Apr 28, 2016 Music great Cecil Taylor teaches powerful equanimity in the battle
Cecil Taylor is an amazing musician with an awe for many things beyond music, including dance and bridges, and a true interest in popular culture. I have been blessed by being in his closeup presence post-concert at his hotel room in 1999, and sitting next to and talking with him at our mutual friend Trudy Morse’s 2001 birthday party.
Many upon first hearing Cecil, 86, might tune him out thinking his music from another stratosphere. Of course, Cecil is an uncompromising musical genius, which led to his 2013 $500,000 Kyoto Prize. He started learning the piano, at his request, from his mother at the age of five. She was very much a musical taskmaster. Like Buster Williams learning the bass from his father, Cecil’s mother let Cecil volunteer to learn piano, but the learning and practicing road was to be demanding.
A man posing as a friend was soon after the 2013 Kyoto Prize was awarded Cecil, prosecuted, convicted, and ultimately prison-sentenced for swindling the Kyoto Prize money from Cecil.
Through dealing with this theft, Cecil in 2014 taught a lesson in powerful equanimity — which is so important to trial battles and all battles, along with passion and compassion — where in the middle of regaling a 2014 press conference with so many items other than the theft, Cecil exclaimed about the thief Noel Muir: “[U]nhappy he must be, but that’s on him.”
Fortunately, early on Muir returned over $200,000 of the prize money. $290,000 remains due and owing through restitution. However, Muir’s felony conviction and one to three year sentence in prison are not going to help him pay much of the restitution.
As a criminal defense lawyer, I can see Muir’s actions from his side, where his rationale could have run from pure greed to temptation to desperation to pay off debts to delusions to many other possible reasons. The reasons people give for stealing are many, never good reasons, mind you.
As much as I know I am on the side of the angels doing criminal defense, at the same time, it is always essential for me to see a criminal case from all sides, and am fully moved by Cecil’s plight here. To be more blunt, I am beyond pissed off that Muir did this to Cecil. Hoping to put this delicately, I take it that Cecil earned much less money by remaining true to the purity of his music than if he had joined so many other jazz greats who have given into the temptation of compromising their greatness to do watered down works in exchange for more money. That $500,000 Kyoto Prize, therefore, likely meant all the more financially to Cecil in his octogenarian years. More importantly, I like Cecil as a person and am deeply inspired by him.
Whether one to three years in prison is the right remedy for Muir is another story. Will that really deter others from financial fraud, when the potential gains if not caught can be so great? Will that really help rehabilitate Muir, knowing that he will have the “convicted felon” scarlet letter and the loss of any contracting business while locked up? Is one to three years in prison an excessive punishment? I do not know more about Muir to know whether his punishment is excessive or not, but I am convinced that the criminal courts, overall, resort too quickly and too often to incarceration, starting with excessive bail and even no bail to too many, and proceeding from there, often with statutory mandates.
Muir’s theft from Cecil underlines how vulnerable all of our assets are to being swindled. Here, the allegations were that Muir opened a bank account and told the Kyoto Prize people to deposit the money there. If the Kyoto Prize people have so much assets as to deliver $half-million prizes, they have the wherewithal to protect prize winners’ money better than with Cecil, and likely have changed their practices by now.
Cecil Taylor is certainly a passionate man, and his words about Noel Muir this year showed it. After Muir was sentenced in early April 2016, a reporter asked for comment about Muir, to which Cecil replied “Die… He had no right to do this … he’s not a spiritual man, he’ll get what he deserves.” That was quite a turnaround from Cecil’s 2014 more philosophical observation of “[U]nhappy he must be, but that’s on him.” Of course, during the intervening two years, Cecil had more time to reflect on how horrendous and harmful were Muir’s actions. Despite the prosecutor’s reference to Cecil at sentencing as an elderly vulnerable man, I see him as ageless and one tough cookie.
Our world is a much richer and more fortunate place with Cecil Taylor’s having graced us with his music, genius, and persona. Deeply thanking and bowing to Cecil Taylor.