This was originally published in The Wire in 1999, in their EPIPHANIES section. RIP Cecil T 1929-2018
It began in 1977, at second-hand: I knew before I heard a note of it that I’d love Cecil Taylor’s music. In a jazz encyclopaedia I’d already read of a pianist “zipping and unzipping the keyboard” — but first contact came from a sideways leap out of bent chartpop. Across Bowie’s Aladdin Sane, Mike Garson’s cocktail piano clichés mutate towards cancerous splinters, which rock reviewer Charles Shaar Murray approvingly compared to Taylor. I needed to know more.
In 1989, I was flown to Germantown in Phildelphia to interview Sun Ra (for The Face). Ra is long gone now, and so’s The Face: and while a couple of longish quotes of the interview ended up in the piece about Black Science Fiction I wrote in The Wire just before I became editor, there was a lot of the (quite one-sided!) conversation that ended up on the cutting-room floor. A while back, Conor Gillies of WBUR in Boston, MA, got in touch to tell me about a new series he was helping work on — it sounded my kind of thing but I was super-busy and the only thing I could think might fit one of their projects was to send them the audio for the Sun Ra interview. I’ve been lamentably slow to publicise this — still super-busy is my only excuse — but the series, Stylus, has already started: you can hear Ra towards the end of this ep.