Learning about McCoy Tyner’s death today sent me on a journey into the Way Back Machine:
When I moved to Boston in 1977, one of the first things I did was to go to Ken’s on Copley Square because I was told by several people that they served amazing sandwiches there. Never one to pass up an amazing sandwich, I sat myself at the counter and ordered up something potentially scrumptious.
There was a guy sitting next to me (also alone), and he looked so darned familiar. Could it be? No way! I spent about 15 minutes summoning up the nerve to turn to him and say, “Excuse me, but you look a lot like McCoy Tyner.” He looked at me and said, “Well, I AM McCoy Tyner.” (Sidebar: I was never able to achieve similar success with subsequent usage of this slick Opening Line. Women, in particular, never really responded to it. But I digress.)
I then introduced myself as a jazz pianist about to enroll at New England Conservatory. McCoy seemed genuinely interested and asked who my teacher would be. “Jaki Byard,” I told him. “Jaki? He’s my guy,” McCoy said with a smile. We then made small talk until our Amazing Sandwiches arrived.
That’s about the end of it. But it’s no small thing: a random encounter with one of my idols, someone who literally invented a new dialect in the language of Jazz Piano, turned out to be a very nice guy. How very refreshing.