Joe Brazil Interviews McCoy Tyner

Joe Brazil with McCoy Tyner
November 22, 1971

McCoy Tyner: [Plays] That’s what I was saying. Lots of the things we used to play. We didn’t really discuss things. [Laughter] That’s why it’s so hard for me now to talk about it. We didn’t talk about music. We just played. [Laughter].

Joe Brazil: Would he by any chance run down the cycle of what he was doing? Or did he just do it?

MT: Except for Giant Steps. You know. He would say, “I’m playing the cycle of fifths.” After a while he just stopped playing that.

JB: What about some other stuff like Body and Soul?

MT: That was a set… he had written out certain chords, set chords, for that, alternate chords. He fit the cycle there, the cycle of fifths in there, that’s why they got in there.

JB: He kept developing. Like when you heard, what was the tune that was a big hit? Favorite Things. On the original record, and then I heard it in Seattle and you know [laughs] it had developed.

MT: Yeah. I understand. You see that wasn’t… We didn’t… See that’s what I’m talking about. That’s why it’s so hard. I can’t really… I don’t think it’s really important to explain it. Because you can’t. All I know is that my ear developed to a point, playing with him…

JB: Of course. I guess it’s like a reciprocal thing.

MT: Years ago, cats could say I’m breaking down this, breaking down that, playing this and playing that. It’s not like that.

JB: That’s what I was bringing up. I don’t think it could be defined.

MT: It can’t be defined. I don’t know. Maybe we should get that on tape.

JB: Ok. [Laughter. Tape turns off and on]

MT: …Miles and the flat five…Dizzy came out with that type of thing.

JB: Like Woody ‘n’ You?

MT: [plays chords from Woody ‘n’ You] And during that time there was a certain, everybody played a certain type of way.

JB: What if you’re teaching a cat? Like you say your teaching cats in New York. Say if you were teaching a cat that was maybe developed a little bit. What would be your approach of teaching him then?

MT: Well, you see, most of these kids aren’t taught.

JB: Beginners, yeah.

MT: Some of them weren’t but they didn’t know a lot of the fundamental things.

JB: Then it’s a basic thing – scales, see what notes, what finger to use.

MT: The only thing I could really do would be to maybe show them how certain chords can go against another. Something like that. And the scale relationship to the chords. So they wouldn’t have to be limited to playing within the chord, necessarily, but using the chord itself as a pedal to launch off on to something else.

JB: Well maybe we could benefit by something like that. [Laughter]

MT: [plays chords over a G pedal] Like if I play G minor… this is one thing I was doing when I was working with John, is that each note of the scale could be a chord.

JB: Right.

MT: You could use each note of the scale and develop as a chord or a sound. In G minor, for instance, you have [plays] and you’ve got B-flat minor [plays]. B-flat minor could be a complete sound within itself. The G is still there. But you know where you started from. The B-flat minor is within that sound. All the notes of that particular scale is within that particular sound. So you are actually not wrong. You could get a G. [plays] See, it’s still there. C minor. [plays]

JB: It’s like planting that sound and then doing whatever that sound fits here.

MT: Yeah.

JB: You plant that sound and then it remains.

MT: Right. It’s all the way through. It’s like a… it’s something to launch yourself off. You launch yourself off that. See it still gives you the freedom to play within that sound. Because like, there’s a thing, like, if you start off like Jones used to play, boom-chick-boom, he played time, ding-ding-dink-a-ding-dink-a-ding. Nowadays they don’t play like that. When you start a tune off you know where the time is. We were playing off the pulse. Like it sounded like we were playing a lot of things that at the centers. Sounded like we were playing with no time. Well, actually, there wasn’t no ding-ding-ding, we were playing off like a pulse. You don’t walk to the sound of your heartbeat. Your heart says, “boomp, boomp.” You don’t say, “boomp, boomp” trying to keep up with your heartbeat. Your heart is beating at a rhythm and you are walking at another rhythm. It’s the same thing with playing music. Just because you are playing in a key, that doesn’t mean that you are limited to the key itself. There are so many things that are related to that particular key. It’s like I was saying in G minor, you look at a standard tune, the way it resolves, the natural resolution would be maybe to go to C minor. The reason they resolve is because C is part of the key itself. So are other notes.

