Archive for the '5a} Cecil Taylor' Category

09
Apr
09

Cecil Taylor: “This Music is the Face of a Drum”

From Jazz & Pop Magazine, April 1971.

As an artist-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin, Cecil Taylor has finally been able to realize a long-held ambition – the command of a large orchestra.

Comprised of fifteen of his students (and augmented by Jimmy Lyons, Sam Rivers, Leroy Jenkins and Andrew Cyrille), the “Cecil Taylor Ensemble” recently played concerts at Wisconsin and at Dayton University in Ohio and it is scheduled to make its New York debut at Hunter College in May.

Cecil Taylor

Cecil Taylor

The band’s repertoire consists entirely of Taylor compositions, pieces which he describes as “embodying ideas that crystallized for me around 1960, and which were first revealed on the 1966 Blue Note dates [Unit Structures and Conquistador] and then in the procedures Mike Mantler borrowed for the Jazz Composers Orchestra record. They represent a development of those ideas, plus what’s current in my musical vocabulary today. I’m involved in the investigation, on a very consistent and steady basis, of the timbres inherent in the instruments of the band, an exploration of their potential, and an attempt to make a definitive sound with a larger number of people than the scene in New York allows.

“This opportunity to work with a large number of musicians – which enables you to do so many things you cannot do with a small unit – could not have happened in New York,” Cecil continued. “Like the scene has forced Monk to play with just four people for so many years and it has imposed unnatural limitations on what he does. At Wisconsin we’ve been able to rehearse five or six days a week since September because the school is paying for the rehearsal hall. The unique ‘high’ that I’ve been getting in Wisconsin, from the nature of the band and from the continual level of activity I’ve been able to experience is similar to the one I’ve gotten in Europe when I’ve worked every night for a prolonged period.”

The personnel of Taylor’s band (male and female) is young and inexperienced. It’s also mostly white. What, I wanted to know, was the significance of these circumstances for him?

“The inexperience of some of the players is a virtue rather than a drawback. There are fewer things to unlearn. My approach to the members of the band – which is similar to the kind of approach I use in the class that I teach – ‘Black Music from 1920 to the Present’ – constitutes a fundamental attack against the whole structure of the way music is given to people and also against how our parents taught us and what they thought was necessary and important to teach us. All of us intuitively knew the things young people know today, but we could not implement our intuitions because of the way we were taught. This is why people drop out of school. I don’t tell people in the band how to play. I just tell them: ‘Play.’ Then, by doing it, they begin to see how to play. I’ve dispensed with the idea of teaching notes as such. I play for them and they write down what they want to. We have someone in the band who has been playing only seven months. I confront him with possibilities around the one note he can play with ease and have him see how that one note relates to a living musical structure

“As for the personnel of the band being dominated by whites, that’s true. But esthetically the band is dominated by me, and that’s one of the most interesting and exciting aspects of it. White musicians are serving a black director and implementing his concepts, rather than the other way around.

“I think this is very important. You see, black music is the face of white culture and white culture is very busy denying it. That’s why CBS could give an hour to Janis Joplin and call her the ‘Queen of the Blues.’ So I’m involved with making it impossible for white culture to deny the truth any longer. As one who bows to the omnipotence of black creativity in music, I’m also involved with conveying spiritual knowledge to anyone who will hear it. Janis Joplin heard something, but what she didn’t hear were the spiritual laws and heritage which determine what the tradition is. If she had heard that she’d probably still be alive.

“I’m saying that what African culture has been about is the celebration of life, of joy and of creativity – the manifestations of which are to make one high. The white plantation owner saying, ‘Goddamn, where did they get all that energy from?’ thought it was just physical energy, but it was more than that, it was spiritual recognition, a recognition that all things in the universe have energy, that you are part of the universe and that everything around you gives you energy. Africans were agricultural, but they paid homage to nature in their dances, in their consecration of a tree before they cut it down.

“The white people who are in the band are in the band because they responded to this concept.

“In directing the band I try to communicate the aesthetic basis on which black music is built. I’m teaching the musicians in the band the philosophical and spiritual factors which resulted in the idea of black music – a very ancient music. I’m telling them the precepts. I’m giving them the idea of how black men proceed. I’m not expecting them to play as black men, but I’m trying to teach them how to assimilate, as much as they’re culture will allow it, black procedures, and to assist them in achieving their liberation For example, I said to a young, white woman in the ensemble: ‘This music is the face of a drum,’ and her whole attack changed! Blacks would play the music in a different way, but anybody can play it – anybody can interpret it. What you do is you have an exchange and each person takes what he deems to be valid. The whites in the band are attempting to come to terms with the black aesthetic of music.

