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Cecil Taylor: This Music is the Face of a Drum

Robert Levin By

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"In directing the band I try to communicate the aesthetic basis on which black music is built. I'm teaching the musicians in the band the philosophical and spiritual factors which resulted in the idea of black music—a very ancient music. I'm telling them the precepts. I'm giving them the idea of how black men proceed. I'm not expecting them to play as black men, but I'm trying to teach them how to assimilate, as much as they're culture will allow it, black procedures, and to assist them in achieving their liberation For example, I said to a young, white woman in the ensemble: 'This music is the face of a drum,' and her whole attack changed! Blacks would play the music in a different way, but anybody can play it—anybody can interpret it. What you do is you have an exchange and each person takes what he deems to be valid. The whites in the band are attempting to come to terms with the black aesthetic of music.

"You see, what white intellectuals must be confronted with is the black methodology that creates this music. Stravinsky and Bartók made a statement in a certain way, but blacks put it together differently—their way—and Ralph Ellison's notion of the symphonic form as the 'ultimate' is a lie.

"My purpose," Cecil concluded, "is to carry on the tradition of Fletcher Henderson and Duke Ellington and therefore to reaffirm and extend the line of black music that goes back thousands of years."

By my lights, every performance by a Cecil Taylor group is an event. But the first New York appearance of the "Cecil Taylor Ensemble" (which reliable sources report is making "astonishing" music) will clearly have a special significance and I, for one, am eagerly looking forward to it.

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