Legendary pianist and poet Cecil Taylor is one of the greatest improvisers in the history of modern jazz. Since the first performances of his quartet at the Five Spot Café in 1956, he has unflinchingly and tirelessly worked to define a sound that is still light years ahead of its time. His playing has been called fierce, constructivist, percussive, and atonal. We call it a thing of beauty, an expression of pure genius.
ISSUE Project Room and Harlem Stage, in partnership with Anthology Film Archives and the Jazz Studies Department of Columbia University, are proud to present a month-long celebration of the great maestro Cecil Taylor, featuring a range of performances, readings, conversations and screenings as well as two extremely rare performances by Cecil Taylor himself at Harlem Stage and ISSUE Project Room.
Cecil Taylor’s piano technique has been described as playing “eighty-eight tuned drums” – an intensely physical performance style. Taylor began playing piano at the age of six, and studied at New England Conservatory in the 1950s. In 1966, The Cecil Taylor Unit released the landmark album Unit Structures, an intense, atonal free jazz recording that cemented his place as the leader of a musical movement. After the death of Cecil Taylor Unit member and artistic collaborator Jimmy Lyons, Taylor formed a number of other ensembles, performing with Tony Oxley and William Parker in The Feel Trio, and in other combinations with Tony Oxley, Evan Parker, Derek Bailey, Max Roach, Amiri Baraka, and others. Cecil Taylor’s style has been universally acknowledged as uncomprimising, “not for everyone,” and even in settings such as the White House Lawn (solo, for Jimmy Carter) he remains one of the most advanced, challenging artists of our time. Taylor has been the recipient of a McArthur Foundation “Genius” grant, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and has been named an National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master.