From Blakey to Brown, Como to Costa, Eckstine to Eldridge, Galbraith to Garner, Harris to Hines, Horne to Hyman, Jamal to Jefferson, Kelly to Klook; Mancini to Marmarosa, May to Mitchell, Negri to Nestico, Parlanto Ponder, Reed to Ruther, Strayhorn to Sullivan, Turk to Turrentine, Wade to Williams… the forthcoming publication Treasury of Pittsburgh Jazz Connections by Dr. Nelson Harrison and Dr. Ralph Proctor, Jr. will document the legacy of one of the world’s greatest jazz capitals.
Do you want to know who Dizzy Gillespie idolized? Did you ever wonder who inspired Kenny Clarke and Art Blakey? Who was the pianist that mentored Monk, Bud Powell, Tad Dameron, Elmo Hope, Sarah Vaughan and Mel Torme? Who was Art Tatum’s idol and Nat Cole’s mentor? What musical quartet pioneered the concept adopted later by the Modern Jazz Quartet? Were you ever curious to know who taught saxophone to Stanley Turrentine or who taught piano to Ahmad Jamal? What community music school trained Robert McFerrin, Sr. for his history-making debut with the Metropolitan Opera? What virtually unknown pianist was a significant influence on young John Coltrane, Shirley Scott, McCoy Tyner, Bobby Timmons and Ray Bryant when he moved to Philadelphia from Pittsburgh in the 1940s? Would you be surprised to know that Erroll Garner attended classes at the Julliard School of Music in New York and was at the top of his class in writing and arranging proficiency?
Some answers can be gleaned from the postings on the Pittsburgh Jazz Network.
For almost 100 years the Pittsburgh region has been a metacenter of jazz originality that is second to no other in the history of jazz. One of the best kept secrets in jazz folklore, the Pittsburgh Jazz Legacy has heretofore remained mythical. We have dubbed it “the greatest story never told” since it has not been represented in writing before now in such a way as to be accessible to anyone seeking to know more about it. When it was happening, little did we know how priceless the memories would become when the times were gone.
Today jazz is still king in Pittsburgh, with events, performances and activities happening all the time. The Pittsburgh Jazz Network is dedicated to celebrating and showcasing the places, artists and fans that carry on the legacy of Pittsburgh's jazz heritage.
Cecil Taylor listening to a recording in 1966 with the composer Luc Ferrari.CreditLaszlo Ruszka/INA, via Getty Images
Cecil Taylor, a pianist who challenged the jazz tradition that produced him and became one of the most bracing, rhapsodic, abstract and original improvisers of his time, died on Thursday at his home in Brooklyn. He was 89.
His death was confirmed by his legal guardian, Adam C. Wilner. No cause was given, but friends said he had been in failing health for some time.
Mr. Taylor wrote music, led bands and for decades worked, as many jazz musicians do, in nightclubs and at festivals. But from early on he seemed to have much greater goals.
He was a supreme example of an uncompromising artist, arguing — mainly through his work, but in principled and prickly interviews as well — against reductive definitions of what a musician of his training and background could or should do.
For Mr. Taylor, a small and vigorous man who in his prime wore athletic clothing onstage — as if to confirm the notion that the audience was watching a physical workout — albums weren’t merely recording sessions and performances weren’t merely gigs.
At the center of his art was that dazzling physicality and the percussiveness of his playing — his deep, serene, Ellingtonian chords and hummingbird attacks above middle C — which held true well into his 80s.
But in concert he also recited his own poems, whose enjambed lines might describe Aztec architecture, paleoanthropology, crocodile reproduction or a woman’s posture. His motions around the instrument and the bandstand were a part of his performance too.
In his system of writing music, working with bands and performing, he was concerned with what he called, in a 1971 interview with the writer Robert Levin, “black methodology”: oral traditions, music as embodied celebration and spiritual homage.
Classically trained, he valued European music for what he called its qualities of “construction” — form, timbre, tone color — and incorporated them into his own aesthetic.