JB: In other words, one is not more important than the others.

MT: Yeah.

JB: Like tonic is more important, but not necessarily.

MT: Yeah. All over music, they have established a drone or a certain thing. A drone. Like in Africa, the rhythms are the tone, you may start at any particular tone, or any particular key, or drone, then they would take that and everything else would happen on top of that. And you can take it as far as you want to go. As long as you know where you came from.

JB: So, if you were practicing. What would you sit down and practice? I mean, like, scales, or make up a cycle and then try to develop it?

MT: I don’t practice like that anymore.

JB: What would you practice like?

MT: Scales. When I do practice, I practice scales. Theory is good up to a point. After that… I’m saying it’s good to know it, it’s good to know how a brother’s approach to improvising, but up to a certain point, it’s a matter of what you hear and how you can develop it. It’s a matter of emotions. It’s a matter of knowing form. I may be playing in a different key and all of the sudden decide to go, according to my feelings, to a chord that’s maybe related to that key or maybe one that’s not related to that key.

JB: You know, the point I’m getting at is maybe somebody else may be hearing these same things but they don’t have the capabilities of doing it. You might feel like you want to go there, and do something very different, but then you haven’t gotten yourself developed to go there. You know?

MT: Well, that’s the thing.

JB: So how’s the guy going to develop?

MT: If he can hear, he’ll do it. It’s a matter of really playing your instrument well enough so that you can do what you can hear.

JB: That goes back to that other thing.

MT: Yeah. There’s a certain part, an area of music you can’t explain.

Unknown voice: It’s like a transition.

MT: Our music has never been a Western concept of explaining music.

JB: Yeah. Right. Right. [Laughter]

MT: Our music has never been like that – explained. Even in Indian music, they take a raga, they have 700 scales, 700 ragas, one for the morning, one for the evening. Sounds pretty restrictive. But then they take that raga and they work with it. In between the notes and everything like that. And they improvise, like all black peoples of the earth always improvise their music. We never sit down and systemize everything where it came from. That’s why I say it’s moved out of the realm of… see, what’s happening, I think it’s wrong to make a study, I mean when I say wrong, I think for musicians, if you’re trying to approach it from a teaching aspect, that’s different. I think for musicians to take it and study it to the point wherein they say, “This brother broke this chord up here so that’s the way it’s supposed to go. I know it was broke up that way so I’m going to stick with that.” [Laughter]

JB: It’s lazy.

MT: When you reach a certain point, it’s you, it’s the individual, and the individual effort.

JB: Has there been a point in your life where you practiced like 8-10 hours a day?

MT: Unh, unh.

JB: I mean, like, 4-5 hours a day consistently over a couple of years?

MT: No

JB: 4-5 years? You’ve gone beyond that now.

MT: Yeah.

JB: I think for cats to get control of their instrument, they got to go through that certain period of learning the instrument.

MT: That’s the way it is. Learning the instrument. That’s the whole idea. Otherwise you will be restricted to just playing a certain area.

JB: You can’t do something. If you have the idea, you can’t go there.

MT: That’s the whole idea is to learn the instrument well enough to go wherever you can hear. And by playing an instrument every day and practicing, you’ll go all the places, but you’ll get tired. Your facility will evolve to the point where you just, you’re not going to be satisfied with just going right here, playing within 2 octaves. You want to play maybe 2 or 3 octaves or something like that. You want to try some other direction. That’s the reason why I think a man like Bird, I heard that he knew what he was doing but he didn’t know what he was doing. He was playing like that since he was young. Somebody said, “Where did Bird develop?” He was playing like that ever since he was young. So apparently, he heard that. You see? He heard that. So what cats did, they made a study of Bird.

JB: Somebody will come along after him.

MT: Right. What I’m trying to say is that with him it was a spontaneous thing. It’s like, “Well, God, I don’t know how you can figure out what he did.” [Laughter] I’m trying to figure out myself. How I can some kind of way get it across verbally and think it’s almost impossible. It’s almost impossible because music is a language that is hard to… you just can’t communicate everything. Some think it’s like a religious experience. You can’t tell some person, “Man, I felt like this when I was communicating with God.” It’s just something that you have to experience. You can give a person an idea. But then the actual thing is…

JB: But you’ll know when you get there.

