Cecil Taylor performing at Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, Buffalo, New York, 18 April 2009
Wood Ticks on Fire: Cecil Taylor and the Forests of Sound that Plant Themselves in Us
Playing with Taylor I began to be liberated from thinking about chords. I’d been imitating John Coltrane unsuccessfully and because of that I was really chord conscious.
—Archie Shepp, quoted in LeRoi Jones, album liner notes for Four for
Trane (Impulse A-71, 1964)
Suffice it to say that Cecil Taylor’s music is not for everyone.
—Scott Yanow (jazz critic)
As if the stars contained wood ticks
on fire. As if there were forests within
forests. Trees within stones. Stones
folded over into water.
The most secret nocturnal animals
walk around during the day, unseen.
A ghost voice is often heard in any mirror
of our choosing. As if fire ants could breed with starlight,
birthing lightning bugs and a sad array of weeds.
Mars might say, Hand me the handlebar mustache.
Mercury, Hurry the music stew, adding a tablespoon of curry.
Pluto, I really am a planet, and Cecil’s music proves it!
In The Secret Lives of Plants, there is possum wind outdoors
nourishing what grows green inside. Ask me what this music is,
and I’ll say it may not be for everyone, but it expands our breathing …..nonetheless.
Cecil was also a poet. Loved Duncan. Olson. Baraka.
If words could fall into his piano keys, he’d most certainly be
a Falconress in a Meadow somewhere in Gloucester or New Jersey.
Let’s say Pluto was a planet again. Let’s say, from afar,
it helped determine the movement of blood in trees. Let’s say
it could shape the sky. Make a deranged possum
drink only deer piss and eat nothing but clothespins
fallen from the throat of Béla Bartók.
Cecil. Listening again to Unit Structure, to The Great Paris Concert,
I am alive inside tonight with something I thought had died.
Ghosts of the most secret forests flourish, planting themselves. In me.
As if the Garden of Eden was too kind ever to banish us.
Let’s say the world of your music is as essential as sex.
That the ache in your groin was owl resin about to be released.
photo by Jim Whitcraft
George Kalamaras is former Poet Laureate of Indiana (2014– 2016) and Professor Emeritus at Purdue University Fort Wayne, where he taught for 32 years. He has published twenty collections of poetry, twelve full-length books and eight chapbooks.
Listen to the 1966 recording of pianist Cecil Taylor playing “Steps,” from the album Unit Structures, with Eddie Gale (trumpet); Jimmy Lyons (alto saxophone); Henry Grimes (bass); Andrew Cyrille (drums); Ken McIntyre (reeds). [Universal Music Group]