Cecil Taylor’s quintet played a week at Oil Can Harry’s sometime around 1978. Al Shimokura was one of the owners of the club and he and I had become friends. I owned a VW van at the time, a nice clean one with all the seats, and so occasionally I’d help out by picking bands up at the airport. I enjoyed doing this because I didn’t mind driving and I got to meet many great jazz players. For example, Danny Richmond and I got to be buddies for the week he was in town with Mingus and this is something I cherish. Mingus himself, on the other hand, definitely did not become a buddy let me tell you. Well, who cares? Not a warm guy but the beauty and genius of his music will never die. But back to the Cecil story. On the way in from the airport the guys were beside themselves digging the beauty of the city. It was a gorgeous day and the North Shore mountains were sharp against the clear blue sky and looked so close you wanted to stick your head out the window and lick them.
In the band were Raphe Malik, Jimmy Lyons, Marc Edwards, and tenor player David S. Ware. They were here for almost a week and even with the daily rehearsals there’d be free time so I said, “We can drive up to those mountains in about half an hour, if you want to go one day I’d be glad to drive you all up there.”
Wow! Yeah! Great! I’m in! Let’s do it! Tomorrow, man! Let’s go tomorrow!
After the gig that night I arranged to pick them all up at the hotel the next day at noon. “Not too early, man. Get me at noon.” Next day at noon I knocked on each door one by one. “Who is it? Later, man. I’m sleepin'” And, “Go way, I got company!” Or, “Shit man can we do this tomorrow?” The last door was Ware’s and he was Ready! Dressed up, clean, bright-eyed, and slick.
Apparently time has confused my memory. As I recalled it, Ware had left his home town of Plainfield New Jersey and traveled thirty miles to New York City where he eventually wound up in Cecil Taylor’s band. Now twenty-six years old, his entire world had consisted of Plainfield and Manhattan. He barely knew of mountains and rivers and trees, of open wild spaces, the so-called natural world. This is what I remembered. It may not be utterly accurate but I believe it’s close enough to the truth. Now he’s beside me driving up a coastal highway, water on our left – mountains on our right, and he’s so utterly awed by everything he can barely speak. We got out at Shannon Falls and hiked up to where we were sprayed by the cascading waters, standing on rocks, hanging on to trees. He looked upwards with an expression filled with an amazement I can’t begin to describe. We stood there no more than fifteen minutes, turned around, got in the van, and drove back to town so Ware could make that afternoon’s rehearsal.
Not really much of a story, but one I felt like telling because David S. Ware, whose album Live in the World I’m listening to as I write, has become one of the strongest, most creative, passionate, and moving improvisors in modern music.
Who knows what lights a certain fire in the creative brains of men?