An analogue recording of McCoy Tyner Trio during Gdynia Summer Jazz Days
Tyner was born in 1938 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the oldest of three children. His father, Jarvis Tyner, worked in a company that made medicated cream and sang in a church vocal group. His mother, Beatrice (Stevenson) Tyner worked as a beautician. It was his mother who first encouraged him to play piano, starting him on private lessons at age 13 and letting him practice on the piano in her salon. Tyner excelled quickly and further honed his musical skills while attending the West Philadelphia Music School and the Granoff School of Music. As a teenager, he came into contact with his neighbor, bebop pianist Bud Powell, who served as an early influence. Another early influence was Thelonious Monk, whose percussive, architectural sound would remain a touchstone for Tyner for years to come. Around age 17, he converted to Islam via the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, and subsequently changed his name to Sulieman Saud (although he continued to perform as McCoy Tyner). It was during this period in the '50s that he gained yet more attention, playing around Philadelphia with artists like Lee Morgan and brothers Percy and Jimmy Heath, as well as leading his R&B group the Houserockers. He also befriended saxophonist John Coltrane, then a member of trumpeter Miles Davis' band. In 1959, Tyner joined saxophonist Benny Golson and trumpeter Art Farmer in their group the Jazztet, and made his recorded debut with the group on 1960's Meet the Jazztet. He also appeared on early albums by Freddie Hubbard and Julian Priester.
However, after six months with the Jazztet, he left to join Coltrane's soon-to-be classic quartet with bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones. From 1960 to 1965, he toured and recorded almost non-stop with Coltrane, applying his powerful sound, and distinctive block chord style to such landmark albums as 1961's Africa/Brass, 1961's My Favorite Things, 1961's Olé Coltrane, 1962's Coltrane, and 1965's monumental A Love Supreme. Along with a deep creative and familial bond, Coltrane's quartet with Tyner found them embracing an innovative mix of Eastern musical ideas, including pentatonic scales and flowing modal structures that evoked the quartet's deep spiritual leanings.
Tyner also made his debut as leader during his time with Coltrane, beginning with 1962's Inception on Impulse Records, with bassist Art Davis and fellow Coltrane bandmate Elvin Jones. A handful of equally engaging small-group sessions followed for the label, including 1963's Reaching Fourth with drummer Roy Haynes and bassist Henry Grimes, 1964's Today and Tomorrow with saxophonists John Gilmore and Frank Strozier, trumpeter Thad Jones, bassist Butch Warren, and Elvin Jones, and 1965's McCoy Tyner Plays Ellington (again with his Coltrane section partners Jones and Garrison). He also recorded notable albums with Joe Henderson, Art Blakey, Milt Jackson, and Wayne Shorter.
In 1965, Tyner parted ways with Coltrane to further explore his own music. The move coincided with an overall shift in American popular music as people moved away from jazz and toward rock and funk sounds. Tyner weathered this change, taking on sideman jobs with Ike & Tina Turner and Jimmy Witherspoon. Despite his difficulties, he remained creatively focused and recorded a series of forward-thinking albums for Blue Note, including 1967's The Real McCoy with Joe Henderson, Ron Carter, and Elvin Jones. A year later, he returned with Expansions, an even more accomplished session that showcased a larger group with trumpeter Woody Shaw, altoist Gary Bartz, tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter on cello, bassist Herbie Lewis, and drummer Freddie Waits. He also continued to be an in-demand session player, appearing on albums with Donald Byrd, Stanley Turrentine, Bobby Hutcherson, and others.
