyner. Francisco Mela is Cuban and brings the unique and vibrant Afro-Cuban element that the club’s namesake, the late trumpeter extraordinaire Dizzy Gillespie so loved and infused into his music. (And was one of if not the first in jazz to do so.) Sherman Irby also plays with the Wynton Marsalis’s orchestra. Mr. Marsalis is the artistic director of Lincoln Center. Mr. Irby briefly played with drummer Elvin Jones just before his passing from cancer, and Mr. Jones was an integral part of saxophonist John Coltrane’s classic early through mid 1960’s lineup which Mr. Tyner was also. Gerald Cannon has been playing with Mr. Tyner for about ten years and brought Mr. Irby into the group. Mr. Cannon is also the bandleader. All were dressed in suits and ties, and the group looked and played elegantly. Mr. Tyner was very focused and poised at the piano, except for a couple of times that he extended and motioned his right arm at the stopping point of the music. There was much emotion, concentration and expertise rolled into that music. After the set, Mr. Tyner took a bow with the group and thanked the appreciative audience for coming.
Some history on this legendary bandleader is in order to put the event in context: McCoy Tyner, 78, is one of jazz’s giants. Thinner and slower in general than his younger self, Mr. Tyner’s playing is still at a high level. Mr. Tyner’s major entree into the scene came in 1960 upon joining John Coltrane’s quartet. Mr. Tyner played on the popular recording of “My Favorite Things,” released on Atlantic Records. The group also featured Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums, as noted above. They toured heavily between 1961 and 1965 and recorded several seminal albums, including “Live! at the Village Vanguard”, “Ballads”, “Live at Birdland”, “Crescent”, “A Love Supreme”, and “The John Coltrane Quartet Plays”, all on the Impulse! record label. Tyner left the group in 1965 when Coltrane’s music was becoming significantly more atonal and free form. Mr. Coltrane had added percussion players who could at times drown out the other musicians. Mr. Tyner has said of this shift: “I didn’t see myself making any contribution to that music. All I could hear was a lot of noise. I didn’t have any feeling for the music, and when I don’t have feelings, I don’t play.” By 1966, Mr. Tyner had assembled a trio of his own and began a new phase as a leader and has released many records since, initially on Blue Note Records followed by Milestone Records. Mr. Tyner is currently with the Telarc label. Mr. Tyner has also, of course, toured the world plenty of times. All of us listeners can readily feel, bathe in and hold this titan’s music dearly.