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    McCoy Tyner: Ballads & Blues


    Pianist McCoy Tyner is best known for being a member of the John Coltrane Quartet beginning in 1960. During those years, Tyner re-invented the piano as a highly percussive, stirring instrument that churned the waters for Coltrane's abstraction and expanded spiritual solos. For some strange reason, in late 1962 and the first half of 1963, Tyner was asked by producer Bob Thiele to record more straightforward jazz albums as a leader. These albums included Reaching Fourth, Today and Tomorrow,and McCoy Tyner Plays Duke Ellington. But the finest of these straightforward piano recordings was Nights of Ballads & Blues.

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    Perhaps Thiele overheard Tyner playing standards in the studio one day and decided to record him. Or perhaps he felt that Impulse would be best served if Tyner could play two roles for the label—agent provocateur for Coltrane and elegant trio leader for the older, more relaxed set. Recorded in March 1963, Nights of Ballads & Blues featured Tyner with bassist Steve Davis and drummer Lex Humphries. They were perfectly matched.

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    Tyner's playing is exciting and exceptional on all of the tracks: Satin Doll, We'll Be Together Again, 'Round Midnight, For Heaven's Sake, Star Eyes, Blue Monk, Groove Waltz and Days of Wine and Roses. On the album, he exhibits a reserved elegance and tenderness that reveals the other side of his personality—a lover of melody and standards. In this regard, there are traces of Oscar Peterson in his playing. Perhaps Thiele was using Tyner to take a bite out of Peterson's vast and successful early-'60s share of the jazz market.

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    But Tyner's passion for modal jazz and the avant-garde seeps through in fascinating places, addition a modern flavor to many of the songs. Unfortunately, we learn little about Thiele's motive or Tyner's decision to record the album from the unsigned liner notes. What is revealing, however, are Coltrane's impressions:

    "Tenor saxophonist John Coltrane has pinned down the characteristics that have given Tyner this ability to reach an ever-widening public—'melodic inventiveness' and 'clarity of ideas.' Coltrane has also pointed out the basic reason Tyner is and has been important to the world of avant-garde jazz: 'He gets a personal sound from his instrument; and because of the clusters he uses and the way he voices them, that sound is brighter than what would normally be expected from most of the chord patterns he plays.' "

    Aaaaa

    Tyner's avant-garde work is indeed exceptional. The Real McCoy(1967) is a perfect example that more robustly illustrate Coltrane's points above. But for those less familiar with Tyner, Nights of Ballads & Blues is a fine entry point to the magnificent pianist.

    JazzWax tracks: You'll find McCoy Tyner's Nights of Ballads &Blues here.

    The album also is available at Spotify.

    JazzWax clip: Here's Tyner playing an absolutely exceptional version of Star Eyes. Dig his modal touches that season the rendition...

    And here's 'Round Midnight...

    Sonny Rollins: Copenhagen, 1968

    On February 19, 1968, tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins was in Copenhagen at the Cafe Montmartre, the city's most historic jazz club. Sonny was in fantatic form and backed by a stunning trio—pianist Kenny Drew, bassist Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen and drummer Albert Heath. The following video went up last month and, to be frank, it is among the finest performances by Sonny that I've seen on tape. [Image of Sonny Rollins from YouTube]

    Bob Lark and Phil Woods

    Today on Marc Myer's JazzWax: By my count, trumpeter and flugelhornist Bob Lark and alto saxophonist Phil Woods recorded six albums together prior to Woods' death in 2015. Their sixth and final collaboration, Thick as Thieves, recorded in 2009 at Chicago's Jazz Showcase, has just been released. It's a solid swinger, despite my initial trepidation over the predictable song choices. What keeps this album from being predictable is the quintet's ability to breathe fresh fire into bop standards you may not feel you needed to hear again. Lark's two originals also are fresh and dynamic. Backing Lark and Woods are pianist Jim McNeely, bassist Steve Gilmore and drummer Bill Goodwin—a superb trio that stirs up both artists.

    Videos: Black Women Cross Over

    Black female singers came into their own in the late 1950s and early 1960s as solo pop artists. Long pegged as jazz or R&B recording artists in the 1950s or members of girl groups in the early '60s, black women began to cross over to the pop charts thanks largely to exposure on major record labels, successful runs at supper clubs and appearances on TV variety shows. And let's not forget the importance of Ella Fitzgerald pioneering the American Songbook. Here are a bunch of newly uploaded videos I found of leading black American female vocalists (and a British superstar) between the mid-1950s and mid-1960s:

    The Harry South Songbook

    Harry South is virtually unknown in the States today, but in the U.K. and throughout much of Europe, he was a highly regarded English jazz pianist, composer and arranger. South began his recording career in Britain the early 1950s and remained active until 1990, when he died in March of that year. Interestingly, he never seems to have toured or recorded in the U.S.

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