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"A lot of the young horn players I can't hire because the media have made them big stars," Tyner says. "They make as much money as I do. And a lot of these well-paid young jazz players are still just imitating the masters because they haven't had the chance to do their apprenticeship. Some of them are very talented, have been to music school and gotten a degree, but the practical experience of developing in a band for four or five years is not happening. You can explore the masters, but they can't hold your hand."
Tyner and Coltrane spent six years slowly building a following in the club scene, back before recording labels pushed jazz artists to stardom simply by pouring money into promotion. Not only is the industry different, but so is the attitude of the new jazz artist.
"Used to be you had to know what you were doing before you could get on a big record label. When I was coming up, I wouldn't even get on the bandstand with some jazz players unless I felt I was really capable of holding my own," Tyner says. "The bands would discipline you, too. If you came on as being arrogant, man, you would think you were stupid before they got through with you. They wouldn't tolerate it, and that's the way it should be. The standards were high. It's not like that anymore."
Others of Tyner's generation have obviously felt the same. Several years back, when trumpeter Wynton Marsalis invited himself onstage to play during a Miles Davis set, Davis brought his band to a halt until Marsalis crawled off.
"Wynton is a talented musician," says Tyner with a whiff of disdain, "but a lot of people are putting him up like he's greater than, say, Freddie Hubbard."
Tyner's obvious resentment of the young lions, however, is tempered by the ongoing success of his own career. Having conquered the nether regions of bombastic piano, the keyboardist continues to explore new avenues of making music and making money. Since 1988, he has released solo, duet, quartet, quintet and big-band recordings. In some cases, he's hurt his own sales by having too many albums out at once.
The biggest surprise in that forest of projects is his growth as a solo pianist, a setting where the mettle of his musical personality comes under greatest scrutiny. Old Tyner fans listening to 1989's Revelations or this year's Soliloquy may not recognize him. The power previously emoted in piano pounding has in those albums been moderated and spread across a bustle of thousand-note runs. The distribution of energy may vary, but the power level and masculinity remain all Tyner.
"I felt like that was a side of me that was important to explore further," says the pianist of his less-stormy recent solo recordings. "Just got to keep moving, you know?"
Tyner is already planning changes. You can bet that none of them will be nostalgic attempts to re-create Sixties jazz by milking his Coltrane connection. Let the younger players copy out of the jazz history books--Tyner continues to stretch out.
"I've got a project coming up that's really going to be different," says Tyner with a laugh, unwilling to give clues to the destination. "It's something I've been wanting to do for a long time."
"Maybe," he adds, thinking of the uncharted waters, "maybe, I'll go to Mars.