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Last Member of the 'Classic Quartet' Is Dead at 81

McCoy Tyner's full-blooded playing gave post-bop its signature piano sound
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 7, 2020 11:00 AM CST

(Newser) – McCoy Tyner is no more. The nimble and innovative jazz musician—called by one critic "the most influential pianist of his generation"—died Friday at home in Bergenfield, NJ. He was 81. Tyner will always be associated with John Coltrane's "classic quartet," which erupted in the 1960s with pieces like "My Favorite Things" and "A Love Supreme." As the Washington Post explains, Tyner's "shifting chords" and "fleet-fingered solos" pushed Coltrane's saxophone to greater heights. "Even though John was, so to speak, the engineer of the train, each of us had to fashion his own concept," Tyner once said. "The stimulation was mutual; while we always felt the strength of John’s presence, he told us that what he played was a reaction to what was happening around him."

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Disturbed by Coltrane's increasing atonality, Tyner broke free in 1965 and carved out a solo career that included the landmark album The Real McCoy (1967). He went on to win five Grammys for records including Blues for Coltrane (1987), The Turning Point (1991) and Journey (1993), per the New York Times. He also stuck stubbornly with acoustic piano as jazz experimented with funky styles and electronic music. Born the son of a beautician and a factory worker in Philadelphia in 1938, he converted to Islam as a teenager, married once, and had three sons. "To me, living and music are all the same thing," he said. "And I keep finding out more about music as I learn more about myself, my environment, about all kinds of different things in life. I play what I live." (Read more obituary stories.)

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