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April 2, 2020

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Influential jazz pianist McCoy Tyner dies at 81

He launched solo career in mid-1960s after rising to fame in Coltrane band

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McCoy Tyner, one of the greatest and most influential pianists in modern jazz history, has died at the age of 81.

The death of the keyboard giant, who rose to fame in the early 1960s as a member of the pioneering quartet led by saxophonist John Coltrane, was reported on social media Friday by his family.

“It is with heavy hearts that we announce the passing of jazz legend Alfred ‘McCoy’ Tyner,” his family wrote in a statement on Twitter. “McCoy was an inspired musician who devoted his life to his art, his family, and his spirituality. McCoy Tyner’s music and legacy will continue to inspire fans and future talent for generations to come.”

A triple-threat as a composer band leader and pianist whose playing combined fire and finesse like few others, Tyner had an enormous impact on several generations of musicians, in and out of jazz. His admirers included the hip-hop duo OutKast, punk-rock godfather Iggy Pop and Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Roger McGuinn, the leader of The Byrds, who in 1968 wanted to add a pianist to the band who played like Tyner. The Byrds’ 1966 hit, “Eight Miles High,” was directly inspired by two of the Coltrane Quartet’s albums with Tyner, “Africa/Brass” and “Impressions.”

Throughout his career, Tyner approached his music with equal verve, wit, sensitivity and fearlessness.

“Don’t be afraid to take a challenge and go into new territory,” he said in a 2006 Union-Tribune interview. “If you know what you’re doing, it’s very inspiring. Fear itself can stop you. But if you’re not afraid, you have a chance.”

Tyner launched his solo career after leaving the Coltrane band in the mid-1960s. The pianist performed in San Diego multiple times over the decades, appearing at The Neurosciences Institute Auditorium, the Catamaran, the International Blend, Sherwood Auditorium, and Anthology.

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