Where’s the sleight-of-hand man’s third hand?

Feb 25, 2008 Where’s the sleight-of-hand man’s third hand?

My inextricably intertwined connection to jazz and criminal defense practice is explained here. My related deepening fascination with John Coltrane and his music are covered here. Coltrane is such a big influence on me that he has been on my cellphone ringtones for several months, with A Love Supreme having been on there for the last several weeks.

With that backdrop, yesterday my wife, son and I stopped by a downtown D.C. hotel to check out its award-winning restaurant we want to visit soon. As my nearly two-year-old son rode up and down the hotel’s elevator and ran in and out of the building, a distinguished-looking man was standing outside talking to one of the staff. Later, my son and I passed him in the lobby, and he said he enjoyed seeing my son enjoying himself. I asked where he was visiting from. He said he is from New York and is a musician. He was beginning to look familiar, and I asked his name: “McCoy Tyner”. To have that happen to me is like having a rock fan bump into Bono or Sting when no other fans are in sight.

I was overcome with joy and emotion; this is no exaggeration. I have met several jazz greats — usually in brief passing, aside from my two lengthy meetings in 1999 with Cecil Taylor (back at his hotel post-concert, along with our close mutual friend Trudy Morse and numerous others) and 2001 (more briefly, at Trudy’s birthday celebration)  — but never have felt so overwhelmed in the presence of artistic genius. I suppose my reaction was a mix of McCoy being a true giant whose music nearly wore down my stereo turntable needle (from the days before digital music), his amazing work for several years with John Coltrane (they’re both on my cellphone ringer with A Love Supreme), and my deeper-than-ever appreciation of jazz musicians of his ability and sharing.

Since the late 1970s, I would frequently play McCoy’s amazing music while studying from junior high school through college. I was almost convinced that he had a third hand, because I could not believe that a mere ten fingers could accomplish his keyboard range and coverage. I first saw him perform in 1978 at Carnegie Hall during the Newport Jazz Festival, but saw no glimpse of a third hand. In 1985, I saw McCoy perform again at the Village Vanguard, delivering another great performance, but still with no third hand visible.

At first yesterday I did not recognize McCoy; he shaved the thin mustache that graces his homepage. He is the real McCoy, of course. When I shook his hand, I saw those long fingers that could play four octaves seemingly without moving his palms. I resisted the urge to ask for his autograph, lest my tribute to the man be spoiled by a focus on his celebrity. I also refrained from asking to see his third hand, but the third hand is still on my mind.

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