Jazz Appreciation Month, a national observance, has special resonance for Philadelphia, where more than 40 jazz-related events are planned for April. To kick it off, the Philly JAM honored Philadelphia-born jazz great McCoy Tyner on Wednesday.
Tyner's life in jazz began in the humble environs of his mother's West Philly beauty shop, the only place the family could fit his piano. Returning home Wednesday morning, Tyner found himself in the far more formal setting of the Mayor's Reception Room at City Hall, where Mayor Nutter presented him with the city's Liberty Bell Award.
"Jazz, of course, is one of America's most authentic and original gifts to the arts and to humanity," Nutter said during the ceremony. "The roots of jazz in Philadelphia are strong and deep. . . . I'm very pleased to honor one of our most incredible, legendary jazz musicians with a very special Philadelphia recognition."
Tyner, 76, accepted the award with brief but heartfelt words of gratitude, which he later expanded on in the office of the city's chief cultural officer, Helen Haynes.
"It feels great because I grew up here, went to school here," Tyner said. "It's good to be back here and to be received in the town where you were born. It's a great city and history that we have here."
Tyner remembers those early days with fondness, even recalling a time when the great bebop pianist Bud Powell stopped in to play in Tyner's unusual practice room, among women being shampooed and styled.
"Richie Powell, Bud's brother, moved into the neighborhood, and Bud moved with Richie," Tyner said. "Bud used to walk around the neighborhood, and I invited him to come in and play my piano. He was one of my heroes."
It wasn't long before Tyner was out of the salon and on the road.
At 17, he began the most fruitful musical collaboration of his life when saxophonist John Coltrane discovered him. Along with bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones, they formed the ground-breaking and highly influential John Coltrane Quartet, which produced some of the most enduring music in jazz history during the first half of the 1960s.
"Coltrane was a very influential artist," Tyner said. "That was an experience I'll never forget. He used to practice all the time. We'd check into the hotel and he'd take his horn out and start practicing.
"He was very dedicated to what he was working on. I'm just glad I went along for the ride."
After leaving the John Coltrane Quartet in 1965, Tyner embarked on a solo career that produced nearly 80 albums over the next half-century, earning four Grammys and the title of Jazz Master from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Wednesday's ceremony also served to kick off the city's fifth annual celebration of Jazz Appreciation Month, which recognizes the rich history of the music in Philadelphia and celebrates it with a diverse range of performances in the coming weeks.
During the announcement, Haynes called Philadelphia "one of the most important jazz legacy cities in the world" and mentioned a short list of renowned artists who hailed from or were born in Philly, including Coltrane, Sun Ra, Jimmy Smith, and Grover Washington Jr.
"Jazz is America's unique art form," she concluded, "which has influenced music globally. We celebrate this great legacy during Philadelphia Jazz Appreciation Month."
Jazz Appreciation Month packed with activities in Philly
Bobby Zankel & Rudresh Mahanthappa. Saxophonist Mahanthappa joins Zankel's Warriors of the Wonderful Sound big band as part of their newly launched First Tuesday series. 7 p.m. Tuesday, Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts, 738 S. Broad St. Tickets: $15. Information: 215-893-9912, www.clefclubofjazz.com.
Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea. The two piano greats (and Miles Davis alumni) join forces for a rare evening of keyboard duets. 8 p.m. Saturday, Academy of Music, 240 S. Broad St. Tickets: $55-$129. Information: 215-893-1999, www.kimmelcenter.org.
This Trane Stops in Philly. Lifeline Music Coalition explores the ways John Coltrane's time in Philadelphia influenced his music, with a panel discussion and performances by the Clef Club Youth Ensemble and Arpeggio Jazz Ensemble. 7 p.m., April 18, Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts, 738 S. Broad St. Free. Information: 215-893-9912, www.lifelinemusiccoalition.com.
Kenny Garrett Quintet. Saxophonist Garrett got his start in Miles Davis' later bands and in the Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra. Since then, he has forged his own path as a post-bop master. 7:30 and 10 p.m., April 23, Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts, 738 S. Broad St. Tickets: $35. Information: 215-893-9912, www.clefclubofjazz.com.
Wallace Roney Sextet. Trumpeter Roney has the distinction of being the only trumpeter personally mentored by Miles Davis, keeping that sound alive with his own band, combining veterans Buster Williams and Lenny White with young rising stars. 8 p.m., April 23, Venice Island Performing Arts Center, 7 Rector St., Manayunk. Tickets: $35. Information: 267-279-5388, www.phillycatsinhats.org.
Center City Jazz Festival. The annual festival expands in its fourth year into five venues (Chris' Jazz Cafe, Fergie's Pub, Franky Bradley's, MilkBoy Philadelphia, and Time Restaurant), packing nearly 20 acts into a daylong celebration. Scheduled acts include Ben Schachter, the Daud El-Bakara Sextet, Dena Underwood, Ernest Stuart, the Fresh Cut Orchestra, the Huntertones, Matt Davis' Aerial Photograph, Max Swan, and the West Philadelphia Orchestra. 1 to 7 p.m., April 25. Multiple venues. Tickets: $15-$20. Information: www.ccjazzfest.com.
- Compiled by Inquirer staff