“I am not afraid of European influences,” he told the critic Nat Hentoff. “The point is to use them, as Ellington did, as part of my life as an American Negro.”
Mr. Taylor at his home in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, in 2012.CreditChester Higgins Jr./The New York Times
In a long assessment of Mr. Taylor’s work — one of the first — from “Four Lives in the Bebop Business,” a collection of essays on jazz musicians published in 1966, the poet and critic A. B. Spellman wrote:
“There is only one musician who has, by general agreement even among those who have disliked his music, been able to incorporate all that he wants to take from classical and modern Western composition into his own distinctly individual kind of blues without in the least compromising those blues, and that is Cecil Taylor, a kind of Bartok in reverse.”
Because his fully formed work was not folkish or pop-oriented, did not swing consistently (often it did not swing at all) and never entered the consensual jazz repertoire, Mr. Taylor could be understood to occupy an isolated place. Even after he was rewarded and lionized — he was given a Guggenheim fellowship in 1973, a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters award in 1990, a MacArthur fellowship in 1991 and the Kyoto Prize in 2014 — his music was not easy to quantify.
If improvisation means using intuition and risk in the present moment, there have been few musicians who took that challenge more seriously than Mr. Taylor. If one of his phrases seemed of paramount importance, another such phrase generally arrived right behind it. The range of expression in his keyboard touch encompassed caresses, rumbles and crashes.
He was capable of performances full of stillness and awe, suggesting a kind of physical movement through musical phrases, as on the unaccompanied “Pemmican” (from the 1981 live recording “Garden”). Or he could go on full attack, as on “Taht” from the 1984 album “Winged Serpent (Sliding Quadrants)” — his fingers hammering and flying across the keys and breaking through the sound of a polytonal, polyrhythmic 11-piece band.
Some of his greatest musical relationships were with drummers, among them Max Roach, Elvin Jones, Sunny Murray and Ronald Shannon Jackson.
Mr. Taylor performed at the Harlem Stage Gatehouse in Manhattan in 2012. His playing was characterized by dazzling physicality and percussiveness.CreditKarsten Moran for The New York Times
A Mother’s Influence
Cecil Percival Taylor was born in Long Island City, Queens, on March 25, 1929, and grew up about four miles away, in Corona. His father, Percy, originally from North Carolina, was a chef for Dr. John Kindred, president of the River Crest Sanitarium in Corona. Growing up, Cecil revered his mother, the former Almeida Ragland, for her learning and her high standards. She spoke French and German, took him to see Bill Bojangles Robinson and Ella Fitzgerald, and suggested that he read Schopenhauer.
Acknowledging his desire to become a musician, rather than pursuing one of the careers she preferred for him — doctor, lawyer or dentist — his mother insisted that he practice the piano six days a week, then do what he wanted on Sunday. “That’s when the organization of my music began, when she wasn’t looking,” Mr. Taylor said in an interview in the literary journal Hambone.
She died of cancer when he was 14.
Mr. Taylor studied piano at the New York College of Music in Manhattan and, in the early 1950s, moved to Boston, where he had relatives, to attend the New England Conservatory.
While studying piano, arranging, harmony and solfège notation there, he started going to jazz clubs, which he said helped him develop ideas about his music more than anything he learned in school. He prized Ellington for his orchestral approach to the piano and Horace Silver for his rough, vernacular energy; he saw Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Sarah Vaughan and the relatively little-known pianist Dick Twardzik, all of whom would contribute to his conception of music, as did Stravinsky.
(The answer to the question of what music gave rise to Mr. Taylor, and what he liked to listen to, would encompass all those names as well as Marvin Gaye, Gyorgy Ligeti, Betty Carter, Judy Garland and Thelonious Monk. The Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava and the flamenco dancer Carmen Amaya had also influenced him to think about structure, movement and time, he said.)
Back in New York, Mr. Taylor formed groups with the vibraphonist Earl Griffith and the soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy. In 1956, with a quartet rounded out by Mr. Lacy, the bassist Buell Neidlinger (who died on March 16) and the drummer Denis Charles, he made his first album, “Jazz Advance.” Featuring standards as well as his own compositions, it was produced by Tom Wilson, who later worked with Bob Dylan, the Mothers of Invention and the Velvet Underground.
