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date: 23 January 2021

Tyner, (Alfred) McCoy [Saud, Sulaimon]free

  • Keith Waters

Updated in this version

death date added

(b Philadelphia, Dec 11, 1938; d Bergenfield, NJ, March 6, 2020). American pianist and composer. He began studying piano at the age of 13 and studied harmony and theory at the Granoff School of Music. Growing up in Philadelphia, Tyner began participating in jam sessions from around the age of 15, and he absorbed much from bop pianists, in particular Bud Powell’s eighth-note bop phrasing and Thelonious Monk’s rhythmic and percussive pianism. His earliest recording was made with the Benny Golson–Art Farmer Jazztet, which he joined in 1959. Less than a year later, he joined the influential John Coltrane Quartet and performed on many of Coltrane’s landmark albums, including My Favorite Things, Africa Brass, A Love Supreme, and Ascension. He remained in Coltrane’s quartet until 1965, while releasing a series of albums for the Impulse label and recording as a sideman with Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson, and others.

Although his career lagged during the latter half of the 1960s, Tyner nevertheless recorded a series of important albums for the Blue Note label, most notably The Real McCoy and Expansions. After he signed with Milestone Records in 1972, Tyner’s visibility became enhanced as he recorded in a variety of formats: with trio (Trident, Supertrios), string orchestra (Fly Like the Wind), brass and reeds (Song of the New World), and solo piano (Echoes of a Friend). In his subsequent work he performed with jazz artists such as Bobby Hutcherson, Michael Brecker, Joe Lovano, and Stanley Clarke and recorded in varied trio, quartet, and big band settings. In 2007 Tyner formed his own record label as a subsidiary of Blue Note. His 2008 release Guitars includes collaborations with guitarists Bill Frisell, John Scofield, Derek Trucks, and Marc Ribot, as well as with banjoist Béla Fleck.

Tyner was one of the most significant jazz pianists to have emerged in the 1960s. Although his earliest recordings as leader featured a driving staccato hard bop style, in Coltrane’s quartet he developed a vocabulary characterized by the use of chords voiced in fourths and fifths, pentatonic scales, modes, tremolos, and open fifth drones in the left hand. With Coltrane, Tyner used these musical devices in extended improvisations over static or slow-moving tonal centers, creating a body of work now frequently described as “modal” jazz. Throughout his career, Tyner’s steely percussive style remained largely consistent. He influenced strongly several generations of later pianists, including Chick Corea, John Hicks, Harold Mabern, Jan Hammer, Richie Beirach, Mulgrew Miller, Kenny Kirkland, Dave Kikoski, George Cables, Jim McNeeley, and John Medeski.

Ex.1 Opening vamp from “Peresina” (Tyner)

Tyner is less celebrated for his compositions. Nevertheless, he contributed an impressive variety of original works that respond to his individual harmonic vocabulary and interest in world musics (such as the music of northern and central Africa and Asia). Many of his compositions make use of two-chord vamps, bass figures, and quartal (or “sus chord”) harmonies that often move in parallel stepwise motion. Example 1 shows the opening two-bar vamp from “Peresina” (Expansions), which uses a bass figure and a pair of fourth-based chords that proceed downward by step. The vamp sustains an F tonal center by using solely the pentatonic scale of F, G, B♭, C, and E♭.


(selective list)

As leader

Inception (1962, Imp.)

Reaching Fourths (1962, Imp.)

Today and Tomorrow (1963–4, Imp.)

The Real McCoy (1967, BN)

Expansions (1970, BN)

Enlightenment (1973, Mlst.)

Supertrios (1977, Mlst.)

Four Times Four (1980, Mlst.)

Just Feelin’ (1985, Palo Alto)

Live at Sweet Basil, i–ii (1989, Evidence)

Remembering John (1991, Enja)

The Turning Point (1991, Verve)

Infinity (1995, Imp.)

Guitars (2007, Half Note)

As sideman with J. Coltrane

My Favorite Things (1960, Atl.)

Impressions (1961, 1963, Imp.)

Coltrane (1962, Imp.)

Live at Birdland (1963, Imp.)

A Love Supreme (1964, Imp.)

Ascension (1965, Imp.)


  • S. Dance: “Tyner Talk,” DB, vol. 30/28 (1963), 18–19
  • M. Bourne: “McCoy Tyner,” DB, vol. 40/20 (1973), 14–15
  • J.-E. Berendt: “McCoy Tyner: Echoes of a Friend,” Ein Fenster aus Jazz: Essays, Portraits, Reflexionen (Frankfurt am Main, Germany, 1977), 75–81
  • D. Wild: “McCoy Tyner: the Jubilant Experience of the Classic Quartet,” DB, vol. 46/13 (1979), 18, 48, 54
  • L. Lyons: The Great Jazz Pianists, Speaking of their Lives and Music (New York, 1983), 235–48
  • O. Keepnews: “Producing McCoy Tyner,” The View from Within: Jazz Writings, 1948–1987 (New York, 1988), 180–86
  • P. Rinzler: “The Quartal and Pentatonic Harmony of McCoy Tyner,” ARJS, vol. 10 (1999), 35–87
  • Dmitri Ekshtut: “McCoy Tyner,” Jazz in New York, vol. 1/11 (2010), 6–10
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