Sitting right up front at The Blue Note in New York City is alone filled with the kind of jazz anticipation one can only feel at such a legendary venue, especially one with that iconic logo behind the bandstand as has this small room. Yet when the piano player McCoy Tyner’s chord-less trio—sax, drums, bass—took the stage to perform a few numbers prior to the entrance of greatness, one forgot about, for a moment, what was upcoming within minutes. Here’s where alto saxophonist Steve Slagle shined through a mini-set of his own, captivating the hungry crowd with post-bop awareness and fluid clarity.
Two rather large gentlemen then helped the frail, ailing legend to the stage, one under each arm, until Tyner was comfortably ensconced on his piano throne. Once situated, his eyes lit up. He tore into his chords like a man possessed, which, in a sense, he is. The ghosts of Art Farmer, John Coltrane, Hank Jones and so many others whom he’s influenced and who have influenced him run through his trills, arpeggios and glissandos. He’s dramatic, a natural-born entertainer, chopping at his notes like karate—don’t try this at home!—empowering his 88s in a percussive melee that thrilled, awed and wowed the lucky crowd. Truth be told, the man from Philadelphia, at 78, is certainly not in his prime anymore. Still, he knows how to command a stage and his chops are still so, uh, choppy, fun and engaging. When he would finish a solo, he wound wind up like Satchell Paige and throw an imaginary fast ball to whoever was taking the next solo. Now THAT’S entertainment.
The late-night set which started at 10:30 was over in a flash. Silence ensued before a warm wave of cascading love erupted from the stunned patrons at what they had just witnessed. We stood. We paid tribute. McCoy felt the love. I politely shouted for just one more piece. My fellow worshippers joined in and he obliged with a rambling swing that generously gave solos all around. When it was over, a second rush of enthusiasm ensued as he was helped off the stage—not easily—by the same two gentlemen.
It was like sitting there and watching Picasso paint, but more exciting. More kinetic. Hey, we may not have Pops, Diz, ‘Trane, Miles, Mingus or Monk still actively on a bandstand, but we sure got McCoy Tyner. Please note his legendary stint with Coltrane took place only from ’61 to ’65 when he quit to go solo. His subsequent half-century career as a leader has far eclipsed those formative years. Go see McCoy Tyner. He’s good for your soul. He’ll be back at The Blue Note Oct. 17 and Nov. 13 with two shows each night.
I kept thinking how experiencing Henry Rollins cracking wise onstage at The MusikFest Café in Bethlehem, PA must be akin to what it must have been like to hear Jack Kerouac stammer out his poetry back when those early beat audiences would snap their fingers instead of clapping their hands. The man unleashed a non-stop torrent of passionate and emotional comments about a host of subjects, not the least of which was how he first joined proto-hardcore band Black Flag back in ’81 after being a fan who, as he tells the story, hopped onstage with them for one song and did so good that they invited him to audition. He told of his Ramones love but how being trapped belly-to-butt in their crowd was somewhat intimidating. He strayed political but certainly not as much as I thought he might have in the age of Trump. He refused to even take a sip of bottled water, explaining that those artists who do so are basically turning their back on their crowds in a selfish act of hydration. It was no joke. He meant it. He imitated Ozzy and told some great stories about opening for Black Sabbath. When he was finished 90 or so minutes later, he had hardly come up for air. It was the type of fascinating—and rare—spoken-word evening that was positively riveting. Kudos must go booker Patrick Brogan who took a shot on this raconteur with a cult following and was rewarded with a sold-out show.