First off, my apologies for not posting last week, and a tip of the hat to James Benjamin for covering so ably as host.
JB mentioned he was listening to McCoy Tyner last week, and I commented that I really ought to talk about him for Boston Joe – so here we go. Tyner is one of those musicians that’s been around for a long time, who’s worked with the greats (most notably, John Coltrane) and has had a terrific career in his own right. He certainly deserves a listen from someone new to jazz trying to find out who (s)he likes.
Tyner was born in Philadelphia in 1938, into a musical hotbed which influenced him and his career. His parents encouraged a love of music from an early age, and one of the influences on his choice of instrument came from a neighbor of the family, the bebop pianist Bud Powell. Another influence was Thelonious Monk, whose style influenced Tyner’s own.
As a teenager in the 1950’s, he played with local notables such as trumpeter Lee Morgan. He met saxophone legend John Coltrane, another Philadelphian, when Tyner was 17 and Coltrane was playing with Miles Davis. Coltrane confided that he wanted to form his own group, and to work with Tyner.
I never felt intimidated by John Coltrane, because I knew his mother, his cousin Mary, and his family. He used to pat me on the back, “This is my little brother, here.” –McCoy Tyner
This was not to be right away, however, and while waiting for Coltrane to leave Davis’ group Tyner was approached by the sax player Benny Golson, inviting Tyner to work with Golson and trumpeter Art Farmer in a New York based group, Jazztet. By 1960, however, Coltrane and Tyner had paired up in the John Coltrane Quartet, which recorded several of Coltrane’s classic albums, including “A Love Supreme.” While still in Coltrane’s group, Tyner recorded several albums of his own (mostly in trio format) for Impulse records.
By 1965, Tyner left Coltrane, and had signed with the Blue Note label. He began to more fully develop his own sound after this point, and recorded several albums for Blue Note over 1967-70, then switched to the Milestone label, where his productive output included the notable albums “Sahara” (1972) and “Enlightenment” (1973). His work for Blue Note and Milestone often took the style he developed with Coltrane as a point of departure, but took off in different directions including the incorporation of African and East Asian musical elements. These albums are often cited as examples of vital, innovative jazz from the 1970s that was neither fusion nor free jazz. He embraced such novel ideas in jazz as pentatonic scales, modal structures (as we discussed for Miles Davis), and block chords, developing a very full, rich sound at the keyboard. When Tyner plays you have to pay attention, as there’s a lot going on.
Tyner is often cited as a major influence on younger jazz musicians, and he still records and tours regularly, playing primarily in the trio or solo formats. He has produced a huge output of albums from his over-four-decade career, and rather than type all the names and dates I’ll refer you to the list at his entry in Wikipedia.
Everybody seems to have their own favorite Tyner album, and since I’m humbled by how much of his output I haven’t yet heard, I won’t recommend any specific albums (although I invite others to) – I’ll just recommend you go to your record store, plug yourself into the listening booth, and explore until the staff chases you away or forces you to buy a double mocha grande.
Highly recommended: NPR has a web page with a biography of Tyner, including a number of audio clips of him and others discussing his life and work
I haven’t done the Jazz Birthdays listing in a while, so here’s November and part of December, to get us caught up. As always, click on the artist’s name for more information:
Lee Ritenour. Born 1952. Guitarist
Phil Woods. Born 1931. Saxophonist
Arturo Sandoval. Born 1949. Trumpeter, pianist, composer
Paul Bley. Born 1932. Pianist
Hubert Laws. Born 1939. Flutist
Ellis Marsalis. Born 1934. Pianist
Kevin Eubanks. Born 1957. Guitarist
Ben Allison. Born 1966. Bassist, composer
Diana Krall. Born 1964. Vocalist
Don Cherry. Born 1936. trumpeter
Tommy Dorsey. Born 1905. Trombonist, big band leader
Coleman Hawkins. Born 1904. Saxophonist
Nat Adderley. Born 1931. Trumpeter
Paul Desmond. Born 1924. Clarinetist
Lyle Mays. Born 1953. Pianist
Gato Barbieri. Born 1934. Saxophonist
Chuck Mangione. Born 1940. Trumpet, flugelhorn
Billy Strayhorn. Born 1915. Pianist, composer, arranger
Jaco Pastorius. Born 1951. Bassist
Wynton Kelly. Born 1931. Pianist
Cassandra Wilson. Born 1955. Vocalist
Dave Brubeck. Born 1920. Pianist, composer
Donald Byrd. Born 1932. Trumpeter
Diane Schuur. Born 1953. Vocalist
McCoy Tyner. Born 1938. pianist (see above)
When I answered James Benjamin’s question last week of what I was listening to, one of the names that came up was Greg Osby, and JB asked what albums I’d recommend. To which I replied “Um, uh, er… Let me get back to you on that.” So guess who I’ve been researching the past week…
Greg Osby is one of those musicians that I’ve only found out about in the last year or so, and my reaction is continually “How did I miss him?” (In that regard being a jazz fan is like being a scientist: You’re continually humbled when you discover some new thing, and find out that it opens the door to a whole world that you didn’t know was there. It’s what keeps me pawing through the 99 cent racks at the used book and music store, knowing that there’s no telling when I just might luck onto something that blows my socks off.
