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Pianist McCoy Tyner's Intimate Jazz, Solo or in Trio

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Thursday March 11, 2010

The Pittsburgh Tibune
By: Bob Karlovits

Pianist McCoy Tyner has presented his music in many different ways in an illustrious career.

“I’m open to trying anything with regards to ensemble size and instrumentation,” he says. “I enjoy it all, really.”

But he says he generally feels most comfortable in the small-group setting, the form in which he will appear Saturday at the Manchester Craftmen’s Guild.

Tyner, 71, has been here in small groups, as leader of a big band and in a series of duet shows with pianist Joe Sample 12 years ago at the Guild.

His attitude to recordings shows the same variety. His current album, “Solo,” is exactly that. In 2008, his label, McCoy Tyner Music, put out the album “Guitars,” featuring him working with guitarists such as Derek Trucks and John Scofield and even banjoist Bela Fleck.

At Saturday’s show, he will be leading his trio with bassist Gerald Cannon and drummer Eric Kamau-Gravatt. They will be joined by saxophonist Gary Bartz.

“As a trio, my rhythm section has been with me for a few years now, and Gary and I go back to my early days,” he says. “We play a mix of my compositions and standards and just try to stretch and challenge each other to make the music as lean and interesting as possible.”

Tyner has been a creative force in jazz since his days with what often has been called “the classic jazz quartet.” He was in the foursome with saxophonist John Coltrane, bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones that produced the classic “My Favorite Things” album in 1960. In some ways, that set a level for jazz that still stands. He and that quartet also were the force behind “A Love Supreme” in 1964. He left the Coltrane quartet in late 1965.

“I consider my time playing with John Coltrane to be a very important period in my life,” he says, “He was like a big brother to me and taught me so much: not just musically, but personally, by the way he carried himself and dealt with other people. By the time I left his band, I was ready to go out on my own.”

Tyner talks about the energy that emerges in ensemble play as opposed to the solo effort of his latest album.

“It takes a lot out of someone to perform solo,” he says. “The beauty of playing with a trio or a larger ensemble is that you can feed off the energy of the other band members. When you play solo, you have to create that energy yourself. I do it every once in a while, when I feel the need, musically speaking, but right now I’m happy performing with my trio.”

He also seems pleased with the current health of jazz. While jazz album sales are at the bottom of the list with classical sales, he thinks there is a strong group of performers, such as trumpeter Christian Scott, on their way up.

“As long as young people are continuing to learn about and study this music, I believe it’s in safe hands,” he says.

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