As many, many people I was saddened at the news of McCoy Tyner’s passing. We lost a great pianist, leader, sideman, and jazzman. In reverence to him I offer my thoughts of one night at Yoshi’s, a wonderful musical experience that I shall cherish forever.
26 Jan 2000
Tonight I experienced a live jazz set that will remain with me always. Yoshi’s Jazz Club in Oakland, CA hosted the 6th Annual residency of McCoy Tyler.
Someone told me that the Club seats 300. Truly, each seat carries an intimate view of the stage that makes one feel as though the musicians are entertaining a small party of close friends. The stage, elevated about 3 feet, held McCoy’s Steinway and accompanying instruments, electronics, and performers with room left for Hutcherson and Lovano to casually drift off stage left and right to let the audience focus on Moffett’s and Higgins’ solos.
Dining at the restaurant about an hour prior to the show afforded me a splendidly located seat at Table 14, second row about 10 – 12 feet from center stage. I glanced up at Hutchinson as he tapped gently or rapped compassionately his golden vibraphone.
Behind him Moffett pulled and plucked his bass to fill the room with notes so full that all heads bobbed gracefully in a syncopated, involuntary response.
A sudden sharp slapping shot pulled my attention to the right. I am greeted by the gaping, contagious, open-mouthed smile of Higgins as he reminds us that he owns the true beat. He rolled his eyes widely and stared at the ceiling laughing as if possessed by the drums as much as possessing them.
He settled down with a look to my left that cued Lovano to blow with bulbous cheeks a scale that runs from the lowest low to the unbelievable high notes of impressionable talent.
Through all of this composed singularity, from time to time and without exception, each musician glanced to my far left at Master Tyner, as a young boy looks to his mother for a sign that tells him, reassures him, of his actions.
And so, they leave me tuned in to the leader, the arranger, the wonderful Mr. Tyner. A music man whose sound changes as frequently as the skin color of a chameleon. Alternately slapping, then brushing, then pounding the piano keys in a way that tells the others “go your own way”, but always come home to me.
His hair, corn-rowed and pulled back into a stubby tail, belies his age giving him an air of sophisticated hipness. His strong left hand seemingly grabs the keys, shakes them, and tosses them over to his right hand to put them back into place. Just when one is comfortable with that style, he reverses the technique, coaxes out a modal melody, and finishes as perfectly balanced as a fine California Zinfandel, playfully capricious without offending.
My cheeks ache from ninety minutes of a Cheshire cat-like grin, yet I cannot change my expression. The McCoy Tyner Quintet – Billy Higgins, drums; Bobby Hutcherson, vibraphone; Joe Lovano, saxophone; Charnett Moffett, bass; and the inimitable McCoy Tyner – has injected me with a dose of America’s finest classical music, leaving me inoculated with the fact that true jazz is alive and well at Yoshi’s.
McCoy Tyner, you added such joy to the musical lives of jazz fans. You added such uniqueness as a sideman to the music of many artists. Thank you, sir.