Apr 08, 2018 Musical genius Cecil Taylor leaves his body – Remained true to his music
Cecil Taylor was as original as musicians came.
A few years after starting to play the trumpet at the age of nine (1972), I became enthralled by jazz music. Some of my early favorite musicians were Dizzy Gillespie, McCoy Tyner, Chick Corea, John Coltrane, Horace Silver, Charlie Parker, and Ahmad Jamal.
I became aware early on of improvisational music elsewhere in the stratosphere, from such greats as Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, Anthony Braxton and Old And New Dreams. It took some getting used to at first, this music that veered away from melodies and even common rhythms, often sounding like furious delivery of packets of sound. I learned that these great musicians were great, and not charlatans pounding directionless on their instruments. They refused to be bound by convention nor usual rhythm nor limitations on a music writing sheet.
Then I met the late Trudy Morse, a woman who remained as true to her own internal poetry and music as her good friend Cecil Taylor remained true to his music. Three years after my first meeting with my good friend Trudy, she introduced me in person in 1999 to Cecil Taylor — a musical genius she followed to numerous performances domestically and overseas — backstage before he began his amazing performance (where he at one point danced around the piano and at another point plucked at its strings) at the Library of Congress, and back at his hotel post-concert, where around fifteen or twenty people sat on the floor and all over as Cecil smoked one cigarette after another while being interviewed by a local music teacher/musician, and then talking about all sorts of fascinating musical and non-musical topics, including the relationship of music to dance, a magnificent-looking woman on a daytime television talk show, and his sleep under three hours the night before. The hotel room session seemed nowhere near ended when at 1:00 a.m. I drove Trudy home.
Two years later, Trudy was having a 78th birthday celebration during the local Jewish Renewal Sabbath service, and she pointed out a seat for me, right next to Cecil, who was playing a tambourine during the singing. At the time, Cecil was teaching for a few weeks up the road at Johns Hopkins University, and I got a chance to talk with him some more during lunch. Cecil was a great conversationalist.
In many ways, this story is as much about my friendship with Trudy as my amazing two brief meetings with Cecil and time experiencing his music and poetry. Both of them were true originals who remained true to themselves and their art throughout their lives. So many people and circumstances challenge us to veer away from our true selves, and when we do so, we experience the backlash. Staying true to oneself is the path.
Cecil was much more than a musician. He embraced great art, and life itself. He urged: “You practice so you can invent. Discipline? No! The joy of practicing leads you to the celebration of the creation.”
Cecil Taylor left his body on April 5, 2018, at the age of eighty-nine. While I only infrequently mention the passing of people on this blog, lest it become an obituary blog rather than law blog, Cecil merits this pause to deeply thank and bow to him as he transitions to his next chapter. Thank you, Cecil.