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Baker's Dozen

Jazz Is My Religion: Idris Ackamoor’s Baker’s Dozen
Siobhan Kane , September 6th, 2023 09:49

In a sprawling Baker’s Dozen, longstanding jazz legend Idris Ackamoor tells Siobhán Kane about the way Cecil Taylor, Albert Ayler, Bob Marley and more have inspired his life and work


Cecil Taylor – Conquistador!

Cecil was my mentor and teacher for several years and beyond. He was one of the only masters I had the opportunity to know and study with, aside from my year living abroad, and so connecting and playing with Cecil and his ensemble at Antioch college in 1971 and 1972 was a defining period in my musical life. I was fortunate enough to call him my friend and an inspirational teacher. Conquistador! – that name, it’s wild! It is normally known as the Portuguese and Spanish who came and destroyed so much of the indigenous in South America and Central America, but he flips it on his head.

It was my introduction to his recording legacy, it’s one of my favourite albums, he taught me that beauty, intensity and chaos go hand in hand. It is as close to the divine as we humans can get. If you listen to that main theme in the middle part of the first side, Cecil is playing “ba bum do,” then Jimmy Lyons and Bill Dixon come in. it is one of the most beautiful melodies I can remember, and then Cecil answers them, it’s extraordinary.

Cecil taught me that he played the piano like 88 tuned drums, and once again this harkens part to the “jazz establishment”, the jazz Ayatollahs, who don’t like people who make music like Cecil is making. They seem to ignore the African influence, but Cecil embraced that African influence, that timeline pattern, from ancient Africa to the middle passage, to New Orleans, to Chicago, to who we are as Black Americans and how that music is spread throughout the world. When you consider Cecil’s playing, it’s what people think of as chaotic, but it really says something really beautiful. It’s not to ignore the classical influence, but to specifically embrace the African-ness in his spirit, his ancestors, that’s something I have always admired with Cecil. And he would dance with the best of us, partying to James Brown. It was all about the Black music continuum, and embracing all that, you know?