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February 16, 2006

The Hum heading "He chose piano," photo of McCoy Tyner


Looking back on the history of modern jazz, it's hard to find a band as influential as the John Coltrane Quartet, circa 1960, the forward-thinking sax player backed by an amazing rhythm section: Elvin Jones on drums, Jimmy Garrison on bass and, on piano, a young McCoy Tyner, just 20 years old when he joined.

He's older and wiser now, and he's still playing jazz. At the end of January he was on the West Coast doing his annual residency at Yoshi's, including a week playing with John's son, Ravi Coltrane. This Saturday, Feb. 18, Tyner plays for the first time in Arcata, leading a trio with drummer Eric Gravatt and bassist Charnett Moffett, both of whom played with him at Yoshi's.

On Valentine's Day morning, Tyner called from his home in New York City. "I'm originally from Philadelphia," he began, "I came here a long time ago, when I started working with Coltrane; I worked with him for years."

I asked if there was some particular point when he decided he wanted to become a musician. "My mother asked me what I wanted to do. When I was in elementary school and junior high school I was always in musicals and plays, but I wasn't playing music. There was a gentleman who taught kids in my neighborhood; he was teaching the girl across the street. My mother asked, `Would you like to study with him? Would you like to take singing lessons or piano?' I chose piano, thank goodness. That's how I got started."

He was 13 at the time. Before long he had a band of his own playing, "house-rockin' R&B kind of music."

"Then some older musicians heard me and they said, well you should learn this Bud Powell song or a Charlie Parker song, you know, the jazz kind of thing. That was great because I started making gigs with them. They saw early on that that was what I was going to do -- what I was meant to do."

Tyner met John Coltrane when he was 17, when Coltrane came through Philly playing with Miles Davis. They hit it off and made a pact: "I made a verbal commitment to John, that whenever he left Miles Davis, I would join his band."

What did you learn playing in Coltrane's group?

"Well I learned a lot from John. He was like a big brother to me. He was such a major figure in the music, it was like going to school, because John was my senior of course, 12 years older than me."

And what was it was that shifted in jazz because of that group?

"The style of playing changed. The concept. John grew up playing the same kind of gigs that I used to play -- of course he was a lot older than me, but he came from something similar. But he was always a progressive thinker, thinking ahead, practicing consistently -- always practicing, always working on something. It's hard to be detailed about [what changed], you have to listen and make that assessment yourself. I really enjoyed accompanying John, the way I comped behind him. Again, he was a like a teacher. I learned a lot from accompanying him."

After going through that experience for a few years, did you keep moving forward?

"After I left the band? It was different. Of course I was always interested in doing what I wanted to do on a personal level. I started recording under my own name, even when I was with John, you know. Coming from such an influential group it was easy to develop my own band and do my own thing with a trio."

Are still you exploring new territory?

"I try to do different things all the time, but I don't really have a name for it. It's a culmination of everything I've been through musically. I use it as a platform and try to have it catapult me to another level. But I'm not doing a John Coltrane kind of thing where I'm like looking all the time for something new. I use music as an experience. I don't like to play the same thing every day, but I'm not on a mission. I just want to enjoy playing. And if I enjoy what I play, hopefully I'll run into something very interesting. That's all. I don't try to practice every day trying to reach some certain point. You know, I've done a lot of things and I don't have to prove anything."

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Elsewhere in the world of jazz: Pearl Lounge hosts a series of shows over the weekend: Friday it's the Michel Navedo Quartet, led by the experimenting trumpet player. Saturday, catch the Sam Maez Quartet with Baron Wolfe on bass, Michael Curran on drums and Jim Wilde guitar. Sunday, Feb. 19, it's Red Shift, a fusion band from New Orleans featuring vibes player Matt McClimon, a Humboldt native (and son of Mike of Humboldt Ragtime Band fame).

Earlier that day, vocalist Bill Allison leads a group playing at the Graves Museum with Susie Larraine on sax and flute, Marla Joy on bass and, again, Michael Curran on drums.

Also on Sunday and also jazzy: At Six Rivers, fusion jammers Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey on tour with The Dead Kenny Gs, featuring JFJO's Brian Haas, wild sax man Skerik and equally wild percussionist Mike Dillon.

Placebo hosts another show at Empire Squared Thursday, Feb. 16, this one featuring Olympian forest metal band Wolves In the Throneroom joined by locals Dragged By Horses, Do Not Resuscitate and James Angelo III (showtime 7:30 p.m.).

Coming to Ramone's Old Town Friday, Feb. 17, two one-man-bands: L'Ocelle Mare, aka Thomas Bonvalet, the guitarist from French duo Cheval de Frise, and McCloud Zicmuse aka Le Ton Mite, another Frenchman who now resides in Olympia. McCloud illustrates his simple songs with associated laminated pictures clipped to his mike stand. (Showtime 7-9.) BTW these guys spent January touring with Deerhoof, who unfortunately are overseas right now.

Later that night at the Alibi, a Panache show featuring Kyozin Yueni Dekai, which according to Michelle translates in Japanese slang as, "We are big because we are giants." She also notes that the duo is "comprised of one gigantic guitarist (seriously, he plays in stilts), and one brutally lithe drummer. Together [they] breed noisy eruptions of sound reminiscent to early Lightning Bolt." (BTW, the lithe drummer is also playing for DMBQ, who return to Arcata in March.) Opening for KYD, Thee Eureka Garbage Company, who, believe it or not, have never played at the Alibi.

Sunday at the Alibi, Pearls and Brass, a rock band from Pennsylvania working around the edges of stoner rock, blues and metal to create something that's none of the above. They're on tour with Chicago acid punks Plastic Crimewave Sound, who have an upcoming release on Nihilist Records (which should tell you something).

The Humboldt reggae flow continues with Dr. Israel and Heavyweight Dub Champions playing Thursday, Feb. 16, at Six Rivers. Sunday at Indigo Nightclub Jamaican dancehall Rastamen Lutan Fyah and Jah Don are backed by The Riddimmystics. Reggae/funk rockers Melefluent, from Idaho, play next Tuesday, Feb. 14, at Six Rivers then on Wednesday at Humboldt Brews.

Looking for something more along the lines of folk/rock/gospel/blues/hip hop? Breeze and Flame are at Kelly O'Brien's Friday. Breeze called to tell me that she's just started working with Flame, who has been leader of the Interfaith Gospel Choir's children's choir and teen choir for some time. "She's also the choir director for First Baptist Church, where Karen Dumont sings. She's one of the best singers I've heard in my life. We're doing her songs as well as mine; hers are more gospel with a blues/hip hop influence. You should come here us." No promises, but maybe I will.

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