I’ll let Osby talk about himself, edited from an interview here
I’m from St. Louis and I had an R&B and blues background. That was the kind of stuff I heard. I mean, the closest things to jazz I heard was organ trios and soul jazz, groove oriented jazz. Upon learning how to play the saxophone, around the age of fourteen, I was listening to people like Cannonball Adderley, Grover Washington, Jr., Maceo Parker, Wilton Felder (Jazz Crusaders), people like that, King Curtis, more of the soulful saxophone players. They appealed to me more. A couple of years later, I was introduced to Charlie Parker, more advanced players. And that sparked the real interest, because prior to that it was more of a hobby. I didn’t really get into the particulars of jazz until 1978, when I went to Howard University. There, I was introduced to a caliber of players that turned me to the intricacies of the music, before that it was playing for fun.
From 1974-1978 I played in all these R&B bands and blues bands in St. Louis. The average guy in the band, his age was like thirty-five, between thirty-five and forty-five. So I was like a young blood with all these cats. I learned the ropes first hand, so by the time I arrived in New York, I was a seasoned veteran pretty much. I have playing professionally since I was fourteen.
Howard’s musical program at the time was pretty underdeveloped at the time, so I did not learn that much about jazz or contemporary music. I learned a lot about classical composition, and choral writing, and counterpoint, and progression, things like that, but it wasn’t really accessable to contemporary situations. I was a bit impatient, because there was nothing that I was learning in the classrooms that I could use. So, I visited Berklee during the spring break of my second year and there was a healthy contingent of young players there. I just couldn’t wait to get there upon guesting in on a couple of ensembles and playing in a couple of the classrooms. They gave me a scholarship to go there as well.
He’s a strong man with strong opinions. He’s had to take a lot of crap from the industry for not being formulaic, and he doesn’t suffer fools gladly. The following bit stopped me in my tracks, LOL:
So, how in the world can you be a writer and write about Greg Osby and you never even talked to Greg Osby! You don’t even know Greg Osby and you just like making suppositions and conclusions based upon what you think it is. That’s inaccurate. That’s inaccurate documentation of, it’s a falsehood.
So far be it from me to put words in his mouth. Just go read the interview, and there are several more interview transcripts on his website. He’s a better spokesman for himself than I’ll ever be.
You can also find information about Osby here, on the Blue Note label website.
I’ve got two of his CDs, “The Invisible Hand” (2000) and “Symbols of Light (A Solution)” (2001). The music is very good on both, but complex melodically and harmonically. It’s not “easy listening”, but it is worth what it asks of the listener.
The former album features, in addition to Osby on alto sax and clarinet, Gary Thomas (flute, alto flute, tenor sax), Andrew Hill (piano) Jim Hall (guitar), Scott Colley (bass), and Terri Lyne Carrington (drums). The latter CD features, in addition to Osby on alto and soprano sax, Jason Moran (piano), Scott Colley (bass), and Amrlon Browden (drums, percussion). It also features a string quartet, which makes for an interesting sound – something like McCoy Tyner’s albums from the 1970’s that featured strings, but a more intimate sound, since fewer musicians, and fresher, more up-to-date. The two albums are different, but I enjoyed them both. I look forward to hearing more from Greg Osby.
Osby is one of those prolific artists with a rapidly expanding discography, so all I can say is the same thing I said for McCoy Tyner – go make a pest of yourself at the listening booth, check CDs out of the library, listen to the good folks that produce jazz radio shows, and keep exploring. We’re all discovering this stuff together, and most weeks when I post one of these diaries someone will mention something that gets my curiosity and I go out (or on line) on an expedition. And everyone knows that there’s hardly anything that’s quite as much fun:
Christopher Robin was sitting outside his door, putting on his Big Boots. As soon as he saw the Big Boots, Pooh knew that an Adventure was going to happen, and he brushed the honey off his nose with the back of his paw, and spruced himself up as well as he could, so as to look Ready for Anything.
“Good morning, Christopher Robin,” he called out.
“Hallo, Pooh Bear. I can’t get this boot on.”
“That’s bad,” said Pooh.
“Do you think you could very kindly lean against me, ‘cos I keep pulling so hard that I fall over backwards.”
Pooh sat down, dug his feet into the ground, and pushed hard against Christopher Robin’s back, and Christopher Robin pushed hard against his, and pulled and pulled at his boot until he had got it on.
“And that’s that,” said Pooh. “What do we do next?”
“We are all going on an Expedition,” said Christopher Robin, as he got up and brushed himself. “Thank you, Pooh.”
“Going on an Expotition?” said Pooh eagerly. “I don’t think I’ve ever been on one of those. Where are we going to on this Expotition?”
“Expedition, silly old Bear. It’s got an ‘x’ in it.”
“Oh!” said Pooh. “I know.” But he didn’t really.
“We’re going to discover the North Pole.”
“Oh!” said Pooh again. “What is the North Pole?” he asked.
“It’s just a thing you discover,” said Christopher Robin carelessly, not being quite sure himself.
“Oh! I see,” said Pooh. “Are bears any good at discovering it?”
“Of course they are. And Rabbit and Kanga and all of you. It’s an Expedition. That’s what an Expedition means. A long line of everybody. You’d better tell the others to get ready, while I see if my gun’s all right. And we must all bring Provisions.”
“Things to eat.”
“Oh!” said Pooh happily.