BCJO and McCoy Tyner Join Forces in Montreal

by Rob Hayes

  Greg Hopkins (left) and McCoy Tyner consult on the music at the sound check.
  Photos by Rob Hayes

After a chance meeting between Berklee administrators and Scott Southard, the director of International Music Network (IMN), the booking agents for jazz pianist McCoy Tyner, the Berklee Concert Jazz Orchestra (BCJO) got the opportunity of a lifetime. BCJO was invited to perform with the piano legend at Montreal's international jazz festival. Fast-rising trumpeter Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah '05 (who is also booked by IMN) joined Tyner and BCJO as a guest soloist on Tyner's challenging big-band charts for the July 3 program.

The Montreal festival is an event that all lovers of jazz and travel should see. The festival producers' attention to detail is remarkable and Montreal's urban setting is simply spectacular. The venue for this meeting of jazz youth and jazz history is the beautiful Théâtre Jean-Duceppe, in the city's Place des Arts, home to several concert halls.

The chance to play with an artist of Tyner's stature - and in such a location - comes but rarely, particularly for players at the beginning of their careers. Each of the BCJO members were mindful and showed appreciation, respect, and professionalism on and off the bandstand.

Christian Scott '05 delivers the goods with McCoy Tyner and the BCJO.  

The day before the show, when Tyner arrived for the two-hour rehearsal, the band applauded warmly. Tyner and BCJO conductor and Professor of Jazz Composition Greg Hopkins put their heads together, looked over the music, and laughed like a couple of pirates. Tyner was in a good mood. After going through two tunes, he complimented the band.

The following morning during the sound check at the Théâtre Jean-Duceppe, there was the usual chaos backstage, but you sensed that everyone knew where to be and what to do. Guest soloist Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah saw the music for the first time at sound check. But numerous phone conversations with Hopkins and more than a year of playing various dates with Tyner had prepared him for the challenging concert.

On the night of the show, there were, of course, butterflies - some of them quite active, in fact! BCJO opened with "The Time Has Come, the Walrus Said" by Mike Gibbs '63 and "Seven plus Five" by Noriaki Mori '07. The capacity crowd received both enthusiastically. Then Tyner walked from the wings and took his place at the piano. The set of his big-band music was a tour de force. The piano giant alternated between ornamenting and driving the young band that was playing far beyond its members' years. Scott aTunde Adjuah provided a focus and sass that brought the music to another level, and Hopkins conducted with verve and surprising vertical leaps. His young charges navigated the demanding music in lockstep with Tyner by keeping one eye on Hopkins and one on the charts.

After a well-deserved encore, hugs, and handshakes, band members lined up at Tyner's dressing room with their backstage passes for him to sign. He expressed his pleasure with the show, and genuine warmth passed between the master and the journeyman players.

Outside Théatre Jean-Duceppe it was a beautiful night, and Montreal looked like a sort of paradise. On the long bus ride home to Boston the next day, the students of the BCJO had time to savor their experience playing at a major jazz festival with one of the genre's most revered figures.