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All About Jazz: The web's most comprehensive jazz resource

Genius Guide to Jazz

Cecil Taylor: Tackling the Ivories

By Published: December 4, 2006
The late 50's saw Taylor experiment with elements of post-bop on his first album, Jazz Advance, with saxophonist Steve Lacy and classical bassist Buell Niedlinger. At a time when the Free jazz movement was beginning to gain ground, finally gaining respectability with its 27-21 upset of the Bop school in the All Jazz championship in 1958, Taylor was as significant a figure as Ornette Coleman and perhaps moreso, because his name is easier to spell. Forging an alliance with saxophonist Jimmy Lyons in 1961, the Cecil Taylor Unit moved boldly into the future, wearing a false mustache and affecting a limp just to throw off The Man.

Now in his mid 70's, Taylor continues to remain active. A documentary released on DVD entitled All the Notes, provides a visual exploration of Taylor's life and music, stopping just short of revealing his famous pecan shortbread recipe hinted at on 1966's seminal Unit Structures if you know how to listen for it. A lifetime in music has brought Taylor worldwide acclaim, a McArthur Genius Award, an audience with the President (albeit Jimmy Carter), and a unique place in the pantheon of American music that Barry Manilow couldn't find with a GPS and a Tibetan sherpa.

No mention made of Taylor's poetry, or his love of dance, except this one, tucked almost unnoticed into the aftermath of this piece. No chin-scratching debate over the merits of his work, nor devotional ode to same. No exploration of his manifold eccentricities, even if I were in a calling-the-kettle-black mood, and not one single word about the possibility that his music may in fact be coded messages sent to Prince Hall Freemasons worldwide. Just Taylor, in hints and gags and hindsight, left to be considered alone and on his own terms.

I'm sure he wouldn't have it any other way.

Till next month, kids, exit to your right and enjoy the rest of AAJ.


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