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Cecil Taylor

Cecil Taylor in his home, New York, 1983. Photo: Deborah Feingold/Corbis/Getty.

IN THE MID-1990S, I moved from Houston, Texas, to New York to study at the Manhattan School of Music. I routinely walked from Harlem to SoHo, walks that would basically take all day, and I’d make unplanned pit stops while learning the city. One of these walks was specific: Someone told me about a Cecil Taylor performance downtown. When I arrived at the intersection of Houston and Mercer, I saw a piano on a small stage in the middle of the street. An audience of about three hundred lined the sidewalk. I found are hydrant to stand on. Cecil began playing, growling and crying his way through the music. A butoh dancer, Min Tanaka, moved up and down the street. Sometimes he approached the piano and danced underneath it, at Cecil’s feet.

No one was teaching this at the conservatory, and Cecil’s performance was how I learned about the music in another environment. This was new to me, new

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