While remaining committed to a largely acoustic-based sound, Tyner's work continued to expand in the fusion era. He signed with the Milestone label and embarked on a period of increased activity. In 1970, he released Extensions, an all-star sextet session that found him working with Alice Coltrane on harp, altoist Gary Bartz, Wayne Shorter on tenor and soprano, Ron Carter, and Elvin Jones. He picked up his first-ever Grammy nomination for 1972's Sahara, a groundbreaking production that found him exploring a mix of avant-garde and African-influenced sounds alongside saxophonist Sonny Fortune, bassist Calvin Hill, and drummer Alphonse Mouzon. The album also showcased Tyner's skills beyond piano, playing flute, percussion, and the Japanese Koto. A flow of adventurous, eclectic albums followed throughout the decade, many featuring his quartet with saxophonist Azar Lawrence, including 1972's Song for My Lady, 1973's Enlightenment, and 1974's Atlantis. 1976's Trident with Ron Carter and Elvin Jones was Tyner's first trio album in over a decade and found him playing harpsichord and celeste, as well piano. It was also during this period that he began writing for more varied ensembles, including strings on 1976's Fly with the Wind, and a horn section and vocal group on 1977's Inner Voices, and big band on 1981's 13th House.
Tyner next signed to Columbia for 1981's La Leyenda de La Hora, featuring flutist Hubert Laws, vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, saxophonists Paquito d'Rivera and Chico Freeman, trumpeter Marcus Belgrave, and a seven-piece string section. A year later, he released Looking Out, which included guest appearances by vocalist Phyllis Hyman and guitarist Carlos Santana. He then moved to Elektra for 1984's quintet date Dimensions, featuring altoist Gary Bartz, violinist John Blake, bassist John Lee, and drummer Wilby Fletcher. A collaboration with saxophonist Jackie McLean, It's About Time, arrived in 1985. Tyner also led a trio with bassist Avery Sharpe and drummer Louis Hayes, releasing albums like 1985's Major Changes with Frank Morgan, 1986's Double Trios, and 1987's Bon Voyage. Also in 1987, he won the Grammy for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Group for Blues for Coltrane: A Tribute to John Coltrane, which featured bassist Cecil McBee, drummer Roy Haynes, and saxophonists Pharoah Sanders and David Murray. Also in the late '80s, he made a return to Blue Note with three solo piano outings recorded at New York's Merkin Hall, Revelations, Things Ain't What They Used to Be, and Soliloquy.
Into the '90s, Tyner stayed active with his trio, paying homage to the Coltrane with his 1991 trio album, Remembering John. He also continued working with his big band, taking home the Grammy for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Performance for 1991's The Turning Point and 1993's Journey. There were also vigorous dates with Joe Henderson, David Murray, Bobby Hutcherson, Christian McBride, and others. In 1995, he paired with saxophonist Michael Brecker for Infinity, taking home the Grammy for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance (Individual or Group). The album also garnered Brecker the Grammy for Best Jazz Instrumental Solo for his work on their cover of Coltrane's "Impressions." Tyner rounded out the decade with a Burt Bacharach-themed album, a trio album with Stanley Clarke and Al Foster, and an all-star Latin and Afro-Cuban album featuring players like Claudio Roditi, Steve Turre, Dave Valentin, and more.
More acoustic bop sessions followed in the 2000s, beginning with Jazz Roots: McCoy Tyner Honors Jazz Piano Legends of the 20th Century on Telarc in 2000, followed by McCoy Tyner Plays John Coltrane at the Village Vanguard in 2001 alongside bassist George Mraz and drummer Al Foster. He also picked up yet more accolades, including being named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master in 2002. In 2004, he picked up his fifth Grammy Award for Illuminations, which found him leading a quintet with Terence Blanchard, Gary Bartz, Christian McBride, and Lewis Nash. The following year, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Music from Berklee College of Music. Another studio album, McCoy Tyner Quartet, arrived in 2007 and featured saxophonist Joe Lovano, bassist McBride, and drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts. Guitars arrived in 2008 and found Tyner leading a trio with Ron Carter and Jack DeJohnette, and showcasing a handful of genre-crossing string-specialists, including Marc Ribot, John Scofield, banjo player Béla Fleck, Derek Trucks, and Bill Frisell. The pianist was again on his own for 2009's Solo: Live from San Francisco before pairing with Larry Vuckovich for 2013's duo session A Pair of Pianos. Tyner died on March 6, 2020 at his home in New Jersey. He was 81 years old. ~ Matt Collar
A virtuoso bassist, Charnett Moffett was an ebullient and lyrical improviser whose work straddled acoustic post-bop, electric fusion, and contemporary jazz. The son of drummer Charles Moffett, Sr., he first garnered attention as a member of Wynton Marsalis' group in the 1980s. He also played with such icons as Tony Williams, Stanley Jordan, and Ornette Coleman. His own work was stylistically broad-minded, and albums like 1989's Beauty Within, 1994's Planet Home, and 2019's Bright New Day showcased his spiritually minded and harmonically rich approach to contemporary jazz. It's a sound he also explored with his wife, singer/guitarist Jana Herzen, as on 2020's Round the World and 2021's New Love.
