Our listening experiences are teaching moments, especially when you are a 16-year-old finding your way around an instrument. I’m thinking back to 1962-63 and the John Coltrane Quartet.

My brain was absorbed with pianist Oscar Peterson and composer Igor Stravinsky — two opposites yielding enough territory in between to allow for an imagination cycle: recycle and invent. Learning for me was all about gathering, processing and making sense of the world around me. Much like reading a book, practising music can let you shut out the universe and explore a lost continent buried deep in the cerebellum under useless layers of sales pitches and fractured, paved-over memories.

Coltrane put together what would be one of the most versatile, innovative quartets of the era. At the root of the new sound was modal improvisation and harmony spread in fourths propelled by orbital angular momentum. Pianist McCoy Tyner was a big part of that. His albums Reaching Fourth (1962) and Fly Like the Wind (1977) became my academy of higher piano learning, and Tyner was my tenacious instructor. He never gave up on me, even when I struggled to make sense of his intricate soloing patterns and thunderous accompaniment.

When you think about the evolution of piano, the early ’60s ushered in a radical change in concepts and possibilities. Tyner, Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock became the dynamic four after a brief fling with transitional pianist Bill Evans. Jarrett, the folklorist; Corea, the Spanish phenom; Hancock, the Prokofiev of jazz; and Tyner, the muscular mid-century Jack Johnson of the piano, relentlessly pounding the keys and spinning aural geometric shapes.

The Philadelphia-born pianist burst onto the jazz scene in 1959 in Benny Gibson and Art Farmer’s group, Jazztet. A year and a half later, he joined the John Coltrane Quartet, cutting several recordings for Impulse and Blue Note during his five-year stay.  Throughout the ‘70s, Tyner heightened his reputation as a leader and composer, recording various small groups for Milestone. In 1980, he put his arranging skills out front, forming a big band that performed and recorded for years.

Tyner passed away on March 6, 2020, at the age of 81.

I caught up with Tyner in 1992 and asked him about things a grown man would ask with a 16-year-old boy’s enthusiasm.