Cecil Taylor: 1929–2018

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HE BROKE THE RULES: One of the true legends of experimental jazz has passed this month, the man who nearly single-handedly helped define “Free Jazz” – Mr. Cecil Percival Taylor. May he rest in peace. The man was a pure extension of the keyboard, as if like the hands of Ganesha, an ecstatic practitioner of improvisation who played as if he were a quintet, wrangling his kit like a wild beetle. Admittedly I only had the privilege to see him play live once at the Regattabar in Cambridge, MA, but his electric playing, even in his late 60s (circa the mid 1990s), spun me ’round in circles. His sound was as sweet as it was boundless – a true maestro. If you had the pleasure to see him play, you likely know exactly what I mean – it was not simply skills and showmanship, Taylor put his entire viscous virtuoso into high gear and gave everything he had to the audience. In the five decades I’ve seen live performances, this is one of only three that literally left me literally trembling and slightly out of breath.

DANCED TO A DIFFERENT DRUMMER: One can appreciate him on so many levels, as an outsider as a queer African American musician who played radical music far from the norms of be-bop, Blue Note traditional (though he was associated with the brand for a time) or even “smooth jazz” – the man deconstructed the genre with poetry and abstraction (and with power). I’m sure he had many detractors and naysayers, given the differences and newness he brought to the table in a very straight-laced medium, but he was undeniably one of a kind in our lifetime. His style was a combination of grace and circumstance, he always seemed to have his toes dipped in the future, not too unlike one of his fellow auteurs, Sun Ra. Yet, Taylor managed to take and redefine many of his predecessors styles by developing an out-there hybrid that was a whole new undefinable genre.


TAYLOR CHANGED EVERYTHING: Not many potential key tinklers could ever compare to this impresario. For more details of this great man’s life go read the New York Times obit, while listening to one or more records from his cavernous catalogue (may I recommend two of my personal faves Unit Structures, Conquistador! and Solo if you can locate them)! I’ll never forget him or his music. With peace and respect to his family and loved ones, a spirit hath flown.

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