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McCOY TYNER’S STYLE: A Jazz review with sheet music (1/2)

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McCOY TYNER’S STYLE: A Jazz review with sheet music (1/2)

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In an interview with McCoy Tyner in 1985, Ben Sidran asked how Tyner developed his identifiable style and intervallic sense at such an early age, stating that Tyner already sounded different from all of the other piano players when he joined the John Coltrane Quartet.

Tyner’s answer is somewhat ambiguous, as he seems to try not to directly contradict Sidran’s statement. Instead, Tyner talks about being drawn to some classical composers, but at the same time he emphasizes the importance of Bud Powell as his early influence.

Later in the interview, Tyner clearly says that he ”just tried to copy Bud” but Sidran left that out when releasing the interview in print as a part of the book Talking Jazz: An Oral History. Tyner also implies that it was his time with John Coltrane that allowed him to develop his unique style.

Even though Tyner actually was just in the process of developing his intervallic concept in 1960 when joining John Coltrane’s group, Tyner’s early voicing strategies are important in understanding his later style.
The three-note voicings he favors at the time serve as a basis for his modal vamps in Coltrane’s quartet and continue to exist in his playing later on.

While his voicings have many similarities with the style of Red Garland and Richie Powell, for instance, in addition to his main influences Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk, Tyner already seems to have a personal approach that draws from and combines many influences. In the remark of ”just trying to copy Bud”, Tyner probably includes the whole process of getting the information and models from wherever he heard interesting things.

In an interview with Peter Danson for Coda Magazine, Tyner mentions Duke Ellington as an influence right after Bud Powell and Thelonious
Monk, and on the radio program with Marian McPartland he talks about Earl Hines, for example. Some of Tyner’s influences might not even be well-known names, as Tyner mentions in the liner notes for his album
Extensions: “There is a piano player in Philly who probably may never leave; however, his talents and directions had a great influence on my playing.”

LEFT-HAND VOICINGS

On Tyner’s early recordings, he typically plays functional II-V-I progressions using chord voicings built by stacking thirds and in most cases omitting the root from the left hand:

McCOY TYNER sheet music

Tyner mostly keeps his left-hand voicings as three-note voicings. The dominant ninth chord for the V degree provides the necessary tension and contributes to smooth voice leading in the II-V-I progression.

Sometimes Tyner includes the root in these voicings for minor seventh and tonic chords, for example on ballads or in cases where the chords are played over a bass vamp. This can be verified from a later video recorded in Baden Baden, Germany on December 4, 1961. Tyner’s left hand is clearly visible during his solo to ”Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye”, where he includes the root in many of the minor and major seventh chord voicings. But the dominant chords (featuring minor seventh, ninth and third) are three-note voicings there, too.

”LAZY BIRD”

Here is an example of McCoy Tyner playing John Coltrane’s composition ”Lazy Bird”, recorded on October 24, 1960 as a trio version during the same sessions that produced material for the John Coltrane albums My
Favorite Things, Coltrane Plays the Blues and Coltrane’s Sound. Because of the fast tempo of the tune, it is likely that Tyner would use the voicings that he is most comfortable with. This is the third chorus of Tyner’s solo, bar numbers run from the beginning of the solo.

mccoy tyner jazz sheet music
mccoy tyner jazz sheet music

During the B section (bars 17-24) as well as in bars 7-8 of the first and last A sections, Tyner also uses another voicing strategy that is commonly referred to as ”Bud Powell voicings” today.

”BLUES TO ELVIN”

McCoy Tyner uses the three-note voicings in his left hand when soloing and also as a basis for larger two-handed voicings when accompanying other musicians. In a blues like ”Blues to Elvin” (recorded on October 24,
1960) he mostly uses the following voicings for dominant seventh chords.

mccoy tyner jazz sheet music

Rather than connecting these chords by smooth voice leading, Tyner frequently transposes the whole interval set for each dominant seventh chord of the blues form. This brings out the movement of this particular sound to another place. With this voicing, Tyner often employs the movement from suspended fourth to the third which, depending on the bass, essentially spells out II-V movement.

mccoy tyner jazz sheet music

Here is an example of McCoy Tyner accompanying John Coltrane on ”Blues to Elvin”. This is the fourth full chorus of the tune’s 12-bar blues form, here bar numbers run from the beginning of the tune.

mccoy tyner jazz sheet music
mccoy tyner jazz sheet music
mccoy tyner jazz sheet music

Notice how in the previous example, Tyner frequently moves the left-hand voicing up a half step and back, creating Eb9-E9-Eb9 movement. In bar 37 the half step movement in the left hand doesn’t have time to resolve but continues directly to the fourth degree in bar 38 (Eb9-E9-Ab9). At the same time, the right-hand approaches Ab7 from a half step above, implying Eb7-A7-Ab7 movement (as well as the sound of the blues scale).

In cases like this, where the right-hand melodies and the left-hand voicings follow their own independent logic, I have included a chord symbol analysis for both. There will be many more examples of such independence between the two hands later in this text. For the turnaround in bars 47-48, Tyner switches to full two-handed voicings.

It should be noted that Tyner also uses another three-note left-hand voicing for dominant seventh chords. It is constructed the same way as the minor seventh and major seventh voicings were constructed in the II-V-I progressions on ”Lazy Bird” – by stacking thirds up from the 3rd of the chord. Because this voicing only includes the 3rd, 5th, and b7th of the chord, it doesn’t have much color by itself and is mostly used as part of a two-handed voicing.

