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McCoy Tyner's sound

Discussion in 'Recordings [DB]' started by lermgalieu, Apr 22, 2004.

  1. Does anyone know if he has specific mic placements or choices that he requires when recording/performing, or if that unique sound he gets out of a piano is just emanating from his soul? How about Herbie Hancock?
  2. I'll take a shot, having heard both these guys in person. Pianists are just like us bassists in that their sound is just as important and hopefully as identifiable as ours are. Of course, i'm sure, alot of pianists might have mic preferences, thier sound, as you put it, is part of thier musical soul. I've known some pretty good pianists who swear they could recognize Bill Evans touch with just one note.....I don't know about that, but you get my drift!
    Alot of this has to do with the use or lack of, the pedals.
    Since Chris is a pianist as well as bassist, hopefully he'll chime in......
  3. Pianists are obviously hallucinating. They're not in direct contact with the vibrating element of the instrument; they use a mechanical contraption at every possible touch point.

    Note choice, voicings, dynamics, sustain pedal use, and so on are recognizable from player to player, but they are not changing the sound of the instrument. These are elements of style, not sound.

    I've played both wind and string instruments, where you can obviously change the tone of the instrument and work toward getting "your" tone. Casual observers can tell that one sax player sounds different from another, etc....
  4. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    I disagree. While there is a certain amount of tone that comes from the instrument itself (including intonation), the sound of an instrument varies greatly from player to player. What most people don't realize about the piano mechanism is that the touch the player uses while pressing down the key has a lot to do with the force generated. Add to that the release time of each note, which is extremely personal from player to player, the use of incremental pedaling, the balance between the melodic voice and any accompaniment, etc., and the sound is every bit as personal as any other instrument - you just have to know what to listen for.

    Listen to Chick's sound, the way he gets an extremely crisp attack on each note, and how the notes have just enough space between them to "dance" from one to the next. You can hear that he plays with curved fingers, but does not "dig in" to the keys, which causes a heavier, more sustain-oriented sound. Compare this to Keith Jarrett, who plays as deep into the key as any romantic repertoire specialist; his sound is extremely legato and "singing", and it carries the entire house whether live or on the record.

    Speaking of singing legato sounds, I played a gig with Lynne Arriale a couple of years ago where she was playing a *****y little Acrosonic spinet. After hearing the HUGE sound she got on that gig, I at first thought, "Hmm, maybe I need to change my opinion of spinets"...until I sat down and played it - naturally, it sounded just like me playing a *****y little spinet. This past Friday I went to her trio gig at the local jazz club, and she asked me to play during soundcheck so she could check the house sound, and again, I was astounded at how deep into the key I had to get to try and emulate her huge sound, even though I've got about a foot and 90 lbs on her. And no way can I imitate that even legato sound she gets. It comes from the center of her body, and she's worked a lifetime to get it.

    As for McCoy, you need to remember that he's a very large man, and that he pounds the crap out of the piano. I saw him play live about a year ago, and he was playing a 9' concert grand so hard that you could physically see it shaking and trying to roll away from him as he played. I'd say the sound that LERM is hearing is pure McCoy. Unfortunately, I haven't had the pleasure of seeing Herbie live, but I'm willing to bet it's the same story. You know how people always say that when they play a different bass, they sound like themselves? IME, it's the same with piano.
  5. Davehenning


    Aug 9, 2001
    Los Angeles
    I am with Chris on this one.

    Bill Evans while remarking on his frustration on the general low-quality of club pianos said that someone like "Oscar Peterson can over come a bad piano just through sheer technique." He also said that most clubs pay more attention to the Juke-Box than the piano.

    Touch, by the intstrument's and player's nature is what separates each pianist's sound. Just as Ron Carter or Miroslav can pick up any bass and it is going to sound more or less like themselves.

    I saw McCoy years ago playing with Elvin Jones and he POUNDED the hell out of the piano he was playing. (granted, it was Carniegie Hall!) But McCoy certainly sounded like McCoy. That being said, I have seen Kenny Kirkland play on a junky house piano and he sounded just like the Kenny Kirkland I knew from records! *musical envy here* :)

    I truly believe that "touch" is probably more important than and is definitely more consistent that mic placement.