Born in 1967 in New York City, Charnett Moffett grew up in a musical family the son of drummer Charles Moffett, Sr. He started on bass at a very early age and made his recorded debut on one of his father's records at age eight. Growing up, he often played music alongside his siblings, including drummer Codaryl, singer Charisse, trumpeter Mondre, and tenor saxophonist Charles Jr. As a teenager, he attended Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts in New York City, before studying first at Mannes College of Music and then for a time at Juilliard School of Music. It was while at Juilliard, at age 16, that he won the bass chair in trumpeter Wynton Marsalis' quintet. He toured and recorded with the group for over two years, appearing on the trumpeter's Grammy-winning 1985 album Black Codes (From the Underground). While with Marsalis, he also played on saxophonist Branford Marsalis' first album, Scenes in the City, and recorded with others, including dates with Stanley Jordan, Sadao Watanabe, and Frank Lowe.
As a solo artist, Moffett made his debut in 1987 with Net Man on Blue Note. The album featured appearances by tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker, keyboardist Kenny Drew, Jr., guitarist Stanley Jordan, drummer Al Foster, keyboardist Kenny Kirkland, and several of his relatives (including his father). His sophomore Blue Note long-player, Beauty Within, followed in 1989 and found him embracing a more crossover, fusion-informed sound and working with Kenny Garrett and Stanley Jordan. The album eventually peaked at number eight on Billboard's Contemporary Jazz Albums chart.
Throughout the '90s, Moffett was active as a sideman, working with Tony Williams, Slide Hampton, Mulgrew Miller, Monty Alexander, Sonny Sharrock, David Sanborn, Arturo Sandoval, and Diane Reeves, among many others. He also played regularly with Ornette Coleman from 1993 to 1995. On his own, he continued to explore a blend of contemporary fusion and post-bop, releasing albums like 1991's Nettwork with keyboardist Kirkland, 1994's Planet Home with pianist Geoff Keezer and drummer Victor Lewis, and 1997's Still Life with pianist Rachel Z and drummer Cindy Blackman.
Following sessions with Wallace Roney, Harry Connick, Jr., and Herbie Hancock, among others, Moffett returned to his solo work with 2004's For the Love of Peace. A spiritual jazz-influenced album, it found him working with pianist Scott Brown, as well as his siblings, trumpeter Mondre Moffett and drummer Codaryl Moffett. Spiritual jazz and world influences continued to inform his work, as on 2006's Internet, which again featured pianist Brown, as well as drummer Eric McPherson. Around the same time, he formed a lasting partnership with singer/guitarist Jana Herzen, collaborating on 2007's Passion of a Lonely Heart.
