Cecil Taylor at the Take 3, 1962-'63
With the completion of an evening's last set, Cecil's usually eager to check out what's going on in clubs that are still open. But on this night, a sultry night in late August, he's not feeling well and he wants to go home. I need to get home as wellto finish an overdue Blue Note liner. "You're killing me, Robert," Frank Wolff had said to me earlier on the phone. "Frank," I told him, "I'm suicidal myself. This is the fourth Jimmy Smith album you've assigned me. Didn't you get that I had nothing to say about him the first time? Why doesn't Joe Goldberg have to do these?"
I plan to accompany Cecil as far as Second Avenue.
"What's the matter with you?" I say once we're outside. "You don't have the clap again? I warned you not to sit on public piano stools."
Cecil who's looking a little gray, grimaces. "Ulcer attack," he says. "I have something to take at the apartment."
The stomach ulcer has been a persistent concern for Cecil (he's convinced it will soon become something lethal) and waiting for traffic to pass on the corner of LaGuardia Place, I'm about to ask him if he's seen his doctor recently when this guy I'd noticed standing outside The Take 3 approaches us. "Excuse me, Mr. Taylor," he saysand to me, "Excuse me, Sir." He's black and around my age.
"Mr. Taylor," he says, "I just wanted to tell you how amazing I think you are and how much I love your music. No one can play the piano like you do."
Cecil smiles. "Thank you," he says.
"I wish I could be a musician," the guy goes on. "I've taken lessons, but I'm no good at it. I just don't have the aptitude for it, I guess."
Cecil looks at him and says gently, "Then be a good listener."
Not a bad answer, I think, and I'm instantly rankled by it.
"What empty shit," I say after the guynodding earnestly, then smiling broadly and vigorously shaking my hand as well as Cecil'sbacks off. "'Be a good listener.' Was that the best you could do?"
"I don't know what you mean," Cecil says as we resume walking. I see that his countenance has brightened considerably. Cecil responds well to adulation.
"I mean that's not what he wanted to hear," I say.
"He seemed satisfied to me, Bob," Cecil says. "But then you may be right. Since when do I give people what they want to hear?"
"He wanted you to tell him the secret," I say. "When he digests what you said he's going to sink into a profound depression."
Cecil gives me a sidelong glance. "Are you talking about him, Bob? You're not starting some shit here, are you?"
I ignore this. I'm remembering something I'd all but buried, but which is suddenly of great importance to me, and I say: "Come to think of it, since when do you really give much of anything, even when you say you will?"
Cecil stares at me. He obviously has no idea what I'm talking about.
"Cecil," I say. "What the fuck happened to 'Bobt'?"
"What the fuck happened to who?" He says.
"To 'Bobt', I say. "Shit, man. Not 'who.' What! 'Bobt'!"
"Bob," he says laughing at me. "Listen to you. Are you're having a fit of some sort? Should I take you to an emergency room?"
"You said you were composing a tune for me and that you were calling it 'Bobt,'" I say. "That was a year ago. I've waited long enough, don't you think? Where is it? I want it."
"You want it?" Cecil says. "Have you collapsed into an infantile state, man? Do I need to remind you of the vicissitudes of the creative process?"
"In other words you never wrote it," I say.
"'In other words, please be kind'," Cecil sings. "'In other words...'"
"You were bullshitting me," I say. "Will you cut the crap and give me a straight..."
"It was absorbed by something else." Cecil nods to himself after he hears what he said. He bought a moment with the musical interlude and he's pleased with the answer he's come up with.
"'Absorbed by something else'?" I say. "That's beautiful. Well you know what, Cecil? I'm going to write a poem for youa poem I'm going to finishand I'm going to call it..."
"'The Magnificent One'?" He says. "'The Immortal...'?"
"I'm going to call it 'The Insufferable Self-Centered Prick,'" I say.
"Bob," he says, his hand on his chest, "Are you saying that I'm self-centered? Me? The amazing Cecil?"
"I'll tell you what I'm saying," I say. "I don't need this shitthat's what I'm saying. The one thing I do get back from knowing and touting the 'amazing Cecil' is reflected glory, and it definitely has some practical benefitsI can point to two occasions when it's actually gotten me laid. [For some reason, Cecil finds this little joke hilarious.] But is it worth the indignities I have to suffer? Will it make me immortal, too? No, you can shove reflected glory, man. I don't have to settle for it anyway. I'm making some moves. I'm going to be my own Cecil Taylor."
Cecil feigns a horrified expression. "You...you..." he blusters, "you would dare take my name, the name of Cecil?"
I stifle a laugh. "And I'm not exactly beginning at zero either..."
"Listen," he says, "there's something I haven't told..."