Here is an example from Tyner’s accompaniment to John Coltrane’s first solo chorus on ”Blues to Elvin”.

mccoy tyner jazz sheet music

THREE-NOTE VOICINGS IN MINOR KEYS

Here is how Tyner uses three-note voicings in the key of D minor, for example in bar 33 of the following ”Blues de Funk” example. Here the II chord is Emi7, but of course he uses Emi7(b5) as well.

mccoy tyner jazz sheet music

Actually, in a minor key he frequently substitutes the II chord with a tritone substituted dominant chord:

mccoy tyner jazz sheet music

The next example, ”Blues de Funk”, illustrates how Tyner uses these voicings and also the way he approaches the minor blues form.

”BLUES DE FUNK”

”Blues de Funk” is a minor blues from McCoy Tyner’s first studio recording on December 17, 1959. He had just turned 21. The session was led by the trombonist Curtis Fuller and released on the album Imagination. On the bass was Jimmy Garrison, a fellow Philadelphian, who was to complete the John Coltrane Quartet’s legendary lineup a few years later.

mccoy tyner jazz sheet music
mccoy tyner jazz sheet music
mccoy tyner jazz sheet music
mccoy tyner jazz sheet music
mccoy tyner jazz sheet music

To bring out the consistency in McCoy Tyner’s voicings throughout the whole solo, I have included all three choruses. Note that Tyner plays the tonic minor chord as a minor sixth chord and the fourth degree minor
chord as a minor triad. Note also that the voicing for the tonic minor Dmi6 is exactly the same as the voicing Tyner would use for a G9 chord.

The minor chord in bar 7 is different, because it is no longer acting as a tonic minor. On occasion, there might be movement leading to the Bb7 chord in the ninth bar, so the chords in bars 7-8 could be Dmi7–G7–
Cmi7–F7.

Tyner does not play this whole sequence, but instead plays only Dmi7–G7, which implies that the C minor chord in bar 7 is not a point of resolution anymore, but represents movement. The same thing occurs with the G minor chord changing into Gmi7 in bar 5 of the first chorus. There the line is on the move back towards the tonic.

At the end of the first chorus and in the beginning of the second chorus there is an essential jazz sound: right-hand melodies bringing out the sound of the blues over functionally moving harmonies in the left hand. The vertical relationship of the melody notes in relation to the chords is not important, as both elements create a clear sound of their own. This horizontal aspect of separate elements working together will later be fundamentally significant in the way modal colors are used, similarly as the blues color here.

I have included the bass line in the transcription to illustrate the independence between the instruments. Notice how in the second bar of each chorus, Garrison consistently implies G minor chord while Tyner plays Bb7 and A7 (to lead back to D minor). Another clear difference can be found in the way these musicians approach bars 9-10 of the 12-bar form. While Tyner clearly plays Bb7–A7 here as well, Garrison plays Emi7–A7.

When Tyner interprets the Bb7 as Fmi7–Bb7, he is consistently a half step away from Garrison’s Emi7, for instance in bar 21 of the transcription. One can speculate on how intentional these differences are, but they are frequent on the recordings from this era. It is an integral part of the sound of this music, and one can observe such independence between the two hands of the pianist even.

”MOX NIX”

Here is another example of D minor blues, this time in a faster tempo. ”Mox Nix” by the Art Farmer & Benny Golson Jazztet was recorded on February 6, 1960. While on “Blues de Funk” McCoy Tyner played the fourth degree minor chords as just triads, here he plays them as minor 6th chords. These are the second and third choruses of Tyner’s solo. Addison Farmer’s bass line is also included.

mccoy tyner jazz sheet music
mccoy tyner jazz sheet music
mccoy tyner jazz sheet music

One interesting feature of this solo is the independent melodic riff beginning the third chorus of Tyner’s solo. The arpeggiated C major triad in the block chord lead comes out as a melodic element; it does not
radically alter the Dmi6 sound since it is placed in such a high register. Because of the physics of sound and the way overtones ring, the note c is already included in the sonic spectrum at that high register, so it doesn’t change the harmonic color into what would sound like a Dorian scale in modal tunes.

Tyner’s idea here is just a melodic bluesy riff not too concerned with harmony. As if to confirm this, Tyner keeps exactly the same notes in his right hand over the fourth degree minor chord (Gmi6) in bars 29-30. The inclusion of b-natural in the voicing over G minor chord would theoretically be a completely wrong note, but it doesn’t jump out as such in the higher register. The consistency of the intervallic structure is the most important factor here.

Tyner, as well as the other musicians of the Jazztet, were of course already aware of the modal Dorian sounds at the time. But as a bluesy element, the minor seventh interval has probably always been used in the melody, without any implication towards Dorian scale sound.

The color of the tonic chord in “Mox Nix” is unmistakably defined as Dmi6 in the middle register. In the next chapter, I will go through examples from the early recordings of the John Coltrane’s quartet, in which the minor seventh chord and the sound of the Dorian scale replaces the tonic minor chord.

Kind of Blue was a major influence on the music, spearheading the modal playing. Everybody wanted to play those songs. I was into doing it all. You don’t take away, you add on to it – playing the multiple changes and the modal thing, trying to incorporate what was historically in the music with what was going on at the time.

It was such an organic situation–it grew like a plant.
-McCoy Tyner in an interview with Ashley Kahn on November 10, 1999.

McCoy Tyner & His Trio – Full Concert – 08/15/98 – Newport Jazz Festival

Set list:

00- Changes. 12:47– Mellow Minor. 24:06-Where Is Love(Lionel Bart). 32:58-Have You Met Miss Jones?. 38:03-Impressions. 49:34 – Happy Days.

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