|Birth name||Cecil Percival Taylor|
|Born||March 25, 1929|
Corona, Queens, New York, U.S.
|Died||April 5, 2018 89) (aged|
Brooklyn, New York City
|Genres||Jazz, avant-garde jazz, free jazz|
|Occupation(s)||Musician, bandleader, composer, poet|
|Labels||Transition, Blue Note, Freedom, Hathut, Enja, FMP|
|Associated acts||Steve Lacy, Jimmy Lyons, Archie Shepp, Albert Ayler, Buell Neidlinger, Alan Silva, William Parker, Sunny Murray, Andrew Cyrille, Tony Oxley, Anthony Braxton, Alan Silva, Art Ensemble of Chicago, John Coltrane|
Cecil Percival Taylor (March 25, 1929 – April 5, 2018)was an American pianist and poet.
Taylor was classically trained and was one of the pioneers of free jazz. His music is characterized by an energetic, physical approach, resulting in complex improvisation often involving tone clusters and intricate polyrhythms. His technique has been compared to percussion. Referring to the number of keys on a standard piano, Val Wilmer used the phrase "eighty-eight tuned drums" to describe Taylor's style.He has been referred to as being "like Art Tatum with contemporary-classical leanings".
Taylor was raised in the Corona, Queens neighborhood of New York City.As an only child to a middle-class family, Taylor's mother encouraged him to play music at an early age. He began playing piano at age six and went on to study at the New York College of Music and New England Conservatory in Boston. At the New England Conservatory, Taylor majored in composition and arranging. During his time there, he also became familiar with contemporary European art music. Bela Bartók and Karlheinz Stockhausen notably influenced his music.
In 1955, Taylor moved back to New York City from Boston. He formed a quartet with soprano saxophonist, Steve Lacy, bassist Buell Neidlinger, and drummer Dennis Charles.Taylor's first recording, Jazz Advance , featured Lacy and was released in 1956. The recording is described by Richard Cook and Brian Morton in the Penguin Guide to Jazz: "While there are still many nods to conventional post-bop form in this set, it already points to the freedoms in which the pianist would later immerse himself." Taylor's quartet featuring Lacy also appeared at the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival, which was made into the album At Newport . Taylor collaborated with saxophonist John Coltrane in 1958 on Stereo Drive , now available as Coltrane Time.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Taylor's music grew more complex and moved away from existing jazz styles. Gigs were often hard to come by, and club owners found that Taylor's approach of playing long pieces tended to impede business.His 1959 LP record Looking Ahead! showcased his innovation as a creator as compared to the jazz mainstream. Unlike others at the time, Taylor utilized virtuosic techniques and made swift stylistic shifts from phrase to phrase. These qualities, among others, still remained notable distinctions of his music for the rest of his life.
Landmark recordings, such as Unit Structures (1966), also appeared. Within the Cecil Taylor Unit (a distinction that was often used at performances and recordings between 1962 and 2006 for a shifting group of sidemen), musicians were able to develop new forms of conversational interplay. In the early 1960s, an uncredited Albert Ayler worked with Taylor, jamming and appearing on at least one recording, Four, which was unreleased until appearing on the 2004 Ayler box set Holy Ghost: Rare & Unissued Recordings (1962–70) .
By 1961, Taylor was working regularly with alto saxophonist Jimmy Lyons, who would become one of his most important and consistent collaborators. Taylor, Lyons, and drummer Sunny Murray (and later Andrew Cyrille) formed the core personnel of the Cecil Taylor Unit, Taylor's primary ensemble until Lyons' death in 1986. Lyons' playing, strongly influenced by jazz icon Charlie Parker, retained a strong blues sensibility and helped keep Taylor's increasingly avant garde music tethered to the jazz tradition.
Taylor began to perform solo concerts in the latter half of the 1960s. The first known recorded solo performance was "Carmen With Rings" (59 minutes) in De Doelen concert hall in Rotterdam on July 1, 1967. Two days earlier, Taylor had played the same composition in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw. Many of his later concerts were released on album and include Indent (1973), side one of Spring of Two Blue-J's (1973), Silent Tongues (1974), Garden (1982), For Olim (1987), Erzulie Maketh Scent (1989), and The Tree of Life (1998).He began to garner critical and popular acclaim, playing for Jimmy Carter on the White House Lawn, lecturing as an artist-in-residence at universities, and eventually being awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1973 and a MacArthur Fellowship in 1991.
