McCoy Tyner

Apr 1, 2003 12:00 PM, by Sarah Jones

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Jazz piano legend McCoy Tyner's annual two-week residency at Yoshi's is one of the Oakland, Calif., jazz club's most anticipated events — the shows sell out months in advance. The program for Tyner's ninth annual residency was a mega-star lineup, hand-picked exclusively for Yoshi's: The first week featured Tyner with Bobby Hutcherson on vibes, Cecil McBee on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums; the next week, Tyner teamed up with bassist Christian McBride and drummer Lewis Nash. Mix came down for the second week to check out the trio's performance, and learned that there's a lot more to getting the right acoustic jazz sound than might appear at first glance.

A MAJOR ONE-TIME EVENT

Dan Pettit, Yoshi's sound manager, has worked at the club for nine years and has an even longer association with Tyner. “I've done pretty much every set McCoy has done for Yoshi's since 1994,” says Pettit. “He's a special guy; he's a great player and a good person to be around. I used to work with him back east, and when I was preparing to move out here, he said, ‘Go to Yoshi's and tell them I sent you.’”

Pettit explains that the biggest challenge in setting up for a two-week show — as opposed to the typical one- or two-night gigs that Yoshi's usually books — is coping with the various artists' instrument and equipment requirements. The arrangements can get especially complicated when these particular ensembles are assembled for a one-time event. “For week one, I got McCoy's rider, I got Jack DeJohnette's rider, Bobby's rider and Cecil's rider, and had to come up with all of their individual needs,” says Pettit. “McCoy is a Steinway endorsee, so we got a hold of the local rep at Sherman Clay and said we wanted a good Hamburg German Steinway. Then I got a hold of a drum kit for Jack DeJohnette, who endorses Sonar drums; so you have to work with all of these artist relations people, and say, ‘Hey, I've got your guy coming in, these are the dates, work with me.’”

AN EVOLVING SOUND SYSTEM

Yoshi's has adapted over the years to accommodate a broad range of acts, expanding the Meyer P.A. and adding equipment. “We were designed to put on jazz trios, and as soon as the room opened, the then booking agent decided to go after more pop-based groups. We had a two-week residency with Bruce Hornsby. Our P.A. for Bruce's eight-piece band was not going to work, so we had to bring in different mixing consoles and all sorts of rack gear and a lot of extra monitors and such. And the more we did that, the more I realized that we really need to re-tool. In 1999, we started re-tooling; we're still doing that today.”

One example of the system's growth is an expansion into separate FOH and monitor consoles. “We have a Crest X8 40-channel FOH and a Spirit 32×12 console for monitors, so we can throw 12 mixes onstage. We've taken the approach that — much like the experience of doing sound — you have to be able to handle anything they throw at you. You have such a complete arsenal that you can say, ‘What do you need? Okay, give me a minute.’”

MIC SETUP: IT ALL STARTS WITH PIANO

“Since McCoy is the marquee guy, and he has probably the least amount of projection, he needs the most help,” says Pettit, who places a pair of AKG C411s contact pickups right on the soundboard in a symmetrical line: One on the low end and one on the high end. “We use that as kind of a power-booster, just to get more isolation and overall sound into the system, and we use a trio of open-air microphones over the strings and hammers of the piano. Those consist of a Neumann KM 84 on the low end, another Neumann KM 84 in the mid-section, and then something I like to do is put another condenser — an AKG 535 — on the very top two octaves of the piano. That's an undampened section that's very quiet, so I just like to bring that out a little bit. So when the pianist goes all the way up the keyboard, you don't have that dropout like you normally hear with acoustic pianos and the way they're miked in situations like that.”

Pettit says that this is a standard piano setup: “I work with pianos for well over 200 days a year, so a lot of experimentation has gone on, and that's pretty much the most consistent setup I've found. And it's really just a matter of keeping the piano up and heard in the house, and we don't mike the drums very often, if at all in that house, because they project quite well.”

One of the challenges during the first week was miking the vibes, and Pettit came up with an interesting solution to an isolation problem. “It's usually a problem having him so close to the drums and having the microphones about 2 feet above his bars,” he explains. “For that particular run, I used an AKG 535 on the very high end, and I used a stereo Audio-Technica 822 on the low and mid sections. I was getting a lot of bleed from the bass and some of Jack's cymbals. So I did a first for myself: I took two Shure 57s and put them on short stands and put them right underneath the bars inside so that they were kind of shielded by the projection tubes underneath the vibes. It worked very well because I got more isolation; one of the main factors on a stage like that is getting isolation with your microphones, because everybody's right on top of each other. I was sitting there, scratching my head, thinking, ‘Okay, how can I deal with this?’ One night I put one mic under there and I liked the results, so the next night I put another one under. I ended up with basically five microphones on the piano and five on the vibes. It may sound like overkill, but it's like spices: If you blend them just right, you get a good balance.”

For the second week, Pettit took two lines from McBride's bass, an Electro-Voice RE-20 on the bass amp and McBride's own instrument mic. Pettit says that he rarely uses effects on a standard jazz ensemble, with the exception of occasional compression on bass, to eliminate some of the boominess on the low end. “Very rarely do I use reverb, because Yoshi's acoustically has a great decay time, but say for a lush ballad where the vibes lead, I may put a little reverb on the vibes just to expand them a bit.”

Yoshi's is already scouring the books for Tyner's tenth annual residency, and Pettit plans to be around for that event. “McCoy is pretty much become the go-to guy. We know those are going to be a couple of really good weeks.”


Sarah Jones is a technical editor at Mix.

Portrait of McCoy Tyner trio onstage, by Steve Jennings

Photo by Steve Jennings

Click here for interview extras with Yoshi's sound manager Dan Pettit






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