Cecil Taylor- PDX Jazz Fest 2008

Cecil Percival Taylor is world renowned for being one of the progenitors of the free jazz movement that took the jazz world by storm in the mid 1960's. After working with Hot Lips Page and Johnny Hodges for a short duration, Cecil formed his own quartet in 1955 featuring Steve Lacy on soprano sax, Buell Neidlinger on bass and Dennis Charles on the drums. From 1961 to 1986, Cecil primarily performed and recorded with alto saxophonist Jimmy Lyons, drummer Sunny Murray and Andrew Cyrille. Over the past two decades his recordings have mainly been released on European record labels, with the rare exception of a few select recordings that can be found in the US.

Cecil's approach to playing the piano is with a visceral percussive style that evokes the drumming of Milford Graves or Sunny Murray. I was first introduced to Cecil's music when I heard his fantastic debut album Jazz Advance featuring Steve Lacy on soprano saxophone. While it's been awhile since I've listened to this record, I'll never forget the amazement and wonder of hearing this muscular, violent and earth-shattering music for the first time.

You can imagine that I was ecstatic when I learned that Cecil was playing the PDX Jazz Festival this year. I have often heard that his live performances are one of the most intensely beautiful things to witness in the world of music, and now I could see it for myself.

I opted to get the cheapest tickets for the show, because I was unemployed at the time. However, despite hearing negative things about the Marriott Ballroom, it turned out to be an acoustically perfect place to witness the artistry of Cecil Taylor. My seat was in the back of the ballroom, but I was able to capture an authentic reproduction of the performance on my Olympus recorder. I restrained myself from clapping too closely to the microphone, because I didn't want to create a clipping effect. Unfortunately, you can't control the environment around you, so there are moments of people coughing and rustling in their seats.

After Cecil was introduced, he entered the stage, dressed in all white, shoeless and ready to captivate this sold out audience with a dazzling display of talent and creativity. What we witnessed was nothing short of jaw-dropping. Cecil painted elaborate sketches of sound with his nimble fingers as he hammered at the keys with a fevered intensity. During most of these songs, there are moments of quiet and space that demonstrate the dynamics of his compositions perfectly. At times the piano sounded like a trickle of rain on a windowpane that quickly emerges into a frenetic volcano of tonal clusters. His compositions transported the audience into a winding, twisting labyrinth of sound that is evocative of the surreal sketches of MC Escher. Towards the end of the performance, Cecil performed a humorous spoken-word piece dealing with complex scientific theories about the universe. He played one more piece to end the regular set, but the audience gave him a standing ovation. Without leaving the stage, Cecil proceeded to play a short, pretty song to end the concert on an uncharacteristically quiet note.

This concert was a thing of beauty that seemed to be over in the blink of an eye, but it will resonate with me long after the curtain has been closed. I didn't recognize any of the compositions that Cecil played during the performance, so I am going to assume that they were all untitled improvisations. If any of you were there and can shed some light on the titles of the songs he played, please let me know. This ranks as one of my top three favorite live performances ever.

Link in comments! Please let me know what you think.


Kevin said…
Cecil Taylor- Part 1


Cecil Taylor- Part 2

Anonymous said…
Thanks for the recordings, they sound really good for your so called bad seat. I have to admit I'd never even heard of this cat, and I consider myself somewhat versed in free jazz. Mingus opened that door. I found a few references to Cecil's influence on John Medeski's playing, which makes a lot of sense if you listen to MMW. Anyways, cool post.
Anonymous said…
Thanks. For some soundboard recordings of Cecil Taylor look on: http://inconstantsol.blogspot.com/index.html
deconstructo said…
Kevin, thanks for your fine efforts at rec & sharing live concerts that many of us can't get to.

A couple minor points--free jazz per se didn't "take the world by storm" probably until mid sixties--not 50s--the first commonly acknowledged free (free of chord changes, primarily, free of set rhythm and improvisation on melodic structures) was Ornette in 1959.

Since that time it has become part of the language and history of jazz, but has never been totally accepted by the jazz mainstream.

@Ben: Mingus = freejazz? In what universe? Mingus was an outspoken critic of free jazz, and while he certainly encouraged improvisational solos, his band members always had to be aware of the time, the chord, the changes. Woe be unto he that could not read the charts.

