McCoy Tyner plays like he means it

This article was originally published on OpenSalon

Caught McCoy Tyner at Regatta Bar the other night and it was a revelatory experience. Here’s a man looks like he’s not got long to live, who’s already lived a very full life, playing in his 70s with more verve than most guys half his age.

Gary Bartz was on the set too, and he played similarly convincingly. Thinking about it, these guys helped invent the music they’re playing. This is them, not something they’re trying to emulate. The difference between playing, say, Giant Steps, and being the guy who first played piano  on that is bigger than it looks, apparently. Not that Tyner played that tune, but the point is he plays what he plays straight from the heart.

My friend Steve, a good bass and guitar player, says sometimes musicians just have to get their heads out of the fake book. What I think he means is that jazz isn’t about reproducing a sound or a feel, it’s about finding them and then committing. If there’s one thing I came away from Tyner’s set with, it’s the belief that he plays with 100% intentionality — he means every note he plays.

Jazz is complex music, and lots of people get caught up in the complexity of it. Even for high-talent, high-profile musicians whose names we’ve heard, a tune can be a high-wire act. So many ways to fall!

For Tyner, Monk, Coltrane, Rollins, Davis, etc., their solution was to find their own wire, one they could walk, skip or run on. Today, with the weight of 80 years of jazz on them, and the added weight of jazz from around the world, I feel like even many great jazz musicians don’t have the intentionality and committment I got from Tyner and Bartz, or on other occasions, a Charles Lloyd, Sonny Rollins, Ahmad Jahmal.

That was one thing I liked about Michael Brecker. He took some shit during his day for not being John Coltrane, but when I saw him, he was all over it. Compare that to a Chris Potter, who’s great, but what is he feeling?

It’s not really a generational thing entirely. I feel like Terence Blanchard plays with heart, for example. Joe Lovano, too. Some guys, some days — John Scofield  comes to mind. But it’s hard to deny, jazz is more technical today and it’s taken it’s toll on the emotional force of the music.

So if Tyner comes to your town, see him. It’s one thing to see a reproduction, another the original. 

JULY 9, 2009 8:56AM