The Library of Congress’ Coolidge Auditorium was buzzing as the audience quickly grabbed seats. Everyone knew this would be special treat to hear from McCoy Tyner, one of the jazz greats.
True, the world discovered Tyner as a member of the famed Coltrane Quartet. The group, which consisted of John Coltrane on saxophone, Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums, toured almost nonstop between 1961 and 1965.
After leaving The Coltrane Quartet Tyner’s followers experienced his gift as a composer. Through the years, he has collaborated with his jazz contemporaries like Benny Golson, Joe Henderson, Ron Carter, and Jack DeJohnette.
For Tyner’s Dec. 8 performance at the Library of Congress, his quartet included Francisco Mela on drums and Gerald Cannon on bass both talented and highly sought-after musicians. Special guest, saxophonist Joe Lovano, rounded out the group. Lovano and Tyner have been collaborators since the 2006 live recording of the album “Quartet.”
The Library of Congress concert began with Lovano, Mela and Coleman performing a few Tyner compositions that included “Passion Dance” and “Search for Peace.” Hearing these compositions without the thoughtful and powerful piano playing of McCoy Tyner allowed the audience to hear the intricate contribution of each trio member. Then Tyner was assisted to the stage to take his place at the piano.
One noticed how frail he appeared. Would he perform with the same strength and quickness he had been known for throughout his career? What Tyner classics would he play? Then he began his portion of the evening playing “Fly With the Wind,” the title track from his 1976 album, and the audience’s anxieties were laid to rest.
Tyner’s “Fly with the Wind” begins with a slow-paced introduction that joins up with Lovano’s saxophone delivering to the audience a high-spirited version of this classic. The original recording of “Fly with the Wind” introduced Tyner’s fans to the blending of strings into his compositions. The absence of the strings was not an issue as the audience seemed mesmerized by Tyner’s powerful piano rhythms. Tyner moved through two more songs including “Blues on the Corner.”
The Tyner set at the Library of Congress was short and well-crafted. He could barely be heard in between each song the quartet played. But Tyner, a 2002 National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master, delivered what the audience wanted to hear. The audience clamored for a longer set, but was thankful to hear and see Tyner perform three days before his 79th birthday. For that evening, it was the audience that was gifted with Tyner’s musical genius.
As stated by Chicago Tribune columnist Howard Reich, “Even if Tyner never played another note in public, his position in the pantheon of jazz pianists would be secure. Yet the man has no intention of going quietly into the night.”
Surely, the audience at the Library of Congress agreed.