Source: The New York Review of Books.
In 1966, the pianist Cecil Taylor appeared in Les Grandes Répétitions, a series of Nouvelle Vague-influenced documentaries for French television about Olivier Messiaen, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and other modern composers. Taylor, who died at eighty-nine in April, was the only jazz musician featured. The avant-garde jazz movement was young, brash, and commanding increasing respect from a classical establishment that had been, at best, indifferent to black music, and Taylor, a conservatory-trained pianist who was creating a radical synthesis of jazz improvisation and European modernism, had emerged as one of its most militant and sophisticated leaders. That same year, he had ended a four-year recording silence with two extraordinary albums, Unit Structures and Conquistador! He was also profiled in A.B. Spellman’s classic book on the avant-garde, Four Lives in the Bebop Business. After more than a decade working menial jobs to pay his bills, he was finally living off his art, and being noticed. Far from being grateful for the attention, though, he insisted that mere recognition was not enough; he wanted to change the very terms of the discussion about musical creation and musical value.