McCoy Tyner was once a bit of a stalker. Or so we learned at the opening discussion of the Duke Jazz Talks Series at Bruno Walter Auditorium last night, where the jazz icon recalled youthful nights spent jamming in his mother’s West Philly beauty shop and afternoons spent chasing neighborhood jazz legend Bud Powell: “Bud would walk up and down the streets of our neighborhood and we’d follow him,” the 70-year-old pianist said with a laugh. By age 18, Tyner was touring coast to coast in John Coltrane’s station wagon with “big brothers” Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison in tow. “I didn’t have time to be intimidated,” Tyner said of his formative years in the John Coltrane Quartet. “I was in school.” He remembered Coltrane as a generous band leader whose unrelenting work ethic engendered experimentation. “I don’t think he was a perfectionist,” Tyner said, “I think he was searching for something. He was looking for new ways to express himself.”
Tyner’s storied innovations alongside Coltrane ate up much of the talk, and the pianist often demurred about his own creative process, citing his personal mantras “Give it a shot” and “See what happens.” After some audience Q&A, he did just that, taking a dozen labored steps across stage to the piano. As soon as he settled into his seat, Tyner slammed down hard on the keys, summoning the vintage thunder that made him a legend, his left heel clack-clack-clacking toward some infinite future.