Cecil Taylor has died. The legendary pianist recently celebrated his 89th birthday. What a legend. What a legacy. He took what Art Tatum started and freed it. That’s a simple description – but it’s how I’ve always heard him.
There were great free players to come – better players even. But they needed heroes, they needed examples, they needed to know what to do and how to do it. And Taylor – a working pianist since the 1950s was one of the giants of the genre.
And when he played straight – or fairly straight – it was just great in my book too. His album, Love For Sale from 1959 is the first Cecil Taylor that I heard. And I loved it then – and still. It’s not typical by any means. Not when it comes to what Taylor did. But it’s a pleasant, exciting jazz album – it might be something of a sore-thumb in Taylor’s discography but it still works for me. Magnificent playing.
I love how Taylor would take a standard and all but break it. Break it into something new.
So many of his albums meant so much to me in my discovery of jazz – Conquistador!, Praxis, Solo, Silent Tongues, Live In The Black Forest…That list could go on. Those are the ones – along with Love For Sale – that mean the most to me. They’ll have to do for now.
They are all-timers for me.
He invented his own language. He had a way of hitting, percussively, expressively, at the keys. He considered them “88 tuned drums”. He took what Art Tatum started. And freed it…
Now he’s been freed. We have his music to hold onto – still. If you can catch it you get to keep it. Even if only for a bit at a time.
R.I.P. Cecil Taylor