Cecil Taylor
By: Brian Berger | Categories: HiLo Heroes

“Those people called Negros, or Afro-Americans,” pianist, composer and poet CECIL TAYLOR (born 1929) told French filmmakers in late 1966, “We have had a very peculiar situation in which to work out of… I mean we are the invisible men.” And though awards and encomiums would come, Taylor remains a divisive, often marginalized figure. He grew up in Queens and lives in Brooklyn. His parents — both of mixed black and Native American heritage — encouraged their only child’s individualism, which was tested by the restrictions and racism he faced at the New England Conservatory of Music. That jazz critics have used Taylor’s training against him remains a source of tension; suffice it to say, Bud Powell is at least the equal of Sergei Prokofiev in Taylor’s world. From his 1956 debut album onward, Taylor’s sound — though clearly grounded in Ellington and Monk — was unique, and his group concepts grew in boldness, particular after the 1961 arrival of altoist Jimmy Lyons. Despite public resistance, Taylor persisted, with 1966 a watershed year: two staggering albums for the Blue Note label; a sympathetic profile in A.B. Spellman’s Four Lives In The Bebop Business; and the aforementioned Cecil Taylor à Paris. What gave him the strength? From Taylor’s liner notes in verse:

healing slain heather slope face down ocean wills now dander, gossamer, waving glad tides/
‘conk’ shiny the still later than that rush to start nowhere gone hurriedly to 

Four decades later, Christopher Flever’s Taylor documentary, All The Notes (2007, see below), wills us even more.

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On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Flannery O’Conner and David Lean.

READ MORE about members of the Postmodernist Generation (1924-33).

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Brian Berger is a historian, journalist and poet. He was coeditor, with Marshall Berman, of New York Calling: From Blackout to Bloomberg.