Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now


McCoy Tyner

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. 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.

Jazz piano legend McCoy Tyner’s annual two-week residency at Yoshi’sis one of the Oakland, Calif., jazz club’s most anticipated events— the shows sell out months in advance. The program for Tyner’sninth annual residency was a mega-star lineup, hand-picked exclusivelyfor Yoshi’s: The first week featured Tyner with Bobby Hutcherson onvibes, 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’sperformance, and learned that there’s a lot more to getting the rightacoustic jazz sound than might appear at first glance.


Dan Pettit, Yoshi’s sound manager, has worked at the club for nineyears and has an even longer association with Tyner. “I’ve donepretty 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 goodperson to be around. I used to work with him back east, and when I waspreparing to move out here, he said, ‘Go to Yoshi’s and tell themI sent you.’”

Pettit explains that the biggest challenge in setting up for atwo-week show — as opposed to the typical one- or two-night gigsthat Yoshi’s usually books — is coping with the various artists’instrument and equipment requirements. The arrangements can getespecially complicated when these particular ensembles are assembledfor a one-time event. “For week one, I got McCoy’s rider, I gotJack DeJohnette’s rider, Bobby’s rider and Cecil’s rider, and had tocome up with all of their individual needs,” says Pettit.“McCoy is a Steinway endorsee, so we got a hold of the local repat Sherman Clay and said we wanted a good Hamburg German Steinway. ThenI got a hold of a drum kit for Jack DeJohnette, who endorses Sonardrums; 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.’”


Yoshi’s has adapted over the years to accommodate a broad range ofacts, expanding the Meyer P.A. and adding equipment. “We weredesigned to put on jazz trios, and as soon as the room opened, the thenbooking agent decided to go after more pop-based groups. We had atwo-week residency with Bruce Hornsby. Our P.A. for Bruce’s eight-pieceband was not going to work, so we had to bring in different mixingconsoles and all sorts of rack gear and a lot of extra monitors andsuch. And the more we did that, the more I realized that we really needto re-tool. In 1999, we started re-tooling; we’re still doing thattoday.”

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


“Since McCoy is the marquee guy, and he has probably the leastamount of projection, he needs the most help,” says Pettit, whoplaces a pair of AKG C411s contact pickups right on the soundboard in asymmetrical line: One on the low end and one on the high end. “Weuse that as kind of a power-booster, just to get more isolation andoverall sound into the system, and we use a trio of open-airmicrophones over the strings and hammers of the piano. Those consist ofa Neumann KM 84 on the low end, another Neumann KM 84 in themid-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 bringthat out a little bit. So when the pianist goes all the way up thekeyboard, you don’t have that dropout like you normally hear withacoustic pianos and the way they’re miked in situations likethat.”

Pettit says that this is a standard piano setup: “I work withpianos for well over 200 days a year, so a lot of experimentation hasgone 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 thehouse, 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 isolationproblem. “It’s usually a problem having him so close to the drumsand having the microphones about 2 feet above his bars,” heexplains. “For that particular run, I used an AKG 535 on the veryhigh end, and I used a stereo Audio-Technica 822 on the low and midsections. I was getting a lot of bleed from the bass and some of Jack’scymbals. So I did a first for myself: I took two Shure 57s and put themon short stands and put them right underneath the bars inside so thatthey were kind of shielded by the projection tubes underneath thevibes. It worked very well because I got more isolation; one of themain factors on a stage like that is getting isolation with yourmicrophones, because everybody’s right on top of each other. I wassitting there, scratching my head, thinking, ‘Okay, how can Ideal with this?’ One night I put one mic under there and I likedthe results, so the next night I put another one under. I ended up withbasically five microphones on the piano and five on the vibes. It maysound like overkill, but it’s like spices: If you blend them justright, you get a good balance.”

For the second week, Pettit took two lines from McBride’s bass, anElectro-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 someof 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 lushballad where the vibes lead, I may put a little reverb on the vibesjust to expand them a bit.”

Yoshi’s is already scouring the books for Tyner’s tenth annualresidency, and Pettit plans to be around for that event. “McCoyis pretty much become the go-to guy. We know those are going to be acouple of really good weeks.”

Sarah Jones is a technical editor at Mix.

Portrait of McCoy Tyner trio onstage, by SteveJennings

Photo by Steve Jennings

Clickhere for interview extras with Yoshi’s sound manager Dan Pettit