The quartet played at the Newport Jazz Festival the next year, a performance released by Verve Records as one side of an album. (The other side featured a group led by the alto saxophonist Gigi Gryce and the trumpeter Donald Byrd.)
Mr. Taylor’s music at that time was steadily swinging and fit recognizably within the modern jazz idiom — its spiky phrases had a clear connection to Monk’s — but it was also already moving beyond it. “Tune 2,” for example, from the Newport record, had an 88-bar form, a long way from the 32-bar song structure more commonly used in jazz.
He went further in that direction on the 1958 record “Looking Ahead!,” then recorded a session, originally issued as “Hard Driving Jazz,” with an ad hoc group, put together by Mr. Wilson, that included John Coltrane.
Mr. Taylor in 1989. In his system of writing music and performing, he was concerned with what he called “black methodology”: oral traditions, music as embodied celebration and spiritual homage.CreditCalle Hesslefors/ullstein bild, via Getty Images
With renown came a particular kind of scrutiny. In 1959, Gunther Schullerdevoted a long essay in The Jazz Review to the question of whether Mr. Taylor’s music was atonal.
“Listening carefully to his playing leaves no doubt of the fact that Taylor indeed does think tonally, but the result of his thinking most of the time cannot be analyzed on tonal terms,” he wrote.
Whitney Balliett of The New Yorker described a crowd reacting to Mr. Taylor’s performance at the Great South Bay Jazz Festival on Long Island in 1958: A few were mesmerized, he wrote, while others “fidgeted, whispered and wandered nervously in and out of the tent, as if the ground beneath had suddenly become unbearably hot.”
By 1961, given the chance to contribute half the music on an album under the arranger Gil Evans’s name (the other half showcased the composer Johnny Carisi), Mr. Taylor played only original music: striking pieces with shifting tempos and splintering melodic lines.
The next year he formed a bond with the alto saxophonist Jimmy Lyons, who would work with him for more than 20 years; the two were the core of the Cecil Taylor Unit, a group with an otherwise shifting membership. (Mr. Lyons died in 1986.)
By 1966, when he recorded the album “Unit Structures” for Blue Note, Mr. Taylor was forming a syntax where none had existed. He was using blues tonality and dissonance in his improvisations and original structures in his written music, organized in ways that were not traditional for jazz, even for the relatively new avant-garde sort with which he was generally associated.
In one piece on “Unit Structures,” titled “Enter Evening,” piano, oboe, alto saxophone and bass play staggered and unresolved melodic lines that refer to one another only in a distant sense, coming together loosely only in places. There is percussion, but no steady rhythm.
It wasn’t the technique and feeling of jazz that Mr. Taylor was rejecting, only its form: the 32-bar song, the theme-solos-theme progression.
Instead, his structures often proceeded sequentially, shifting among motifs and tonal centers. When he used written scores for his musicians, melodies were indicated by note letters, but there were no staves or bar lines; this gave musicians more freedom within his music, and, he decided, more investment in it.
“When you think about musicians who are reading music,” he said in “All the Notes,” a 1993 documentary directed by Chris Felver, “my contention has always been: The energy that you’re using deciphering what the symbol is is taking away from the maximum creative energy that you might have had if you understood that it’s but a symbol.”
Cecil Taylor: All the Notes previewVideo by MusicFilmWeb
There was no academy for what Mr. Taylor did, and partly for that reason he became one himself, teaching for stretches in the 1970s at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and at Antioch College in Ohio. (He was given an honorary doctorate by the New England Conservatory in 1977.) Not until the mid-1970s, Mr. Lyons told the writer John Litweiler, did the Cecil Taylor Unit have enough work that the musicians could make a living from it — mostly in Europe.
Solos and Duos
During this time Mr. Taylor was giving a lot of solo-piano performances, a practice he started around 1967 and refined through albums like “Indent” (1973), “Fly! Fly! Fly! Fly! Fly!” (1980) and “For Olim” (1986).
