A couple of weeks ago, I played a concert with Avery Sharpe as the bass player. I was a bit “freaked out” going in, because Avery was the longtime bassist of one of my piano idols, McCoy Tyner (John Coltrane’s pianist). I had heard Avery live several times with McCoy’s trio and even had played along with records of this group regularly during my college days.
Now here I was, onstage with Avery, playing one of his tunes. I wanted to be confident and just enjoy the moment, but questions kept popping into my head — Should I “comp” (accompany) and solo like McCoy, or should I avoid delving into that whole bag of tricks? If I were to use fourths voicings and pentatonic scales, would Avery roll his eyes and think, “Here we go again… just another second-rate McCoy copy-cat?”
Eventually I settled myself down by being mindful that my pianistic style is just a big melting pot of all my influences (with some of me mixed in there for good measure). At one point I deliberately incorporated a lot of McCoy-isms into my playing. Why? — because I love(d) and embrace(d) his contribution to the jazz piano continuum. Now those devices and his spirit are integral parts of my own playing.
During the gig I played it cool and never let on how I was questioning myself; but afterwards, I wrote to Avery, expressing what I said above. He sent me the following response, which I think you’ll agree was kind, reassuring and incredibly thoughtful:
It was great playing with you at Jazz In July. I could hear the influence of McCoy on your playing and it was cool. We did a recording with Michael Brecker with McCoy and the trio and some really great tours together. Michael would say to me “I just want to play my Trane stuff when I hear McCoy, because all those recordings McCoy is on with Coltrane. I hope McCoy will not be offended. I told Michael to play whatever he is feeling and hearing and it will be cool. McCoy dug Michael’s playing and said nobody can play like John; just be yourself. We all have our influences. Years ago I did a gig with McCoy and Louis Hayes, and Dizzy Gillespie was a special guest with us. We played “Night In Tunisia”, and I couldn’t believe I was playing that tune with Dizzy, and some of his other tunes. I hope we get a chance to play together in the future, if something comes up let me know. Believe it or not I’m am at another Jazz Camp for the next two weeks (Litchfield Jazz Camp in CT.)
Speak to you soon.
I found solace in hearing Michael Brecker had concerns similar to what I underwent, and thought others might also benefit from hearing this story. Let me know if you’ve had a comparable experience.