    Just some thoughts.....
  6. Piano players obviously can exert individuality. You can call this manner of playing their "sound." But as far as physically producing a different waveform on an oscilloscope, they can't do very much in that direction, whereas you can do a great deal on other instruments. You have some limited control over attack and decay on piano, no control over intonation and vibrato is impossible. Once the note is struck, there's nothing you can do except cut it off. On other instruments, you can swell, shake, shimmy, dip, fade, flutter, flare. whatever. And you can start the note with very different attacks as well.
  7. Davehenning


    Aug 9, 2001
    Los Angeles
    There are some good points you make, but I disagree.

    The combination of touch, choice of notes and use of the pedals all contribute to each pianist's "sound."

    Limited control is not as big a factor as one might think. I can tell Keith Jarrett from Bill Evans pretty clearly.

    There is an excerpt from Kenny Werner's book about Bill Evans's B-Day party where several differnt pianist at the party play on the same piano.(it was a brand he would not mention) According to Werner, they all sounded very good, but as soon as Evan's sat down and played the piano, it sounded like "Bill."

  9. In fact, you do not disagree. You just are referring to "style" as "sound." It is a common usage of the word "sound," but in this context somewhat confusing. That you can tell different piano players apart is because of their different styles. Any given note, at a certain volume on a certain piano, will sound the same as played by any piano player. Any musical passage played by a certain piano player on any piano is possible to be recognizable as that piano player. These are not inconsistent statements.
  10. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    How is this different for a piano player than for any other instrument? Okay, a piano cannot bend notes or make vibrato sounds. Beyond that, it seems the same as any other instrument to me...
  11. Sea Bass driving the speed limit, I personally think its more accurate to call what I am talking about in my initial post as "sound" rather than style. I am not really thinking of his use of pedals, phrasing, or note choices as much as his attack...the common sound of his notes. I know your point is that if anyone hits the keys in the same way, they will get that same sound, however, few DO. There is a consistency of this attack that gives him those distinct agressive 'punch' notes consistently. I call it "sound", you call it "style". Either way, its pretty unique to the individual.

    However, I think my question has already been answered - I was most curious to know if that aspect of M.T.'s sound was exaggertaed by a certain recording technique, since I've never seen him play. And the answer seems to be emphatically "no".
  12. I understand that piano mechanics are piano mechanics. But I need some better answer than "style", as distinguished from interacting with the instrument, as to why I always recognized Tommy Flanagan's touch and sound.

    Chris, you reminded me of when I was coming up in Rhode Island, sitting in on my mentor's steady gig. I remember walking in when Dave McKenna was sitting in on the club spinet. He was knocking down walls. I expected keys and strings to come flying out of the box.
  13. Or bows or plucks a bass string the same way.

  14. Really? Well, it seems pretty clear on bass how much control you have, particularly bowing, since you can vary your attack and decay a lot more, but even plucking, you can still work the note with your left hand. You can also pluck in different places to get different timbres of the same note. You can play the same pitch on different strings and different places on the neck to get the same pitch. You can use open strings or not every time they come up, which have their own sound.

    On a woodwind, you can change your embouchre to get different sounds ranging from quite dark to quite bright, move the horn around in your mouth, push your lip against the reed, tongue or not tongue, (like hammering on and pulling off on bass, which you also can't do on piano) use alternate fingerings to get slightly different sounds, and even microtones. You can move the bell in relation to the listener to create further doppler like effects.

    All a piano player has is volume and timing of the various notes, which of course the other instruments have as well.
    All in all, it's quite a poor instrument except for the little detail of being 8 octaves and polyphonic.
  15. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    Even I am not this bored...
  16. It do go on and on and on. :oops:
  17. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    Are you a pianist?
  18. Lovebown


    Jan 6, 2001
    Yeah very true. And for pretty much every other instrument too.

  19. Really, though, the evidence really does bear this guy out. I mean, can you think of just one piano performance over the last century or so that wasn't unmusical and mechanical-sounding? :rolleyes:
  20. No wonder few bother with harpsichords any more. Now those sythesisers with the pitch bending wheel and other sound changing gizmos - now you're talking.

    How about this from newish classical piano sensation from China Yundi Li quoted in the Financial Times today (nope, I haven't heard of him before, but he played in Frisco recently):

    "Beauty of sound is very important for me, but you have to find the sound as much as make it. It comes from inside the piano. If you don't find the right sound, it will not go out, even if you dig deep into the fortes... there must be something inside (meaning inside yourself I think from the rest of the article), or else you are just playing on the skin."