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Myra Melford Remembers Cecil Taylor

The avant-garde pianist shares her memories of the free jazz pioneer (3/25/29 – 4/5/18)

Cecil Taylor gives his final public performance, at the Whitney Museum of American Art on April 23, 2016 (photo: Paula Court)

I was a student at Evergreen State College, and it must have happened during my second year, when I was seriously getting into jazz piano. I lived in this little cottage on a bay in Puget Sound, outside of Olympia, Washington. And I remember lying on the bed and listening to the [1976 solo-piano recording] Air Above Mountains over and over again. That was when I fell in love with Cecil. The way he moved between the high-energy, clustery textures and his sublimely harmonic lyricism felt so intuitive and natural to me.

At the time I was studying bebop. I’m sure I’d heard [avant-garde violinist and mentor] Leroy Jenkins by this point. So I knew there was a world beyond bebop, and I was already intrigued by it. There were two records I bought at that time which were on constant repeat: Air Above Mountains and Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come. Ornette’s recording was a bit closer to the bebop artists I was listening to; Cecil’s was just completely in another world. The fact that I had grown up listening to and playing a lot of classical and 20th-century piano music, I think I recognized some of that in Cecil.

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