Sometime in my mid-teens I started reading about this mad pianist; how his flying elbows and insane musical gyrations splintered keyboards, whose uncompromising musical destination was one part tsunami, one part Armageddon. I was actually warned about Cecil Taylor by a music teacher of mine, "It isn’t really music … it's ugly … beating the hell out of a keyboard isn’t musical.” My classical guitar teacher also went so far as to bring god and the devil into the conversation; you would have thought I was asking for directions to the crossroads.
I eventually made my way over to Platterpuss Records on Hollywood Blvd near Vermont Ave and with some change stolen from my mom’s piggy bank I bought an old used copy of Taylor’s 1966 album Unit Structures. I ran back home and threw the LP on my ridiculously crappy turntable with the flashing color pin-wheels and as predicted … the music scared the holy shit out of me. Except for one thing-- although I understood little of what was going on, I was mesmerized. Later I heard beyond the chaos and ferocity, and began getting clued in to improvisation, tone clusters, polyrhythms and all the other intricacies layered in Cecil Taylor’s music, like spirituality, a sense of history and oddly enough -- and contrary to my teachers' way of thinking -- beauty. A couple of weeks later I traded in a bunch of pop records at Joe’s Records on Hyperion Blvd and bought a used copy of Conquistador. From that point on I had a significantly different take on music. Happy birthday Cecil Taylor!
“Practice, to be studious at the instrument, as well as looking at a bridge, or dancing, or writing a poem, or reading, or attempting to make your home more beautiful. What goes into an improvisation is what goes into one's preparation, then allowing the prepared senses to execute at the highest level devoid of psychological or logical interference. You ask, without logic, where does the form come from? It seems something that may be forgotten is that as we begin our day and proceed through it there is a form in existence that we create out of, that the day and night itself is for. And what we choose to vary in the daily routine provides in itself the fresh building blocks to construct a living form which is easily translated into a specific act of making a musical composition.” - Cecil Taylor