The second performance by a major jazz artist that I remember attending was by McCoy Tyner. (Not to keep you in suspense, the first was by the Gary Burton Quartet.) I don't remember any of the tunes Tyner's group played, but I remember the intensity of the music - I was sitting just a few feet away from Eric Gravatt's ride cymbal. And I remember all the members of the band - Joe Ford and Ron Bridgewater on saxophones, Charles Fambrough on bass, Tyner and Gravatt, of course, and percussionist Guilherme Franco. This must have been 1976 or '77, at the long-defunct Midtown Pub in Atlanta.
Tyner would have been in his late thirties at that time. He was in his twenties during his tenure as one-fourth of one of the greatest jazz ensembles of all time, the John Coltrane Quartet. And he was 71 when I heard him play a concert with his trio at Atlanta's Variety Playhouse tonight.
Age has taken a step or two off of Tyner's technique, but has not effected his musical instincts. His rhythm section was accomplished, but not particularly distinctive. (I never caught the drummer's name, but Gerald Cannon was the bassist.) The first set was fairly mellow; he opened with "Sama Luyaca," which he first recorded in 1978, and segued into a version of Ellington's "In a Mellotone" which was a swinging delight. The trio's seemingly spontaneous arrangement of Coltrane's "Moment's Notice" included uptempo burning and bluesy medium tempo passages.
The second set had more of the modal intensity I associate with Tyner, with plenty of the "left hand like a drum" that is one of the pianist's trademarks. The highlight of the evening was this set's reading of "Blues on the Corner," from the 1967 Real McCoy album. Tyner overlaid the basic twelve-bar form with complex subsitute harmonies, but never lost the blues feeling. And it swung like hell.
I was pleased to see that the hall was packed; Mr. Tyner seemed touched by the warm reception he received. As he was making his final speech of the evening, a couple of ladies in the audience yelled, "We love you!" They spoke for all of us.