Thoughts on Cecil Taylor

I guess I should start at the beginning: Lo those many years ago, when I first picked up an instrument, my main desire and goal in life was jazz and to one day be good enough to play on a Steely Dan record.  Yup, you read that correctly.  All of my closest music pals from my high school felt the same way.  How we figured it was that only the best cats played on Dan records so that's what we aspired to.  We had a lot to learn obviously (even though I still revere them today we will soon see I evolved).  Anyway, I'm still not "good enough" to play with that band but two of the reasons are pop music and songwriting intervened and then eventually I was exposed to Cecil Taylor.  When I first heard Cecil's music I realized what it must feel like to fly a 747 jet solo.  It was breathless, unfettered, unchained to any modern convention and completely, utterly free, propelling at 600 miles an hour.  The only way I can describe to my own experience was the way I felt when I played hockey.  I could skate away from anyone and dare them to catch me and the rink was the one place not even my father could touch me and the wind was always in my face to remind me I was alive.

Cecil taught me there's no one way to be brilliant and to forge your own path.  Rarely doing something the same way twice (unless it was absolutely the only way to do it right).  Breaking boundaries, charting new territory, exploring the unexplored or unimagined.  Pushing yourself beyond what you previously thought capable.  Going your own way.  Cecil always went his own way.  And he was absolutely uncompromising.  An important lesson to hold.  Always keep pushing.

He frequently collaborated but many will say he did his best work solo.  It's hard to argue with this and his catalog is so vast and diverse but when he did choose to collaborate it was always with the best musicians on the planet.  I mean, they were the only ones who could keep up with him!  He was an experimenter, a ground-breaker, and innovator and most certainly a certifiable genius. So while he received the Kyoto Prize, the MacArthur fellowship, the Jazz Pioneer award, NEA grants and many other accolades there weren't enough.  It's just not possible.  He was quite possibly the most unique musician this country has ever produced and while he doesn't need a monument to his greatness in my opinion (and I'm pretty sure he wouldn't care) more importantly we better not ever forget that a giant, a true monumental behemoth, once walked among us and made the rest of us gasp, go "wow" and only hope to one day reach those unimaginable heights while simultaneously taking our collective breaths away.

So when some, many actually, of my mainstream music friends ask me (often) why I would throw away a seemingly successful pop/singer-songwriter/producing career back in 2011 and pursue almost exclusively free improvisation I simply answer "Cecil Taylor".  I'll never reach the top of that mountain but Cecil singularly showed me how.

As I said on Facebook the day he died, "I can't think of another single musician who affected me, inspired me or taught me more with their music than Cecil Taylor did. You can say he's totally free now but he always was." #RIP #CecilTaylor

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