For the May 2005 issue of State of Mind‚ we asked Marco Benevento of the Benevento-Russo Duo to share his thoughts on fellow pianist McCoy Tyner.

McCoy Tyner is a major influence on any student of piano… or even anyone who listens to jazz. There's so much to McCoy's playing. What everyone notices about it is his super percussive style‚ his harmonic sense‚ and his innovation in making chords in intervals of fourths (wonder where he got the title Reaching Fourth for one of his records). McCoy is always pushing harmonic boundaries‚ and he uses fourths as a means to create a lot of that.
McCoy is on all of my favorite records. A Love Supreme was the first record that I heard him on‚ and his style immediately grabbed me. It was so captivating and his playing was like nothing I ever heard before. As I dug a little deeper into his discography‚ I found so much experimentation. He has made very spiritual‚ free records (i.e. Extensions) with a lot of great musicians‚ and these records were all about modal experimentation where he would do his thing all in one key -- exploring one tonal center‚ but putting his gigantic harmonic sound into it. When you hear that‚ you say to yourself‚ "That's so McCoy." That's his sound‚ his own sound. And he does it in forms as well. For instance‚ he has this song called "Blues on the Corner‚" and it's based around a blues form but he puts his whole McCoy sound into it with so much harmonic dimensions. It's a standard now.
He has so much attack‚ where his playing is really aggressive‚ and his technique is amazing. I saw him play in New York recently and I was watching his right hand and it looks like he's wearing a boxing glove. He has this huge muscle bulging out of his right hand. I was thinking how he's been playing for so long and going back to the days when he was playing with Coltrane‚ imagining the piano being the instrument in the live setting that couldn't be heard so well‚ and one had to play really rich and percussive. McCoy had to find a way to play all of those fast notes and make them stand out‚ and he really developed a technique that nobody else‚ obviously‚ can create as well as him. I imagine McCoy as a "super heavyweight butterfly‚" with this really light touch‚ but at the same time so strong and aggressive.
As most people know‚ McCoy was the piano player of that amazing quartet‚ the John Coltrane Quartet‚ with Coltrane‚ Jimmy Garrison‚ and Elvin Jones. Anyone who studies jazz has to check out McCoy and most of Trane's records. In addition‚ McCoy's first album on Blue Note‚ The Real McCoy‚ is remarkable. A tune like "Passion Dance" is just incredibly lyrical and good. The harmonic ideas he provides in that album have definitely given me so much to work with‚ and I have tried to make them my own. A lot of pianists can hop into "the McCoy bag" because once you hear him you say‚ "I want to do that!" I went through a period where I was transcribing a lot of his work and kind of "stealing" lines from him.
A lot of the musicians I've hung out with and that I've gone to check out all over the world have gone through this "McCoy stage" thing. I remember reading an interview with Brad Mehldau when he first moved to New York‚ and he said that he found himself in the McCoy bag for a while‚ and then he was into the Wynton Kelly thing‚ while he was trying to find his own sound. Of course‚ his approach now is much different‚ but everyone kind of passes through McCoy on their way to developing their own voice. You have to go through McCoy‚ just like you have to go through Art Tatum‚ Bud Powell‚ and Bill Evans‚ and you try to create your own sound. I'm sure McCoy had to go through his own "stage thing‚" perhaps the great Tatum and innovative Powell on his way to finding his own voice. Now‚ we go through many other great artists‚ and McCoy is one of them‚ before we find our own sound.
The feeling I get when I listen to McCoy is one of nostalgia‚ knowing that he was one of the first pianists I listened to when I was learning jazz. I listened to A Love SupremeThe Real McCoyMy Favorite Things and SunShip almost every day with all my friends. When I was studying jazz‚ McCoy was compulsory listening and studying it was a pleasant challenge. Today‚ sometimes when I listen to McCoy‚ I just feel an immediate connection to what it was like to be a beginning student of jazz and how super inspiring that was to hear something so mind-blowing and unique.
McCoy's playing gets me in this deep meditative‚ pensive frame of mind. I feel that he too got to where he is because of his meditating and studying. Hearing his music‚ I can feel the depth of his work. You just kind of stop and listen. It's intense‚ a rush from the feeling of concentration. Invariably a particular phrase is replayed‚ more than once: "Whoa‚ what the heck was that? I need to hear that again."
McCoy was there at the birth of Coltrane's own quartet. It's just super powerful. What quartet is going to come around that's that influential? Their legacy will go on forever. Jazz teachers will always recommend listening to The Real McCoy and A Love Supreme. I'm just amazed at his stamina and vitality. McCoy is in his sixties and he's still doing it. He's definitely one of my heroes!