McCoy Tyner Launches Concerts at SFJAZZ Center

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Friday January 25, 2013

From Examiner

McCoy Tyner launches the first week of concerts at the new SFJAZZ Center
By Stephen Smoliar

Following the gala festivities to open the new SFJAZZ Center on Wednesday night, the opening concert season got under way last night in the Center’s Miner Auditorium. This week’s concerts are subtitled Legacy; and last night the focus was on pianist McCoy Tyner, much of whose music was performed and who performed himself for a major portion of the second set. Tyner shared much of his performing time with another major ‘legacy’ of jazz history, vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson.

The two of them made abundantly clear why the SFJAZZ Center is so important. An art form that can produce performers as inventive and expressive as Tyner and Hutcherson deserves (and should demand) a space in which serious listening is prioritized over all other factors. Given its first significant workout, the Miner Auditorium shows all signs of being that space.

Tyner is still capable of making his piano roar with ten-finger masses of sound that always seem to lie somewhere on the boundary between chord and cluster. With his many years with John Coltrane behind him, Tyner now often seems to give the impression of channeling the more distant history of Art Tatum (who probably deserves to be called the Ferruccio Busoni of jazz, if not the Franz Liszt).

The major listening experience came at the end of the evening with the encore of a quiet duet between Tyner and Hutcherson. This was where those of us on audience side could appreciate just how important listening is to the performers, as well as the audience. Hutcherson joked about how each could cover the other’s mistakes; but what mattered was that each, as an improviser, was always alert to what the other was doing and coming up with new things to add to the mix. The tunes themselves are less important than the ways in which jazz is all about that kind of in-the-moment interaction. It is a conversation in a language whose lexicon is being made up in the course of the ‘speaking;’ and it is why I persist in calling jazz ‘chamber music by other means.’

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