Please do not read into this that I have animosity toward free jazz--far from it, I am a huge proponent.

By the mid sixties it was possible to put out Free Jazz recordings with the support of minor labels (Delmark, Nessa, BYG/Actuel) and in the 70s on major labels. But in no way was free jazz anything but a blip on the radar in the mid 50s.

Keep up the good work. And don't let Cecil know this is posted--he's notoriously proprietary about his recordings. Not a freeshare kind of free jazz guy. By a long shot.
Kevin said…

I have to admit that I've never thought of Cecil Taylor's piano playing having an influence on Medeski Martin and Wood's music. As far as Mingus opening the door for you: I think that sometimes there needs to be an artist that isn't necessarily avant garde or free that serves as the gateway to a new world. For you, it was Mingus, and for me it was John Coltrane. The first jazz album that I truly listened to was A Kind of Blue, and that just made me want to explore further into the world of Jazz. Thanks for commenting and I'm glad that you are digging Cecil.

Anon: I am aware of the great Inconstant Sol, and have visited there much in the past. The main reason that I don't go there more often, is that they use Rapidshare and FLAC. This means that one download could span 6 rapidshare links. Since I can't afford an account for Rapidshare premium, I can only download part of a show and then go back three hrs later to pick up the rest. There is no doubt that they are hosting some pretty amazing stuff there.


Thanks for your thoughts. I realize that Free Jazz didn't take storm until after Ornette released Free Jazz in 1959. However, what I am saying is that Cecil was a part of creating this movement. I will change it to say in the mid 60's to be more accurate. Also, I don't think that Ben is saying that Mingus is Free Jazz music. I think he is saying that Mingus "opened the door" for him to explore further. How do you know that Cecil is proprietary about the recording of his shows? If this is the case, I feel like I should take down this show. I wouldn't want to go against his wishes by posting this. Anyway, thanks for the comment

Cheers to all, Kevin
Anonymous said…

first of all. thank you for the invitation, i didnt know the place.

second. thank you for these recordings. im downloading them right now.

third. abou the free jazz matter... In my very humble opinion, i think it is very dificult to determine when free jazz was born. i undestand why mingus cant be considered as one funder of the style, but i cant also reject his influence, as miles davis, in the matter. like every musician, the piece of music someone creates exceed ones expectation (thankfully for the music in general). all this without considering the subjectivity and the ear of each one of us when we "begin" listening to some "new" music. i remember the first time i heard a kind of blue, i couldnt "understan" it. i coudnt find the "harmony", the essence of music. nowadays i lought of myself.

finally, only to bother you. i think the first musician who can be considered one of the founder of a much freerer jazz is Lennie Tristano, before ornette also. "intuition" is form 1949!!!, the year of "the birth of the cool"!!! (i still listen to that piece and i cant "find" the melody, amazing)

well, just keep going
thank you

(please excuse me my english)
Anonymous said…
Thanks Kevin. But tell me please - where was this recorded? Which country / city?

Thank you.
Kevin said…

You're welcome for the invite, and it is my pleasure to share these recordings with everyone. I also appreciate your thoughts regarding when free jazz originated. I agree that this is something that can be endlessly debated. I'll definitely check out that Lennie Tristano recording that you mentioned here. Thanks for stopping by and I hope that you will return.

glmlr: Sorry about that. I just realized that just putting PDX Jazz Fest wasn't clear to everyone. This concert was in Portland, Oregon at the Marriott Ballroom in the USA. It was part of Portland's Jazz Fest in February of 2008. I hope you enjoy the recording.

Best, Kevin
Dave said…
Thanks for the recording kevin. that performance really blew my mind!!
Anonymous said…
Thanks so much for this gem. I attended this gig, and it was a dream come true to finally get a chance to see Cecil perform. I was a little worried that he wasn't going to make it. He missed his scheduled interview at the Art Bar the night before (they said he missed his flight) and didn't arrive at the Marriott until AFTER Scheps, the opening performer, was done with his set. I know this for a fact, since I almost walked into Cecil (who was being escorted by two festival officials) in the lobby after Scheps was already done.

