It’s taken decades for Jason Moran to understand the artistry of Cecil Taylor, the brilliant American pianist who left us last Thursday, on April 5. A few years ago, The Checkout visited Moran’s New York studio to celebrate the visionary iconoclastic artist, just before paying homage at Harlem Stage.
On this very special Checkout podcast, Moran reflects on his hero in conversation, then honors him in performance.
Growing up in Houston, Moran got to know Taylor’s albums through his father’s record collection, where they occupied equal space next to Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea. But Moran’s life changed after seeing Taylor in concert — on a blocked-off street in SoHo, with the Japanese modern dancer Min Tanaka.
This moment shattered all of Moran's preconceived notions of being a jazz pianist. He quickly realized that Taylor’s language expanded far beyond that tradition, veering into the realm of conceptual and performance art. The experience motivated Moran to push his own boundaries as an artist, which indirectly inspired his radical and incredible collaborations with visual artists Joan Jonas and Adrian Piper.
In addition to hearing Moran’s homage to Cecil Taylor at Harlem Stage, we also hear his analysis of some of his favorite Taylor recordings, including a standard that set the world ablaze at The Five Spot 60 years ago, and an unlikely duo performance with the great Mary Lou Williams.