A Tribute To Cecil Taylor

 

by Paul McEnery

Only a fool would have thought Cecil Taylor was going to give us more work, so I’m not sad for myself. And though I met him, it wasn’t even close to like we became buds or anything. So why am I sad?

I’m sad because he’s the last of his people, the last of the mad 50s modernists who thought they could just Jackson Pollock their way through with art and it would change the world, because everyone would get the Tao that was within it.

Well, they didn’t. The Naked Tao wasn’t popular, and it took too many people too quick, because people can’t take that, I guess. But Cecil could and did. Personally, I guess he was kind of a pain in the arse — he was the times I met him — but artistically? Hell yes he was a pain in the arse. He didn’t like anybody’s way except his own. Thank God.

When I was a teenager, I loved the sound, but couldn’t work out what was going on exactly. I was trying to use my brain. And as it turns out, I don’t have a musician’s brain to work with all those sounds, so that doesn’t quite work for me.

What did work was getting to see a week long residency at Yoshi’s when it was still out at Rockridge, and there were better nights and worse nights, and then there was the one night where Cecil fucked the whole room with a grand piano.

I don’t say that lightly. He was playing the same figures he usually did; notes happened; there were flurries of rhythmic excitement, nothing unusual. Except this night he was on like Samuel Jackson. His fingers and his brain were doing the talking, but everything they were communicating came from below the waist, and everyone there knew it. The most profanely spiritual experience of my life. And a bit of an excuse me to the bathroom when it was done.

Since (and before) then, I saw him play the bodies of his audience — his true instrument — a whole bunch of times. That was the time he grabbed my whole chakra tree and shook it till the apples fell down to the ground. And then I understood.

Right now I’ve got Garden on, and it’s just him and a studio. That’s just a postcard. I got to be in the place where the postcard photo got taken. And that made all the difference to me.

Thank you Cecil. You were the last of the greats, and now nobody will know that we weren’t talking bollocks about, well, being fucked with a grand piano.

Paul McEnery was the editor who kept things interesting in the latter years of MONDO 2000 magazine