Corea and Friends Take Part in Multi-Generational Tribute to Tyner


Geri Allen (left), Benny Green, Taylor Eigsti, Kenny Barron, Marcus Roberts, Joe Lovano, McCoy Tyner and Chick Corea at SFJAZZ in San Francisco on June 19.

(Photo: Marshall Lamm)

The SFJAZZ concert was billed as “McCoy Tyner and Friends” but could have been dubbed “A Master and His (Masterful) Disciples.” Regardless of its title, the scope of the musical legacies represented at Davies Symphony Hall on June 19 couldn’t truly be comprehended until the conclusion of a historic night that included five separate yet very well deserved standing ovations.

Though the Golden State Warriors had lost Game 7 of the NBA Finals as the crowd started rolling in, the mood remained upbeat. SFJAZZ Founder and Executive/Artistic Director Randall Kline explained the show was part of closing night for the 34th Annual San Francisco Jazz Festival and that Tyner had an extensive history with SFJAZZ. (His Solo: Live from San Francisco album, released by Half Note in 2009, was recorded at an SFJAZZ Spring Season concert.)

Kline then introduced the participants in order that they would appear—Tyner himself, then Marcus Roberts, then Benny Green, Taylor Eigsti, Geri Allen, Kenny Barron and finally Chick Corea. “I don’t think I’ve ever said all those names together for one concert,” he remarked, with a grin.

The audience rose to its feet as Tyner entered stage right. Looking slim and moving deliberately, the 77-year old’s sound was instantly recognizable as soon as he sat down at the grand piano and started playing his “Fly With The Wind.” Cascading treble arpeggios and his trademark left-handed strength were on fluid display.

Joe Lovano then joined on unamplified tenor saxophone. The pair’s rapport, as heard on The McCoy Tyner Quartet (released on Half Note in 2007, and recorded across the Bay at Yoshi’s in Oakland) was apparent as they playfully prodded one another.

Before embarking on a solo rendition of Tyner’s “Blues For Gwen,” Roberts said that musicians look up to the piano legend in the same way that basketball players look up to Michael Jordan or LeBron James. (The latter name garnered a few scattered hisses, predictably.) Roberts has oscillated between solo and trio playing for 25 years, so his rock solid basslines and left/right hand independence were in full effect.

Berkeley native Benny Green then joined Roberts for a duo number followed by a thrilling solo version of Tyner’s “Salvadore De Samba.” Before delving into it, he explained how he’d go to the Berkeley public library as a youth and borrow John Coltrane’s Live At Birdland album to investigate Tyner’s playing.

Another Bay Area product, Taylor Eigsti of Menlo Park, returned from Manhattan and followed Green with an inspired solo version of Tyner’s “Effendi.” Beforehand, he said he couldn’t recall a time when Tyner wasn’t part of his musical consciousness.

Allen was up next with two Tyner selections—”You Taught My Heart To Sing” (the only ballad of the program) and “Four By Five.” Her musical tribute included an extended exploration of the entire keyboard before commencing a tender reading of the familiar verse and chorus of “You Taught My Heart to Sing.”

Barron also played a pair of numbers: Like Tyner, he played one solo and another with Lovano. After explaining that he had met Tyner in 1961, Barron and Lovano did a flowing version of “Passion Dance.” Thick chords that contrasted with delicate treble lines highlighted Barron’s solo version of “Blues Back.”

One of the four piano giants to emerge with Tyner, Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett in the 1960’s, Corea was the only artist on the bill playing an original composition. He explained that he also met the honoree in 1961 and had been already studying his solos.

Corea went on to call Tyner both his “church and university” and dedicated “Children’s Song No. 12” to his child-like spirit. At times he strummed and then muted the piano strings.

Tyner joined Corea for the first encore. For a second one, all the participants came on the bandstand for a rousing extended version of Duke’s “In A Mellow Tone” that featured the players (save Tyner) rotating off and on the benches of both pianos.

At moments, there were ten hands playing on two grands. Tyner was clearly reveling in the swinging adoration while everyone else was in awe of this multi-generational salute.

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