He would occasionally perform in a duo with another improviser: pared-down and sometimes jarring situations if the other performer pushed too hard against Mr. Taylor. Those pairings led to a clashing concert with the swing-era pianist Mary Lou Williams in 1977; memorable performances with Max Roach in 1979, 1989 and 2000; and collaborations with the Japanese butoh dancer Min Tanaka. In 1979, he collaborated with the dancers Mikhail Baryshnikov and Heather Watts on a short ballet.
In the summer of 1988, Mr. Taylor played a series of concerts in East and West Berlin — solo, in duos and with groups of various sizes — which were released on the FMP label as an 11-CD set, “Cecil Taylor in Berlin ’88.”
Since 1983, Mr. Taylor had lived alone in a three-story home in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn. During that time he would perform occasionally in nightclubs, but more often in theaters or even museums around the world.
In 2014, a contractor working on his house, Noel Muir, bilked him out of nearly all of the $500,000 that Mr. Taylor had received for the Kyoto Prize; Mr. Muir was sentenced to one to three years in prison.
No immediate family members survive.
As uncompromising as Mr. Taylor could be, many musicians bear his influence, directly or by general example; a list of pianists alone would include Marilyn Crispell, Vijay Iyer, Craig Taborn, Chucho Valdés and Jason Moran.
In 2016, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York organized a two-week exhibition and residency dedicated to Mr. Taylor; it featured panel discussions, a play, films, dance performances, displays of his written scores and live music. He performed at the beginning and end of the event, playing piano and reading poetry, with Mr. Tanaka and with various ensembles. It was an ambitious attempt to take the full measure of Mr. Taylor as an artist who would not be held to the conventions of any one discipline.
“What I am doing,” he said in 1994, “is creating a language. A different American language.”
Mr. Cecil Taylor played at the Rose Theater at Lincoln Center in 2007.CreditRahav Segev for The New York Times
Correction: April 9, 2018
An earlier version of this obituary misspelled the given name of one of the composers Mr. Taylor liked to listen to. It is Gyorgy Ligeti, not Gyorgi.
How do you casually describe a conversation with one of the most revolutionary musicians of the last century? Few musicians in any genre explored the full tonal range of a keyboard the way that Cecil Taylor has. In fact, his ferocious playing was so trail-blazing that it made more of an effect on the whole concept of rhythm than all but a few drummers. His blending of jazz and modern classical sensibilities set both traditions on their ear and were never the same since then. Along with Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane, Taylor helped to usher in a turning point the history of the music. Avant and free jazz would be unthinkable without his innovations and it's a testament to his work that it is still part of the mainstream with many performers today.
Like other towering giants such as Miles Davis, the alumni from his groups read like a Who's Who of musical greats. Jimmy Lyons, Archie Shepp, Sunny Murray, Steve Lacy, Roswell Rudd, Ronald Shannon Jackson, Max Roach, William Parker, Derek Bailey, Leroy Jenkins, John Tchicai and Alan Silva are only a handful of this elite group. That's not even mentioning his collaborations and sessions with Trane himself, the Art Ensemble and Tony Williams.
Now celebrating 45 years as a recording artist, Taylor also celebrated his 70th birthday with a whirlwind, worldwide tour. Not content to rest on his much deserved laurels, Taylor practices piano constantly and always regales crowds with new pieces. He is a one-man multi-media presentation as he sings, chants, reads poetry, dances and plays at his concerts.
It took me over a year to finally pin him down for an interview but who wouldn't have patience for a legend of his stature? Meeting him with one hour's notice at his favorite East Village restaurant (where the staff greeted him as royalty), I was ready to be dazzled and he did not disappoint. Covering everything from his childhood heroes to his favorite singers (which are a huge influence on him) to his favorite collaborators, usually in the span of one answer, Taylor's conversation was a perfect reflection of his music- not at all linear but instead free-flowing and dynamic. How could anyone expect any less of him?