“You see, what white intellectuals must be confronted with is the black methodology that creates this music. Stravinsky and Bartók made a statement in a certain way, but blacks put it together differently – their way – and Ralph Ellison’s notion of the symphonic form as the ‘ultimate’ is a lie.

“My purpose,” Cecil concluded, “is to carry on the tradition of Fletcher Henderson and Duke Ellington and therefore to reaffirm and extend the line of black music that goes back thousands of years.”

By my lights, every performance by a Cecil Taylor group is an event. But the first New York appearance of the “Cecil Taylor Ensemble” (which reliable sources report is making “astonishing” music) will clearly have a special significance and I, for one, am eagerly looking forward to it.

More on Taylor: Notes From a Season at the Center of the Universe: Cecil Taylor at the Take 3, 1962-’63 and The War is Over: A Conversation About Jazz with Robert Levin




Writings & Miscellaneous

Books by Robert Levin

When Pacino’s Hot, I’m Hot
The Drill Press LLC
Reviews

 

Against Mental Health: Short Stories

Cyberwit

“Some real gold in here.”—B.D. Charles

“A writer of talent and intelligence.” — Irving Louis Horowitz

“Distinguished quality…profound emotion.” —Dr. Karunesh Kumar Agrawal

 

CybernetA Robert Levin Reader

Fiction • Commentary • Jazz

Cyberwit

“5 Stars. An eclectic mix of short fiction and commentary by a man who is clearly a born writer, this volume will make you an instant fan. Levin uses irreverent humor, but his work can also be poignant and sweet. I was easily hooked by the opening story, “When Pacino’s Hot, I’m Hot”…Levin’s writing made this [unusual] story work. And after that and onto the next selections, you realize Levin has more than one style and perspective. He takes you on clever imaginative journeys that make you blush, laugh, or smile… He has the provocative blue humor of a stand-up comedian. But fiction only scratches the surface of what Levin writes. He also writes about political and social issues and about jazz. If you’re looking for attitude, funny lines, cringe-worthy moments and pathos don’t pass up “A Robert Levin Reader” by Robert Levin.” —Excerpt from Tammy Ruggles review on Readers’ Favorite.

 

“5 Stars

Highly enjoyable, clever and wholly original, A Robert Levin Reader proves a fine read with its eclectic combination of short stories, cutting commentary and dialogues on Jazz.

One of the criticisms often levelled at short story anthologies is that it’s hard to lose oneself in the succinctness of such short works, but Levin easily turns brevity to his advantage and the enjoyment of his readers.

Avoiding the pitfalls of flat and prescriptive dialogue, he confidently captures the essence of his characters which in turn makes unfolding events all the more poignant. With taut prose he’s mastered the art of expanding upon a given moment, holding his characters and events up to scrutiny then moving on. There’s no wanton dallying, each of his stories punches above its word count without being overstated and there’s a powerful sense of familiarity to each one.

But Levin gives us much more than 13 short stories and with commentaries like Everything’s Alright In The Middle East, Proving God By Consensus and Why Utopia Will Forever Elude us we are granted a unique perspective on an extraordinary mind.

“I don’t know what man-made horrors await the planet in the coming years. I do know they’ll be impervious to history and abundant and that the unacceptability of death will be at their root,” is how Levin ends his latter commentary with each of his commentaries sure to elicit serious reflection.

Finally, Levin turns his thoughts to Jazz. Unapologetically blunt with plenty of vintage material on which to draw he has wonderful behind the scenes tales to share. Not only recalling events and feelings but delivering them in a tone and voice that is engaging and rich with detail.

An all-round superb read from an intellectually cutting mind A Robert Levin Reader is recommended without reservation.” —Book Viral

 

 

Music & Politics
by John Sinclair and Robert Levin
World Publishing

“Robert Levin’s articles…make up the second half of Music and Politics, and they’re something else again. He’s a quietly briliant writer (not flashy but subtly dazzling) who knows jazz extremely well and who knows how to let us know what he knows. His piece on Sunny Murray says more about the birth of the New Jazz than most writers could say in a volume; the Anthony Braxton interview is one of the freshest, most reassuring articles on the future of music (of the arts in general) that I’ve read; his ‘found critique’ of ‘Space’ by the MJQ, which contrasts Murray’s thoughts on music at the White House with President Nixon’s introduction of the MJQ in that very place, is brilliant; his piece on the unfortunate evolution of Willis Jackson…is a minor masterpiece; and he’s lucid and painful and thoroughly correct when he writes that ‘What is meant by ‘every man has his price’ is that every man has his uncertainty about the validity and sanity of his perception of the truth. To ‘sell out’ is to capitulate to that uncertainty.'”
—Colman Andrews, Creem

 

giants
Giants of Black Music
Edited by Pauline Rivelli and Robert Levin, with a foreword by Nat Hentoff
Da Capo Press