McCoy Tyner is a natural selection to cap Toledo's month-long celebration of the centennial of Art Tatum's birth.
Tyner, by virtue of his long career and early years playing with John Coltrane, is a member of the same pantheon of jazz piano greats as Tatum. A Philadelphia native, he began playing with the legendary Coltrane in his early 20s, teaming with drummer Elvin Jones and bassist Jimmy Garrison in one of the most influential jazz groups ever from 1960 to 1965.
His career could have peaked with the classic 1964 Coltrane release "A Love Supreme," considered one of the most important and influential records ever made, but Tyner, 70, has enjoyed the four decades afterward, producing dozens of albums and playing regular concerts.
He'll be in Toledo at the Toledo Museum of Art Peristyle Sunday at 7 p.m. for a concert featuring vocalese master Jon Hendricks, Benny Golson, and other musicians for the Art Tatum Centennial Celebration: A Legacy Continues. Proceeds from the concert, which was organized by Toledo musician Andre Wright, will be used to help launch the Art Tatum Youth Jazz Orchestra.
Tyner responded by e-mail to a series of questions from The Blade.
Q: Given that Sunday's concert in Toledo is a celebration of Art Tatum, could you tell us what impact Tatum's playing has had on you as an artist?
A: Well, Art Tatum was somebody who showed us the vastness of what could be done on the piano. I often like to say that the piano is like an orchestra, and the way Art Tatum played exemplified that. I used to listen to him and wonder if there were more than two hands playing in there somewhere. He was just phenomenal.
Q: Do you remember the first time you heard Tatum's music and what your reaction was to it?
A: His technical ability was just incredible, and there was also so much musicality in what he was doing. It was like listening to an entire orchestra except it was just him on the piano.
Q: Who do you consider your top three most important influences musically?
A: There are two people in my life who really shaped me, musically speaking. One of those people is my mother, and I am so thankful that she introduced and encouraged me to study piano. We didn't have a piano at first, so I used to go to different people's houses in Philadelphia and practice there. Finally she got a piano in her beauty shop and I would play there. We'd have these jam sessions in the beauty shop while women were getting their hair done! It was a riot. And of course, John Coltrane was a huge influence. He was like family, like a big brother to me. He taught me so much about music and life and I'm very thankful for the time we spent together and the opportunities he gave to me.
Q: What do you have in store musically for this concert in Toledo?
A: I'll be playing some solo piano. I plan to play some standards as well as some of my compositions.
Q: Early in your career you started playing with John Coltrane, which must have been an incredible experience. Do you often think back on those days, and when you do, what are your most prevalent thoughts?
A: When I think about my days with John, I think about how amazing it was that he was able to put these four musicians together. All the sounds and concepts he envisioned materialized with that group. The way we played together, it was really incredible.
Q: Since then, you've been amazingly prolific, releasing dozens of critically acclaimed albums over the decades. What drives your creativity and where do you get most of your inspiration?
A: Playing music for a living has allowed me to travel all over the world and meet people of different cultures and religions. I think that has inspired me on many levels, not just musically.
Q: What are you working on and what's next for you?
A: I take it day by day and let things come to me naturally. I'm looking forward to whatever's next!
Q: Finally, if you could, please tell us where you live and a bit about your nonmusic life in terms of your family, hobbies, outside interests, etc.
A: I've been in New York City for quite some time now and I really love living there. But I do enjoy my free time - I love just relaxing at home so that I have plenty of energy when it's time to perform!
Tickets are $20, $25, and $35 for the concert at the Peristyle on Monroe Street. For tickets and information call the Toledo Symphony at 419-246-8000.
Contact Rod Lockwood at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6159.