Enormous thanks to Jimmy McDonald and John Grady for helping to set this up.
Q: This has been sort of an interesting year for you in that you've had the chance to reconnect with several of the key drummers you've worked with over the years: you performed duets with Max Roach at Columbia University, with Elvin Jones for an album last year and a couple of performances subsequently, then with Andrew Cyrille, and just now with Tony Oxley over in Den Haag.
Well, when I think about it in retrospect, that's never happened to me before in that there were four different drummers in that period of time... All of them quite different, too, all of them a part of history. Andrew's magnificent. He's a wonderful person and a good part of my musical life. Andrew, who is really part of my skin you might say, is a great accompanist, a superlative percussionist, and one of the most amenable personalities. Playing with Mr. Jones for the fourth time was a great musical experience As you know, in September he played mostly with mallets and brushes. When I played with him the most unifying musical characteristic was that we played as if we were one person. He understands the music that I construct, all the dynamics, the aspects of form. And then the last time, even more so. Then Mr. Roach, well it was quite a phenomenal situation playing with him at Columbia in front of ten thousand people, and then Tony Oxley, he is a joy just to be with. He is immense in what he does, his conception of sound. Then again, I'm leaving out the guitarist, Derek Bailey, who was sort of astounding [during his springtime collaboration with Taylor] at Tonic. He was, well, hysteric. I don't think there's anyone else quite like Derek. So I've been very fortunate.
Q: Do you have plans to do any large-group work?
What I need right now, I have to find out how to set up a situation in which I can organize a corporation or an institute, so that I could get the money from these corporations to present the music. For instance, Derek [Bailey, British guitarist and an occasional collaborator] organized a series of concerts over at the Tonic. I'd like to do that, but I'd like it funded. Because I do have ideas for a large ensemble, you know. Well, I had a forty-two piece band at the Knitting Factory, had a forty-two piece in Frisco! The Italians wanted me to do that for this Instabile band. I had a wonderful call last year from a person who's connected with the Sun Ra Arkestra, said it was Sunny's wish that I take over the band. Well, that's not me, that's his band, the wonderful Marshall Allen. But I've been writing... I spent three weeks at my first gig in Florida [with] eight musicians. I wrote a lot of music, and boy did they deal with it!
Q: What do you do to prepare your music for performance?
Well, I love to practice, simply because that's preparation, part of the process of planning... There's nothing "free" about any of this; it's the construction of cantilevers and inclined pylons. I'm a great fan of Santiago Calatrava, the Spanish structural engineer. If you look at the plans for many of his constructions, they look like animals, or plants.
Q: These are buildings that he's designed?
Bridges. He's done other things, railroad stations... Because you see, we're dealing with space. And if you look at a bridge, you cannot ignore the spacial, rhythmic connotations, particularly when you look at cable-stay box girder bridges, and to me the most outstanding proponent of the cable-stay box girder bridge is Calatrava. I don't believe we have one of his cable-stay box girder bridges in this country. He's been in competition in Boston, which he did not get; in Frisco they got a poor imitation. They were first done I believe in Germany, after the second World War.
Q: I know you're also interested in choreography and literature.
I think, from the idea of choreography, the Kabuki theatre, and from watching tap dancers... mother took me to see Bill Robinson, the great Nicholas Brothers. Mother prepared me for all of that. Mother took me to see tap dancers, gave me Schopenhauer to read. When I was ten or eleven I spoke French and German. I had the best.
Q: At this point, do you see the piano almost as an extention of yourself?
Yes, it had better be! It's all part of the muse, the dance. To use the muscles of the body doing exercises, the body becomes a construction. In order to dance, one must be cognizant of the relationship between the fingers and the arms, in space, in duration... This idea of rhythm, rhythm exists in everyone. In the way one speaks, in the way the heart beats, in the way we walk... Sometimes when it goes really well, you wonder, "who's that at the piano?" Sometimes you just get lost, but you always try to reach that level of transcendence.
Q: Let's talk about some of your early influences. Who comes to mind first?
