Cecil Taylor's music was always exciting, always pushing out the boundaries of what music was supposed to be, especially of what people thought jazz should be. He would certainly have not fit into the doctrinaire definitions of it, such as that of Rudi Blesh or as promoted in Ken Burns' very limited PBS series. I mention that because one member of the talented but conservative Marsalis family, someone whose music is listenable but seldom innovative or boundry pushing pissed me off by dissing the far more talented and courageous Cecil Taylor in it, no doubt discouraging some neophytes from giving Taylor's music a listen**. That's something that has been pissing me off ever since I heard it when it was first aired. I say to hell with people who discourage people from trying music.
The one time I was witness to Cecil Taylor's performance, it was one of the most exciting and fascinating things I've ever heard and seen, an experience that the recordings of his music can give but can't recreate in full. It was in some ways scary because it was so intense and Cecil Taylor had a way of bringing you into the experience, make you feel that what he was doing was important enough to give it your full attention. I have, in other places, posted part of his famous collaborative performances with the great figure in jazz, Mary Lou Williams, which was as fascinating for its being a congenial mixture of oil and water, their approaches were so different that the account of the difficulties were almost as interesting as the results. Given that, as a piano player, Mary Lou Williams was always pushing boundaries, trying new things, going new places, even in her late and to an extent retrospective performances, it was worth hearing. And I will be posting some of their collaboration with some of the recordings of Cecil Taylor's music in the coming week.
I can imagine their happy meeting in glory is at least as exciting.
* I read such shocked lamentations histrionically made, declaring that it was proof that there is no God, when the etimable Irwin Corey died at the age of 102 last year. I wonder what kind of joke Corey would have gotten out of such a display.
** Speaking about Jazz, the Burns series, not the music:
Until the final segments, Jazz maintains a flat, dull tone. But as the 1960’s come around and the history of the music itself loses an obvious linear thread, the hand of Mr. Marsalis becomes more evident. Regarding the avant-garde pianist Cecil Taylor, the film gets downright nasty–and it is Mr. Marsalis’ brother, Branford, who gets to wield the ax. He calls Mr. Taylor’s music “self-indulgent bullshit.” Then critic Gene Lees opines, “He has every right to make the music he wants, and I have every right to listen to something else.”
I can't say that I ever got excited at hearing Branford Marsalis's music.