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Mr. Natural 

Influential jazz pianist McCoy Tyner remembers John Coltrane.

McCoy Tyner was 20 when he became the pianist for the John Coltrane Quartet in 1960. Coltrane was pushing musical boundaries with his intense, extended solos and gradual use of Eastern harmonies, and Tyner was an integral part of Coltrane's music from that period, culminating with A Love Supreme in 1965.

'Coltrane had a sound that I hadn't heard before. That's what attracted me to his music first,' says Tyner, speaking by phone from his home in New York City. 'Then I first started getting into, well -- I always liked what he played, but when I got past the sound, I said, 'Gee whiz. I'm actually onstage with him!' It was just great.

'He was a great person to play music for, and he would set an example. He was so diligent. I'll give you an example. I went to San Francisco with John to the Jazz Workshop, and I hadn't seen him in the morning. I went to his door, and he came to the door already dressed, with a saxophone on the bed. He had been practicing all night. He'd probably fallen asleep practicing. He told me one time he had a dream about Charlie Parker, and Bird told him he was doing the right thing -- you can't argue with that, living up to Bird's exhortations.'

Jazz fans realized right away that the John Coltrane Quartet was special. 'People recognize that there was a highly developed spiritual element in that band,' Tyner says, 'but the thing that made it what it was was the fact that we had a caring for each other, and we really respected John, so we had respect and real love for each other as brothers.'

According to Tyner, Coltrane was a spiritual man, but his faith did not overwhelm his personality. 'He was never putting himself on a pedestal. He was too humble for that. His grandfather was a minister, so he had a deep appreciation about that, and his attitude -- he was very grateful for what he had been given. "He was very humble; I didn't see any arrogance in him at all. He wasn't trying to be Mr. This or Mr. That or Mr. Spiritual. He had that naturally, but he didn't talk about it. His mother played piano in church, and he had a religious background. He had such a human quality to him."

click to enlarge Recalling a trip to San Francisco, McCoy Tyner says, 'I - went to his door, and he came to the door already - dressed, with a saxophone on the bed. He'd probably - fallen asleep practicing.'
  • Recalling a trip to San Francisco, McCoy Tyner says, 'I went to his door, and he came to the door already dressed, with a saxophone on the bed. He'd probably fallen asleep practicing.'
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