Moffett then returned to his solo work with 2009's eclectic, world music-infused Art of Improvisation and 2010's East Indian-tinged Treasure. In 2013, he released two albums, Bridge: Solo Bass Works and the expansive, Eastern-influenced Spirit of Sound. In 2017, he released Music from Our Soul, which featured alternating drummers Jeff "Tain" Watts, Mike Clark, and Victor Lewis, as well as saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, pianist Cyrus Chestnut, guitarist Stanley Jordan, and percussionist Babatunde Lea. In 2020, Moffett and Herzen married and released their second album, Round the World, which featured covers of songs by Joni Mitchell and the Beatles. They also collaborated on 2021's New Love, a more fusion-influenced album that found Moffett singing. Moffett died on April 11, 2022 from a heart attack. He was 54. ~ Matt Collar
A master drummer known for his intense groove, Al Foster has remained a top-call performer for over five decades. Following his emergence backing trumpeter Blue Mitchell in the 1960s, Foster gained wide acclaim as a member of Miles Davis' fusion ensembles of the '70s and '80s, appearing on albums like On the Corner, Agharta, and The Man with the Horn. Over the years, he has played with a list of name players including Joe Henderson, Bobby Hutcherson, Herbie Hancock, and more. Though he has only recorded a handful of solo albums, including 1978's Mixed Roots and 2019's Inspirations & Dedications, he has performed regularly with his own groups and remains a respected leader.
Born Aloysius Tyrone Foster in 1943 in Richmond, Virginia, Foster grew up in Harlem, New York where he was first introduced to jazz by his father, an amateur bassist. Given a drum set at a young age, he practiced daily, drawing inspiration from many of the renowned musicians he was able to see live at the famed Apollo Theatre, including Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Dave Brubeck, and John Coltrane, among others. In 1964, Foster joined trumpeter Blue Mitchell's group, playing on such iconic Blue Note recordings as The Thing to Do, Down with It!, and Heads Up.
Following a period working with the house band at New York's Playboy Club, Foster joined Miles Davis' group, debuting alongside fellow drummers Jack DeJohnette and Billy Hart on the classic 1972 album On the Corner. With the departure of DeJohnette, he became Davis' main drummer, touring with the trumpeter for the next several years and appearing on such boundary-pushing fusion albums as 1974's Big Fun, 1975's Agharta, and 1976's Pangaea.
Also during the '70s, Foster began composing and leading his own band. In 1978, he released his debut album as a leader, Mixed Roots, which featured contributions from saxophonists Michael Brecker and Bob Mintzer, bassist Jeff Berlin, and more. Along with his continued work with Davis, the drummer branched out in the late'70s and early '80s recording with a bevy of luminaries including Duke Jordan, Horace Silver, Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, and others.
After Davis returned from his self-imposed six-year exile, Foster joined him in the studio, appearing on 1981's The Man with the Horn, 1984's Decoy, 1985's You're Under Arrest, and 1989's Amandla. Throughout the '80s, the drummer continued to balance his work in contemporary and fusion idioms with more acoustic post-bop dates, appearing with Branford Marsalis, Randy Brecker, Carmen McRae, George Benson, and Donald Byrd. In the '90s, he recorded notable sessions with Joe Henderson, Steve Kuhn, Bobby Hutcherson, Roy Hargrove, and others. He also began leading more of his own groups and in 1997 released his second solo album, Brandyn, with saxophonist Chris Potter, pianist Dave Kikoski, and bassist Doug Weiss. He also recorded as a member of saxophonist David Liebman's Quest, playing with pianist Richie Beirach and bassist George Mraz.
Foster's solo output increased in the 2000s as he joined saxophonist Joe Lovano, guitarist John Scofield, and bassist Dave Holland in the supergroup ScoLoHoFo for their 2003 debut Oh!. He then issued the 2008 quartet date Love, Peace, and Jazz! Live at the Village Vanguard. In 2012, he paired with pianist David Birnbaum and bassist Weiss for the trio album Three of a Mind. There were also albums with Eddie Henderson, Larry Willis, Kenny Barron, and more. In 2019, Foster made his Smoke Sessions debut with Inspirations & Dedications, featuring his quartet with trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, saxophonist Dayna Stephens, pianist Birnbaum, and bassist Weiss. ~ Matt Collar