MT: Yeah. You’ll know it. I think that’s just the way it is. Yeah. I was thinking about that, Joe. It’s really a different approach, man. I don’t know if it’s different. I just think that… I guess it is different. It’s a supreme power. How can you, ah?

JB: You just got to experience it.

MT: You don’t want a guy to be limited to just what you’ve shown him.

JB: Right.

MT: Just what you’re doing. You want him to have the freedom to express himself. He might know technically what you’re doing. He might know what that chord is. But why you did, why you played that chord…

JB: At that time.

MT: At that time. See what I mean. Or why he decided to maybe play a part of it and mix it up with something else. He can’t explain why he decided to do that. It’s not a theory of when I’m going to hit a bulls-eye, I was resolving from here. [Laughter] It’s a thing where you are more of less functioning on a disparate level.

JB: When you can get yourself up that far.

MT: It’s a different level of awareness.

Unknown voice: Yeah. Like I guess you explained it. I was fooling around with a basketball. You mentioned how those cats can stand back there an make a basket and don’t touch the rim. I don’t think you can explain how he does that. If you could just get out book, damn! [Laughter]

MT: Maybe it’s a level that he developed that’s beyond explanation. That makes him do that. Maybe he’s got a science. That’s what it is. Music is a science. It’s a science, man. Cats out there can play musical scientist in many respects. That’s why I think music has been used in the past, it has been used in many capacities, and it is a form of worship. And also, it has been used to, it’s being used now in hospitals, in the past it has been used for many other things. What we call magic now a days. I think music can be used to stimulate people to do anything.

JB: Yeah. We were talking about Yusef and the black scientists and everything. But I bring up an analogy, sometimes it’s like, when a black musician is playing and he is creating spontaneously, he must be doing some tremendous things with the mind in order to be able to be performing, and thinking, and communicating all at once. When a cat is reading, he is just taking it off the thing. But he’s doing this right on the moment and he’s creating, he’s composing, and playing. That must take a great deal of intelligence in order to be able to do that.

MT: Well that’s what it is. It is an intelligence that is not used voluntarily. He’s not thinking about it. That’s the reason why I think we are natural scientists. I was surprised at electric pop, you know, meaning something as simple as that, a man doesn’t do that right there, anything you can think of, them being scientists, creating the sciences that had a hand in bringing about music. I don’t think any of us who studied on it… but I think a lot of it is natural. I think we are endowed with more knowledge than we actually realize. Like they say, “You can’t stop it. Genius. It comes out.” But we don’t believe it. [Laughter] You see, that’s the thing. A man may have knowledge but if he’s constantly told, “You don’t have none” then, you know, that’s something you’ve got to believe.

Unknown voice: One of you here told me black people were scared of jazz.

MT: Well, it’s a matter of proportion because it’s true. I think people are afraid of truth any flavor, any kind of truth, if they are not used to it, being exposed to it. If they want to live a false life. If it’s not true you’re only guessing. We need better ways that will dominate.

Unknown voice: That’s weird.

MT: I think we’re going through [unintelligible] and I think that sometimes something that may not be alien to you but because you have been misinformed or miseducated will turn you into saying, “That’s strange. I don’t dig that.” Some people who are ready for it will immediately react and say, “Let’s run this up.” A lot of the time I think we don’t realize how living in a society where we have been programmed on just about every angle. I know you all realize, but you go down to the music, playing certain music that people in a certain thing are thinking. There is a study, I think, I don’t know what [unintelligible] There is a study where different tunes affect certain parts of the body. Certain tones affect certain points of the body. There’s a science there. That’s the reason why people respond to certain things because it has like a physical, not only it’s physical but it’s sort of a spiritual and physical effect on them at the same time, certain notes or certain ways of playing.

JB: There’s a book I got called The Mysticism of Sound.

MT: Yeah. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet. You can’t delve into anything without getting into the spiritual aspects. Without spirit, the body wouldn’t live. That’s the whole thing. That’s what the key is. That’s the part of Him that’s in us that keeps us alive. When that goes, we just go away. Back to dust. [Laughter]

JB: We got to do that TV show early, 7:30 in the morning.
[tape ends]

[audio tape of TV show]
McCoy plays Search for Peace


McCoy plays Peresina (partial)

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