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A CRY For CECIL TAYLOR, My Avant Gardfather, 1929-2018

Posted by Rick Frystak, May 8, 2019 07:57pm | Post a Comment

Photo by unknown/illustration by Rick Frystak
 

Welcome back to The Choice Bin. It's 1973, UCLA's Royce Hall, a few notches up from what it is today satus-wise as there just weren't many halls to showcase serious music in '73. Big deal anytime or place, these artists in L.A. then, (like say, Stevie Wonder) so the town was abuzz. Cecil Taylor is here to play a solo piano recital. Lee has Rhino stocked. Lingerers linger. Jivers jive. Clowns clown. There's a festival vibe, it was called Newport Jazz Fest west or whatever. This night is just Cecil.

The concert begins. Each note, chord harmony, repetition, arpeggio, triad, cluster, question-and-answer; a sensation of logic and emotion. To some,''noise''. This man went to the New York Conservatory. Cecil is here in UCLA playing a huge 10-foot Bosendorfer piano and the paint is already coming off the walls. Folks are on the edge of their seats.

OMG, it's Cecil my main man, my idol in the ''out'' music. I have "all" his albums. I'm in the SAME ROOM with him! Tonight, Cecil has come from a whisper (he hadn't begun dancing out to the piano yet) to a brilliantly built mountain of sound.

It's getting more and more and more intense when all of a sudden, a man sitting almost dead-center STANDS UP,TAKES OFF HIS SHIRT and begins dancing and...YELLING!! I couldn't believe what I was seeing for a split second, but then that same feeling came over me, but I stayed in my seat. It was like a shot of adrenaline, more exciting than ANYTHING I'd ever heard, right then and there...the physical manifestation of the sounds we were hearing, driving us to yelling!

Some critics were not impressed. “Anyone working with a jackhammer could have achieved the same results,” wrote jazz critic Leonard Feather, in the L.A. Times.

Mr. Taylor left this planet one year ago this month. Cecil was respected around the world, winning grants and receiving fellowships year after year. In 2013 Cecil received the Kyoto Prize, a huge honor in Japan, equivalent to a MacArthur Genius Award. (Cecil is a past recipient of the MacArthur award). Alas, the Kyoto Prize, which amounted to $500,000, was embezzled and swindled from Cecil by a man posing as Cecil's business manager. Leonard Feather should have known that jackhammer operators don't usually receive half-million-dollar cash awards from foreign countries. Leonard had what is known as a,"chip on his shoulder" regarding music such as Taylor's, and the avant garde in general, but the Los Angeles Times dug his jazz criticism for many, many years, for their own reasons. Mr. Taylor had a huge impression on my own appreciation of music and all art, especially the avant garde that was outside the mainstream. I still get a flash of inspiration when I see even his photograph.

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Happy Birthday Arthur Tatum Jr., October 13th, 1909

Posted by Whitmore, October 13, 2009 12:25pm | Post a Comment
 
Art Tatum is acknowledged by anyone who knows anything as one of the greatest and most influential jazz pianists of all time. A child prodigy born with perfect pitch, Tatum was picking up church hymns and tunes off the radio by ear at the age of three. As a teenager, the nearly blind Tatum started at the Columbus School for the Blind where he studied music and learned Braille. His first musical heroes were his contemporaries like the stride pianists James P. Johnson, Fats Waller, and Earl Hines. Within a few years he was playing in New York settling at the Onyx Club where he recorded his first sides for Brunswick. Tatum developed an incredibly fast improvisational style, and though he rarely ventured far from the original melodic lines of a song, his technique and ideas are a direct line to the bebop revolution of the late 1940’s. One of Tatum’s great quotes was “There is no such thing as a wrong note.”
 
Though I’m often dubious of many opinions laid out by jazz critic Leonard Feather, I have to more or less agree with him when he called Tatum "the greatest soloist in jazz history, regardless of instrument." Legendary French writer and artist Jean Cocteau called Tatum "a crazed Chopin." Count Basie called him the eighth wonder of the world. Classical composer Sergei Rachmaninoff once said, "he has better technique than any other living pianist, and may be the greatest ever." Dizzy Gillespie said, "First you speak of Art Tatum, then take a long deep breath, and you speak of the other pianists." Charlie Parker, who briefly worked as a dishwasher at Jimmie's Chicken Shack in Manhattan, where Tatum regularly performed, once said, “I wish I could play like Tatum’s right hand!” One of the most famous quotes about Art Tatum was by Fats Waller, whose introduction one night announced, "I only play the piano, but tonight God is in the house." Waller also once said, "When that man turns on the powerhouse, don't no one play him down. He sounds like a brass band."
 
Art Tatum died in Los Angeles on March 12, 1955 at Queen of Angels Medical Center from the complications of kidney failure. He was originally interred at Angelus Rosedale Cemetery, but in 1991 he was moved to the Great Mausoleum of Glendale's Forest Lawn Cemetery.