I was working with P. Norman Grant in 1977-78 and our baby was WBBY-FM, Jazz 104. We had the beginnings of a mainstream jazz radio station, that was soon to be broadcasting twenty-four hours, setting Central Ohio on fire.
One of the advertising promotions was with a sponsor, Peaches Records and Tapes, located on Morse Road on Columbus’ north side. On this particular Sunday in June, 1978, Williams Music was coaxed into delivering a seven foot Steinway Piano to the record store for a solo piano concert featuring the phenomenal Geoff Tyus.
WBBY-FM was featuring a Tyus album called Mt. Vernon Avenue and he was more than willing to come to the record store, play for an hour and sell as many of his self-produced records as he could.
I owned a Sony TC-126 stereo tape recorder, that I was about to take to Switzerland for the Montreux Jazz Fest and this afternoon I brought it to the event. I placed two decent microphones beneath the piano and set the levels to stay out of the red zone. I recorded on Memorex high-bias cassette tape and although I didn’t get the quality of sound and stereo spread that a studio engineer would get, it is the quality of the performer that I hope will stand the test of time.
Geoff Tyus has inherited his drive, skill, taste and inventiveness from his Aunt Martha Stewart, who was a piano accompanist to pioneering singer Marion Anderson, his Uncle Bill Stewart, Sr., who was a saxophonist with the great Sammy Stewart Orchestra and music director for Josephine Baker during World War Two. His cousin, Bill Stewart, Jr., was a reed player also and had a very good life in music.
Geoff played with the Rusty Bryant Combo and during his New York years in the early 1970s, he claimed that the Miles Davis Band had three keyboardist, Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett and him. He never appeared on any Miles recordings to document his claim.
But Geoff was the ultimate hotel lounge keyboard artist; a quiet entertainer, totally immersed in his technique. I met him in 1976 when he was the cocktail pianist at the opening of the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Columbus. I saw him at Engine House Number Five, Clyde’s at the Governor’s Mansion and Jimmy’s Place in German Village.
His premier engagement was in 1983, when Goeff spent most of the year as the pianist at the Kapalua Bay Golf Club, Lahaina, Hawaii. He told me that lots of Los Angeles celebrities would golf on the three courses or had homes on the island and would frequent the club.
He said that one of the club guests was guitarist George Benson and one evening, after the job, they went to George’s home and jammed all night in the basement studio. Geoff got a copy of the tapes that they made that night and when he returned to Columbus after the Kapalua engagement, he was bound and determined, with George’s blessing, to release a new record on his Tyusco Records label.
Geoff Tyus passed in Florida in November, 2007 and has left a legacy of music behind for us to enjoy.