Cecil Taylor (1929–2018), who was associated with the postwar black musical avant-garde, and Mary Lou Williams (1910–81), who had roots in jazz’s swing era, met in a notorious 1977 Carnegie Hall recital. These two African American pianists possessed decidedly different temperaments and aesthetic sensibilities; their encounter offers a striking illustration of how conflicts between coexisting performance strategies can reveal a great deal about musicians’ thought processes and worldviews. Evidence from unpublished manuscripts and letters, published interviews and written commentary by the performers, the accounts of music critics, and musical transcriptions from a commercial recording (the album Embraced ) reveals that, in addition to demonstrating the performers’ distinct musical idiolects, the concert engaged longstanding debates over jazz’s history and definition as well as broader issues of black American identity. In particular, it dispelled still potent notions of jazz as a genre with a unilinear historical trajectory, and it encapsulated the inherent ambivalence toward the past often exhibited by the jazz avant-garde.
The jazz pianist Thelonious Monk's highly idiosyncratic instrumental technique has long been a topic of controversy. Examination of competing views sheds light on the circumstances under which Monk's detractors have accused him of incompetence, whereas his devotees have generally argued either that he was proficient in a conventional sense or that his pianistic imperfections were irrelevant to his music's intellectual content. New perspectives on Monk's pianism may be sought through the analysis of concert films that document his playing in close detail. The films indicate that sometimes Monk intentionally created technical hurdles for himself in order to imbue his playing with a degree of expressive tension.