Story and photos by Dwight Casimere
New York-As jazz piano legend McCoy Tyner was escorted to the stage by his brother for the headlining performance of the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival at Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park, he appeared a bit tentative and feeble. A nearby drum consortium, apparently staging their own loud protest against the public intrusion on their ‘turf’ threatened to drown out the performance, as they had done the preceding musical acts, but that notion was quickly dispelled as Tyner unleashed the first notes from the Steinway keyboard. As he played his signature ‘hit’ “Blues on the Corner” he proved to be as thunderous and as commanding a presence as he was during his days as the lead pianist for the legendary John Coltrane quartet and subsequent global triumphs as a solo headlining act. “I’ve been fortunate in that my music has taken me across the world,” Tyner intoned to the crowd, to thunderous applause. As he launched into an hour-long recital that spanned his personal musical universe, he displayed the pianistic genius that recalled not only the piano greats of jazz, such as Bud Powell and Thelonius Monk, but also other modern musical giants from other genres. His use of modal scales and unorthodox chordal structures puts him more in the league of modern classical greats such as Stravinsky, Schoenberg and Bartok. At 71 years old, he is revered as a jazz icon with few peers. As a piano phenomenon, he stands alone. To this day, there has not been another performer to equal the breadth and scope of his Herculean powers at the piano.
Tyner’s performance was a compendium of his long and groundbreaking solo career. The force of his creative genius made the incessant annoyance of the drummers a mere apostrophe to the masterful musical thesis he composed to the delight of his attentive audience.