Harlem Stage partnered with the Brooklyn’s Issue Project Room to create a series of performances called A Celebration of the Maestro to honor NEA Jazz Master Cecil Taylor throughout the month of May 2012. The focus of the program was to bring a greater understanding the jazz great’s career and influence.
The first event on May 8 and 9, Celebrating Cecil, featured pianists Vijay Iyer, Craig Taborn, and Amina Claudine Myers, with noted author Amiri Baraka making a special guest appearance at Harlem Stage’s intimate Gatehouse theater, drawing a full house.
The first half of the program included solo piano selections by each artist and a recitation by Baraka in tribute to Taylor, accompanied on piano by Myers. The second half of the program featured piano duets among the three, creating a cacophonous sonic landscape. A post-performance panel discussion with the artists on May 9 was moderated by George E. Lewis, professor of American Music at Columbia University. The pianists spoke of Taylor’s influence on their own playing and careers.
The second event on May 16 involved virtuoso pianist Thollem McDonas performing solo and with bass clarinetist Arrington de Dionyso, followed by a set from the thunderous percussionist and powerhouse bandleader William Hooker at the Issue Project Room.
This was followed by performances by the artist himself: Taylor playing solo at the Harlem Stage on May 17 and the Issue Project Room on May 19. The program included piano and poetry selections performed by Taylor on his preferred instrument, a Bosendorfer piano. According to the organizers, Taylor had not played in his hometown of Brooklyn in decades before the Issue Project Room date. Both events were standing room only, and the audiences were made up of both young and old, many of whom had not seen Taylor play live before. Even at 83 Taylor still addressed the piano with the same intensity as in his younger days and was met with huge rounds of applause at the end of each performance.
On May 22, the final event of the month-long celebration took place at the Anthology Film Archives: a screening of rare archival footage of live concert material by Taylor solo and with the Cecil Taylor Unit.
An audio piece about the event—created by graduate students at Columbia University and including comments by Harlem Stage Executive Director Patricia Cruz and jazz pianists Vijay Iyer and Amina Claudine Myers—is found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WIYq1CCvppU. Various departments in Columbia are developing a plan for a future seminar, publication, exhibition, and encore performance.