I'm not a music expert (just a big fan), but I think there are "seeds" of free music in a lot of jazz that existed prior to the mid '50s. Tristano would be a good example. I think there are also many examples of playing "out" from a lot of the great bop saxophonists, even though they may have occurred within the framework of bop conventions. They would still be bop, but "out there"!

I think Cecil, particularly with his "Jazz Advance," which was from '55, I think, was among the first to take the existing bop templates and start turning them inside out into a freer music (but wtf do I know?). Sun Ra was clearly starting to do the same thing in Chicago at the same time, and Ornette was working on similar ideas out West. Those three cats stick out in my mind as the main architects of free music.

Thanks again for the recording. Documentation is very important. I recorded shows for about 10 years on a Sony D7 before it finally crapped out a couple of years ago. I haven't gotten a new rig together yet, and I was hoping that someone would capture the Ornette and Cecil shows in Portland. The "Dean Benedettis" of the world who capture the music are crucial to the history of jazz music. I have a bias toward jazz, but I think every note played by the likes of Cecil and Ornette should be captured for historical purposes. Their contributions to creativity are immense beyond words--and they are not getting any younger. To have their current work documented will be important to future fans and scholars of the music.

I'm looking forward to this Cecil recording. If my memory serves me right, I think he played about 6 or 7 pieces, with some poetry toward the end. It reminded me of the stuff from the "Fly! Fly! Fly!" solo LP from 1980, since the performance wasn't in one massive chunk like a lot of his solo performances.

Thank you sincerely for this gift, Sir, and for taking the time to capture it.

phil said…
cecil taylor absolutely incredible, great performance !!
many thanks for this post appreciated
Fitz said…
awesome! i was at the show, and didn't even think to look for bootlegs until accidentally stumbling on it here. thanks so much.
As an avid consumer of live bootlegs of great jazzmen (and it seems there are plenty around, specially from Cecil or Braxton), Thanks a lot for the recording; great sound and great selection of pieces (even the "thank you" and Coughs put me more in ambient)!

Adding to the origins of free jazz discussion: I agree that until mid 60s probably there wasn´t a movement as free jazz, in the sense that you could integrate a broad group of musicians working with similar aims.
I think personally that despite the work of the small recording companies (ESP and all) the real broadcaster was John Coltrane and the Impulse Label. Just an opinion.

Of course there were mavericks that not doing exactly free jazz, they were building things outside the rules lots of years before. You have mentioned some: Tristano, Coleman; I would add some more: How about the Jimmy Giuffre trio of first 60s with Paul Bley and Steve Swallow?-How sad he died two months ago-.
Cecil was a maverick since the beginning: I had the same impression as yours when I hear his debut. When you compare what was the rule in 1957 when I think the disc was recorded, and you hear how Cecil played then...My god, he was miles ahead the flock.
Rod... said…
thanks for these - brilliant stuff! I've seen Cecil in London twice in the last few years and he was awesome on both occasions - my favourite pianist still (along with Monk)...
Anonymous said…
Thank you very much!
Mr. Taylor always delivers
although some people should better
get into cough drops than free jazz...
artwork available at yahoo's CT's research group,
Take care.
upkerry14 said…
Any chance of a FLAC DL? Thanks, Bill
david_grundy said…
came across this just now...thanks a lot. I saw cecil with braxton, parker and oxley in london last year and it was great stuff. I don't think I've heard a bad cecil record, ever. he's one of those artists you just have to obsess about - in a musical sense. his music's like a drug - gives you a real high. I half-remember the poet clark coolidge saying something like that.
ghostrancedance said…
Hi Kevin,

Purely by chance I stumbled across your comment over on Vanish Yourself (the NYC R&B post) and decided to check out your blog.

Turns out I'd aready downloaded a recording of Cecil's PDX concert from a Chinese (!) blog. They had the same photo too! I wondered if it is your recording? It's at

I was bummed when I missed both Ornette and Cecil in Portland! FYI, Taylor is playing solo in Seattle, Sunday, October 26, 8:00 p.m., at Town Hall, as part of the Earshot Jazz Festival.

Nice blog, man!

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