Cecil Taylor’s Letters to Robert Ceely, Part 2 — 1952-3

In my previous post, below, on “Cecil Taylor’s Education & Student Writings” (October 13, 2019), I promised to do my best to type out and share the remaining letters from Taylor to his composer friend Robert Ceely (http://www.ceelymusic.com/Biography.htm). The context for these is discussed in my previous post. They are attached below.

We are indebted to librarian and archivist Maryalice Perrin-Mohr for allowing these to be shared, author Jonatha Ceely for donating them, and they are reprinted courtesy of the New England Conservatory Archives in Boston.

Robert Ceely & Cecil Taylor, from http://www.ceelymusic.com/Biography.htm

The two letters I transcribed from Taylor’s handwritten originals are much like the others I posted earlier: descriptions of and opinions about jazz and contemporary classical concerts and artists he heard in New York; thoughts on issues in jazz, past and present; a few lines about mutual friends from their student days at New England Conservatory in Boston; descriptions of gigs, bands, and his piano practice and living situation; and invitations to visit him in New York.

I suggest bearing in mind that Cecil Taylor was a young musician, 23 years old, and still finding his own musical voice when he wrote these, and his opinions of musicians and their music sometimes change from letter to letter.

Here are the two letters from July 1952 and February 5, 1953.

The remaining letter, dated October 22, 1952 (between the two letters above) was submitted to the archives in two forms: Cecil Taylor’s handwriting, and Robert Ceely’s typed version. This is a remarkable letter, very different in tone and content from the others. Without Ceely’s letters to fill in the conversation, parts are hard to fully understand, but it still gives an indication of Cecil Taylor’s serious and critical thinking about issues of race and politics in 1952. It’s interesting that Ceely typed this one out and saved it. Perhaps he shared a carbon copy with someone, and/or just thought it was important to preserve it in readable form (Cecil Taylor’s handwriting being, at time, very difficult to read).

So far, I haven’t been able to identify the Emancipation Club that Taylor refers to in the letter. (If anyone knows more, please email me and I’ll post any addenda below.)

The discussion of an article, “Concentration Camps in America,” might refer to a pamphlet, “No Concentration Camps in America,” of which there are traces in archive lists online, or perhaps that pamphlet was a response to the article. This was during the Joseph McCarthy era, and the Internal Security Act (https://uscode.house.gov/view.xhtml?path=/prelim@title50/chapter23&edition=prelim) with its provisions for “Emergency Detention of Suspected Security Risks” and “Communist Control” may have been a subject of discussion.

F.E.P.C. probably refers to the Fair Employment Practice(s) Committee and/or Commission established by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1941 response to concerns about racial inequality in defense work while African-American soldiers were fighting and dying in the war. A. Philip Randolph, Mary McLeod Bethune, and others successfully lobbied for FDR’s executive order prohibiting discrimation, and the FEPC was established to enforce it. After the war, in 1945-8, President Truman was in conflict with Congressional committees as he wanted to make it permanent. The issue was in the news again around 1950 as the House passed related legislation but it was blocked by Southern Senate committee members (according to the quick research I’ve done so far; corrections are welcome). When Taylor writes “I attack certain senators from Ohio because I know their record as for civil rights in their own communities,” he may be referring to some of the events covered in this article on the FEPC and Cincinnati, for example: http://library.cincymuseum.org/journals/files/qch/v52/n3/qch-v52-n3-pub-009.pdf

Here is Robert Ceely’s typed version of Cecil Taylor’s handwritten letter to him dated October 22, 1952. (This is the fifth of the seven letters in the archive.)

I look forward to Ben Young’s biography of Cecil Taylor, which I understand is in progress.

About Ben Young: https://www.jazzhistorydatabase.com/archives/ben-young/index.php

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