McCoy Tyner, Jazz Piano Legend, Dead at 81

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McCoy Tyner (Photo from his Facebook page)

One of the most influential and renowned pianists in jazz history, McCoy Tyner, died March 6, 2020, according to a post on his Facebook page.

“It is with heavy hearts that we announce the passing of jazz legend, Alfred ‘McCoy’ Tyner,” reads the post. “McCoy was an inspired musician who devoted his life to his art, his family and his spirituality. McCoy Tyner’s music and legacy will continue to inspire fans and future talent for generations to come. The Tyner family is grateful for your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.”

No cause or place of death has yet been reported. Tyner was 81.

Watch a half hour concert by the John Coltrane Quartet, with Tyner on piano

Born in Philadelphia on December 11, 1938, Alfred McCoy Tyner began playing piano at age 13, and began playing professionally in 1960 with the Jazztet, led by Benny Golson and Art Farmer. That same year he joined the quartet of saxophonist John Coltrane, which also included bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones.

A poster for a 1962 European concert

Together the Coltrane quartet became one of the most influential and highly respected teams in the annals of jazz, and Tyner’s place within the outfit gave him a reputation that would ensure he would never lack for work. Among the many Coltrane recordings on which Tyner’s piano work can be heard are My Favorite Things (1961), Africa/Brass (1961), Impressions (1963), Crescent (1964) and A Love Supreme (1964).

McCoy Tyner (Photo from Facebook)

Tyner, who had released his debut solo album, Inception, for Impulse! Records in 1962 left the Coltrane group in 1965, working for some time with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers.

Tyner then  began leading his own groups the following year. He expanded to playing other instruments, including harpsichord and celeste, and ventured into various divergent subgenres, including African and Asian-inspired forms.

Related: 10 hit jazz singles of the 1960s

Tyner released albums on Blue Note, including The Real McCoy (1967), then with Milestone (where he stayed from 1972-81) and other labels, including Telarc (beginning in 1999). Through the ’80s and ’90s he worked largely with trios and in the 2000s played with quartets and other configurations.

Tyner’s piano can also be heard on recordings by Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson, Wayne Shorter, Stanley Turrentine and many other greats of 20th century jazz.

Tyner was named an NEA Jazz Master in 2002.

Watch Tyner perform “Stella By Starlight” in a group led by guitarist George Benson in 1989

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Jeff Tamarkin
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