The first jazz album that really re-wired my brain was McCoy Tyner’s The Real McCoy. I’d been listening to jazz here and there over the years, but it wasn’t till 2008 when I bought my turntable that I’d made a concerted effort to really dive deep into records by Miles Davis, Eric Dolphy, Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane. In getting into records like Nefertiti, Straight, No Chaser, A Love Supreme, My Favorite Things, and Africa/Brass I started to notice names like Wayne Shorter, Tony Williams, Ron Carter, Elvin Jones, Jimmy Garrison, and McCoy Tyner.
McCoy Tyner was the go-to pianist for John Coltrane’s most famous quartet. Tyner played on Coltrane’s records he released with Impulse Records in the early-to-mid 60s. A Love Supreme, Crescent, Ballads, Coltrane, Africa/Brass, and Ascension to name a few. His style was intellectual and intricate, which blended well with John Coltrane’s playing, as well as his compositional style. He was to Coltrane as Hancock was the Davis; a partner equal in virtuosity and intellectual ability, yet someone who had no problem stepping back in order to let his bandleader, well, lead.
There were two albums I bought at the same time on a trip to Chicago in December of 2009, Miles Davis’ Nefertiti and McCoy Tyner’s The Real McCoy. Both were equally important in shaping how I would connect to jazz emotionally and intellectually. Nefertiti showed me just how important the right sidemen could be to a bandleader, while The Real McCoy showed me that a sideman could step into the bandleader shoes with ease. Davis didn’t write one song on Nefertiti, leaving saxophonist Wayne Shorter, pianist Herbie Hancock, and even drummer Tony Williams to pen the tracks that made up that record.
The Real McCoy was an album of emotional depth, musical dexterity, and musical brilliance. I connected to it immediately, and the epic “Contemplation” still remains one of my absolute favorite post-bop tracks of all time. Tyner’s chord changes and meditative style makes this track a tome on time and the consideration of one’s own life in terms of what we offer the world around us. Tracks like “Passion Dance”, “Four By Five”, “Search For Peace” and “Blues on the Corner” all defined both the artist and the era that artist came up in. With a band consisting of players like Joe Henderson, Ron Carter, and Elvin Jones, The Real McCoy was going to be an epic record. And it is.
McCoy Tyner passed away on March 6th at the age of 81. Another absolute giant of jazz and forward-thinking music is gone. One more connection to the single most important time in music is no longer here to remind us of its importance. At least we still have the music. We still have The Real McCoy. And A Love Supreme. And Inception!. And Expansions.
McCoy Tyner, December 11, 1938 – March 6th, 2020