Well, mother took me to see the great Ella Fitzgerald... I can remember sitting in the Paramount Theatre in 1944 and I was stunned by her improvisation on "Lady Be Good". And then getting to know Babs Gonzales, who really revolutionized the concept of words at that time. The relationship between Babs and the best rap people, it's very interesting that people don't think about that. But when you listen to Babs and you hear the lilt, his presence in terms of where he placed his words in terms of the rhythm section, it was really amazing.
Of course, when one heard Billy Eckstine singing "Stormy Monday Blues", you knew that it was another point of view, but still within the framework of the music, always growing. And then to hear him sing "Goodbye", which I believe was Benny Goodman's theme song, or to hear the Mary Lou Williams' arrangement for the Benny Goodman Orchestra of "Roll 'Em", when everybody else was talking about "Sing, Sing, Sing", to hear "Roll 'Em", you knew Mary Lou Williams had great genius.
The magnificent thing about Billie Holiday was that no matter what happened... Seeing her when I was 12 and understanding that not only was that sensuous, and that the sensuality was not separate from the way she moved and sang. Billie was in the middle of whatever the rhythm was, and her body showed that. And then the last performance that I saw, her majesty [had switched] from a stride pianist to Mal Waldron, and he voice had changed, her physicality had changed, but the passion! Another person very similar, Chet Baker. In Berlin I finally saw that last film, when he was young and beautiful and sang "You Don't Know What Love Is." Billie sang "You Don't Know What Love Is" on that album with strings, which certain erudite critics, one in particular, gave it a "C minus", ha ha! I've only worn out four copies of it.
Q: It's interesting to hear that singers had such a powerful effect on your work. What about some of the instrumentalists that have been important to your musical conception?
CT: [Ellington band altoist Johnny] Hodges was immaculate. And Ben Webster what a sound! The Ellington Orchestra, I suppose we do have favorites. Ellington was the maestro, and if you listen to "Ring Them Bells" in 1929, and you listen to "Diminuendo" and "Crescendo" in the mid Œ30s, and then you listen to how it was played by Paul Gonsalves and that incredible solo with the Cosmic Band [an Ellington band small-combo which recorded Cosmic Scene for Columbia in 1958], featuring Paul and Clark Terry, with the maestro playing piano. Or that very seminal record for me, "Subtle Slough" which was first done by Rex Stewart, the rhythmic implications of what [bassist Jimmy] Blanton was playing. Then when Ellington played "Cross The Track Blues" with that wonderful opening statement by Barney Bigard, who's still my favorite clarinetist, and Ellington's growth from stride piano to the gentle logistic way he played chords with space in between. [laughs] What a man! What a man!
You know, I played in Johnny Hodges' band for about a week in 1955, in Chester, PA. That experience was so wonderful, such a pleasure I didn't even touch the piano for the first four days, until the wonderful [Ellington band trombonist] Lawrence Brown said, "er, Cecil, the piano has 88 keys, it'd be nice if you'd play one note occasionally." (laughs) Then of course, Basie's band was lighter, and their conception of that single stem or motif, which the word "riff" doesn't describe the organic nature of how that band created it's magic.
And Miles, he was the mean devil incarnate! But such a mind, such a mind. And such creative growth, from those days of genuflection to Diz and Bird. And that remarkable record that the master Bird made, it was merely the ground theme of "Embracable You", and Bird took this extraordinary solo, and then you heard Miles come and pause and make sound then, we knew that was the beginning of another voice. And soon after that, Birth of the Cool with the great master Gil Evans, and we heard the fluidity and love of Mr. Davis... Davis was one of the greatest organizers of musical sound this country has ever known.
When you think of virtuosity, how can one not talk about the extraordinary Albert Ayler and what he laid down? Technically, I don't think I've heard a saxophonist with that kind of articulation. And Eric Dolphy, he was a very considerate man, a very warm man... You know, the last two performances he did in America, I was fortunate enough to be there and I said to him, "Eric, you're the first level of greatness." Some die too soon. Albert died too soon. When you think about the implications of that band, with Albert's brother who compressed that trumpet sound, and the brilliance of that sound. There's one trumpet player alive today who comes closest to that sound, and that's [former Taylor Unit trumpeter] Raphe Malik.
