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McCoy Tyner
In the Key of Improvisation: McCoy Tyner has influenced an entire generation of jazz pianists.

McCoy Tyner isn't content to relive past glories

By Nicky Baxter

NO ONE would deny pianist McCoy Tyner his rightful place in improvisational music's piano pantheon, but although most critics point to the Philadelphian's extraordinarily fruitful five-year association with tenor saxophone giant John Coltrane, little is mentioned about his earlier apprenticeships with the iconoclastic, irascible Miles Davis, saxophonist/composer/bandleader Benny Golson and hard-bop hero Art Farmer.

These were all significant steps in Tyner's development. During these formative stages, his style owed much to innovators such as bop pioneer Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk, as well as bluesmen Leadbelly and Sonny Boy Williamson. Later, Tyner would explore some of the music of Igor Stravinsky and Claude Debussy. Such a rich musical education is no surprise considering that Tyner grew up in Philadelphia, a city teeming with gifted musicians: the Heath brothers (reedman Jimmy, bassist Percy and drummer Al) and Bud Powell. Moreover, the City of Brotherly Love was Coltrane's home base during the mid-40s.

Currently, of course, it is Tyner's emphatically individual style that has influenced a generation of pianists. His playing is marked by a heavily percussive approach, dense nonwestern tonal centers and superb technique. Although not as "free" as Cecil Taylor, neither is the Muslim convert an old fuddy-duddy content to reiterate former glories; one has only to witness his experiments with the fusion of Asian and African forms (The Real McCoy) and Afri-Latin styles (best exemplified by the excellent Sama Layuca).

The McCoy Tyner Sextet, with alto player Gary Bartz, trumpet player Eddie Henderson and tenor saxist Billy Harper, performs at Yoshi's in Oakland through Sunday (Feb. 2). Tickets are $18/$22 (510/652-9200). His trio (Tyner; bassist Avery Sharpe; drummer Aaron Scott) appears Monday (Feb. 3) at 7:30 and 9:30pm at Kuumbwa Jazz Center, 320-2 Cedar St., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $17 advance; $19 at the door (408/427-2227).

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From the January 30-February 5, 1997 issue of Metro

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