Meeting Cecil Taylor in the Rockies

I was a punk in the 80s and also printed all the photos in this book featuring Cecil Taylor

Living by intuition means paying attention to the nudges of the universe and also responding actively to those nudges. So when I re-discovered my journal notes from my time at the summer jazz workshop in Banff just as I read a call for papers on Cecil Taylor, I decided my story was worth sharing. And they were kind enough to invite me to tell it. I presented it at Unit Structures: The Art of Cecil Taylor conference at the Graduate Center, CUNY and Brooklyn College on October 26, 2019.

It was a wonderful few days filled with people who knew Cecil at various points in his life sharing stories and thoughts, as well as people who had never met him but have been moved by his work offering theories and ideas. It was just as much a labyrinth of thought as any conversation with Cecil or moment with his music might be. And it culminated in a concert of his music directed by Karen Borca who was immersed in his work over many decades and who is carrying on his legacy with confidence and understanding.

I considered documenting my presentation here but for now I feel content to know the shape of it is out there, formed by the live presentation and not etched in digital stone. Let’s just say that I wanted to make sure that people who are interested in Cecil and his art also knew how inclusive and inspiring Cecil Taylor was to those of us who are often shuffled to the side or dismissed, the chick singers of the world who often stop and wonder if it is really all worth the bother, the effort of carving out space for ourselves in a place that doesn’t always seem to want us there. He also reinforced ideas I had that at the time were just forming and growing inside me about expressing energies from ancestral stories or words coming from other dimensions. So often discussion of the mystical in free jazz gets left in the dust but what of animal spirits, ancestral dna and dreaming? How many of the things we love share their origins in the imaginal realm?

Drawing of Cecil and an elk by Theo Lambert

I know more about shamanism now than I did when I arrived in Banff, before I met Cecil. It’s a word I hesitate to use about my own music as so many see it as belonging only to specific cultures or even just to special chosen men and yet I am pretty sure it is a universal energy that exists for all of us. I’ve met people in remote places in the world devoting themselves to making music in much the same way that we do in free jazz and for the same fundamental reasons. Cecil embodied that philosophy for me and his music contains all the answers to all the questions he raised. So that’s what I have to say about it, for now.

There was a lot of energy at this conference that travelled back in time to dreams I had earlier in the year and I have found traces of it in the dreams of my dream sharing friends too so I am not entirely sure what the mystic detective in me makes of all of that. I will have to continue gathering clues and piecing them together and moving forward with it as well. What I do know for sure is that I was very happy to be entirely myself, to be given the time to explain myself as I do here in this space. So that was a great thing and for that I am very grateful.

Glorious landscapes through the Adirondacks viewed from the train from Montreal