What I'm saying is that we have such a rich tradition, until we get to a man like Bill Dixon, who is undoubtedly one of the great voices in American music today. I had the great pleasure of hearing he and Tony Oxley and two bassists playing in Berlin last November, absolutely extraordinary. Beyond the ken of what's thought to be important here. But, one has to allow for the decadence of merchandising...
I mean, it's such a history of accomplishment, that has gone down in America. The music has it's roots in America, in the soil of America... The traditional legacy of the music which went on in Africa, that exists here by Native Americans... And when I talk about soil, grandfather on father's side was Kiowa, coming from the same region as Mingus' wonderful drummer Dannie (Richmond). And mother's mother, growing up in Long Branch think about that, that's a Native American name she was full blooded Cherokee. So having the last name Taylor, yep, there's the European. But there's also West African and Native American, so my roots in this country go very deep.
Q: Well, certainly you've known and played with some remarkable players over the years.
I think we've had fun. There's a book called The Most Beautiful House in the World [Wharton professor and urban planner Witold Rybczynski's personal account of designing and building a new house, in which] there was one chapter that had a three letter word: F-U-N. I think about that a lot. What I mean, actually, is that the fun becomes a celebration of those great practitioners who've preceded us, and the honoring of the attempt we're making. It becomes a celebration of life and becomes a joy to be permitted to attempt to create that kind of sound environment. I also find that there is in my life, a certain water rising, or a wave, the ebb and fall of it. The pull is only occasioned by things that producers perhaps don't understand.
Q: Are there some younger players whose music you enjoy?
This idea about technique, people don't understand what that is. They talk about a certain wonderful trumpet player from New Orleans. That man has no technique! The reason he has no technique is because he hasn't developed a language. And the nondescript Roy Hargrove? Clever guy, but I heard him recently, ain't nothin' happenin'. He better practice!
I'll tell you an interesting guy that I heard, was a man named James Carter. The night before, I spent with [members of Carter's current electric band, drummer] Calvin [Weston] and Jamaladeen [Tacuma, electric bassist]. And the next night I go into practice, and in walks James Carter. So I ask him, he talked about his control over his instrument and he went into [talking about] Eric Dolphy. And I asked him what he thought about Anthony Braxton's music, and he dropped his head and said, "What can you say?"
So I said to him, "One courtesy deserves another. I'll be there tonight when you play," and lemme tell you! I'm backstage, and that band starts, and Jamaladeen and Calvin... you know there's a difference between the blues and rhythm and blues, and man, when that band started, the intensity of the new rhythm and blues that they played! Carter is off stage, and when he walked in he stunned me with what he do! Know what he did? He made one harmonic sound, [imitating] eeerrrrrrrrgh, and then he walked off the fucking stage! And he comes back and makes another sound. Now, when he starts playing, when he was confronted, when he had to deal with that rhythm and blues shit, it wasn't about notes. And when James did this obbligato, man, it wasn't just technical, it was passionate! So James, at the end of that first number came and gave us his theme that demonstrated all of his control, and it was something.
This is where I almost cried. He starts a piece, alone, and he's got a sense of humor, and he knew he had the audience, and he started playing "Good Morning Heartache". Gross, I was almost reduced to tears by what he did. I thought of Charlie Gayle, and he gave us that, but he also gave us Don Byas, and then he played softly, and went into a bossa nova...
When he walked off, I'm standing there mesmerized, and he sees me and comes over and I say, "Hey, give me some more of that shit!" [laughs] I gotta hear that band again, cause man, the music is alive!
Q: We've been talking about various different styles of music. Do you ever feel insulted when people use the term "jazz" to describe what you do?
Well, Ellington said to Mr. Gillespie, "Why do you let them call your music bebop? I call my music 'Ellingtonia'!" It's about American music that never existed in the world until we did it.