Jazz Pianist McCoy Tyner Dies at 81

Photo: Piper Ferguson, Jazz at Lincoln Center

BY Calum SlingerlandPublished Mar 6, 2020

Alfred "McCoy" Tyner — the American jazz pianist best known for his work with the John Coltrane Quartet — has died. Tyner's family confirmed his passing today on social media, though a cause of death was not revealed. He was 81.

"McCoy was an inspired musician who devoted his life to his art, his family and his spirituality," the artist's family wrote in a statement. "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."

Tyner's former label home, Blue Note Records, called the pianist "a titan" and "one of the greatest of all-time" in a statement on his passing, writing, "Words fail when trying to express how important McCoy was & always will be to our music. The amount of beauty he gave the world is simply staggering."

Born in Philadelphia in 1938, Tyner began studying piano at age 13, counting Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk as early influences. He began performing with local jazz ensembles while in his mid-teens and, at age 17, met John Coltrane in the city while the saxophonist worked as a bandleader and sideman with Monk and Miles Davis.

Tyner would make his recorded debut in 1960 as a member of the Art Farmer and Benny Golson-led Jazztet, ahead of leaving to join Coltrane's famed quartet that same year. Joining the saxophonist, bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones, Tyner's first complete album with the group was 1961's My Favorite Things.

Tyner's chord voicing and play style became a key component in elevating Coltrane's quartet to being recognized as one of the most revered groups in jazz history. His playing can be heard on Coltrane's 1965 album A Love Supreme, widely considered to be the quartet's masterpiece.

Tyner would leave the quartet in 1965 to work as both a bandleader and sideman. After recording six solo efforts for Impulse! Records between 1962 and 1964, he would make his debut on the iconic Blue Note label in 1967 with The Real McCoy. As a sideman, Tyner's discography also includes recordings with Art Blakeley, Donald Byrd, Grant Green, Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter, Hank Mobley and more.

Find tributes from Tyner's fans and contemporaries below.

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