Start with Ben Ratliff’s obituary for the NYT.
NPR’s coverage of Taylor’s life and work is also excellent:
- Jazz, Freed: On Cecil Taylor’s Expansive Brilliance
- an obituary by Tom Vitale
- finally, and most importantly, Taylor’s appearance on Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz. It’s a wonderful episode; Taylor seems to be a gentle, strange, and caring person who’s remarkably humble about his remarkable improvisational gifts. He’s also a teacher whose only advice to a hypothetical student is:
Look, find one note on the instrument that pleases you. And then find another note that also pleases you in relationship to the first note. And then you build what is going to be your working material from the premise that it is pleasant for you to hear so that eventually what happens when you get ready, if you want to create, you don’t make these dichotomies that lead you astray. Everything you do, I feel, should be girded to making a creation. So that all of these exercises or the manipulation of material to create the house is always in your mind. So that it’s not extraneous. It’s not technique. It’s the sound that will lead to the creation. The only thing I could modestly suggest: Look, always remember that given the society we live in, if you’re going to do this, it’s something that you must love to do. You might as well create something that pleases you.
Replace “note” with “word,” “color,” “line,” and you have about the simplest pedagogy for teachers of any art. I’m grateful for his reminder that, despite the complexity of the world, the complexity of craft, the complexity of Taylor’s own music, ultimately art can and should be simple.
If you’d like to explore Taylor’s music, I’d suggest starting with For Olim, one of Craig Taborn’s favorite solo piano recordings according to the rich NYT profile of Taborn published last year.