In 1976, Taylor directed a production of Adrienne Kennedy's A Rat's Mass at La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club in the East Village of Manhattan. His production combined the original script with a chorus of orchestrated voices used as instruments. Jimmy Lyons, Rashid Bakr, Andy Bey, Karen Borca, David S. Ware, and Raphe Malik performed in the production as the Cecil Taylor Unit, among other musicians and actors.
Following Lyons' death in 1986, Taylor formed the Feel Trio in the early 1990s with William Parker on bass and Tony Oxley on drums. The group can be heard on Celebrated Blazons , Looking (Berlin Version) The Feel Trio and the 10-disc set 2 Ts for a Lovely T .Compared to his prior groups with Lyons, the Feel Trio had a more abstract approach, tethered less to jazz tradition and more aligned with the ethos of European free improvisation. He also performed with larger ensembles and big band projects.
Taylor's extended residence in Berlin in 1988 was documented by the German label FMP, resulting in a box set of performances in duet and trio with a large number of European free improvisors, including Oxley, Derek Bailey, Evan Parker, Han Bennink, Tristan Honsinger, Louis Moholo, and Paul Lovens. Most of his later recordings have been released on European labels, with the exception of Momentum Space (a meeting with Dewey Redman and Elvin Jones) on Verve/Gitanes. The classical label Bridge released his 1998 Library of Congress performance Algonquin, a duet with violinist Mat Maneri.
Taylor continued to perform for capacity audiences around the world with live concerts, usually playing his favored instrument, a Bösendorfer piano featuring nine extra lower-register keys. In 1987, he toured England with Australian pianist Roger Woodward, presenting recitals on which Woodward played solo works by Xenakis, Takemitsu, and Feldman, followed by Taylor, also playing solo.A documentary on Taylor, entitled All the Notes, was released on DVD in 2006 by director Chris Felver. Taylor was also featured in a 1981 documentary film entitled Imagine the Sound , in which he discusses and performs his music, poetry, and dance.
Taylor recorded sparingly in the 2000s, but continued to perform with his own ensembles (the Cecil Taylor Ensemble and the Cecil Taylor Big Band) and with other musicians such as Joe Locke, Max Roach, and Amiri Baraka.In 2004, the Cecil Taylor Big Band at the Iridium Jazz Club was nominated a best performance of 2004 by All About Jazz. The Cecil Taylor Trio was nominated for the same at the Highline Ballroom in 2009. The trio consisted of Taylor, Albey Balgochian, and Jackson Krall. In 2010, Triple Point Records released a deluxe limited-edition double LP titled Ailanthus/Altissima: Bilateral Dimensions of Two Root Songs, a set of duos with Taylor's longtime collaborator Tony Oxley that was recorded live at the Village Vanguard.
In 2013, he was awarded the Kyoto Prize for Music.He was described as "An Innovative Jazz Musician Who Has Fully Explored the Possibilities of Piano Improvisation". In 2014, his career and 85th birthday were honored at the Painted Bride Art Center in Philadelphia with the tribute concert event "Celebrating Cecil". In 2016, Taylor received a retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art entitled "Open Plan: Cecil Taylor".
In 2008, Taylor performed with Pauline Oliveros at the Curtis R Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. The concert was recorded and is available on a DVD which also features a 75-minute video of a Taylor poetry recital entitled Floating Gardens: The Poetry Of Cecil Taylor.Taylor, along with dancer Min Tanaka, was the subject of Amiel Courtin-Wilson's 2016 documentary film The Silent Eye.
In addition to piano, Taylor was always interested in ballet and dance. His mother, who died while he was young, was a dancer and played the piano and violin. Taylor once said: "I try to imitate on the piano the leaps in space a dancer makes."He collaborated with dancer Dianne McIntyre in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In 1979, he composed and played the music for a 12-minute ballet, "Tetra Stomp: Eatin' Rain in Space", featuring Mikhail Baryshnikov and Heather Watts.
Taylor was a poet, and cited Robert Duncan, Charles Olson, and Amiri Baraka as major influences.He often integrated his poems into his musical performances, and they frequently appear in the liner notes of his albums. The album Chinampas , released by Leo Records in 1987, is a recording of Taylor reciting several of his poems while accompanying himself on percussion.
According to Steven Block, free jazz originated with Taylor's performances at the Five Spot Cafe in 1957 and with Ornette Coleman in 1959.In 1964, Taylor co-founded the Jazz Composers Guild to enhance opportunities for avant-garde jazz musicians.
Taylor's style and methods have been described as "constructivist".Despite Scott Yanow's warning regarding Taylor's "forbidding music" ("Suffice it to say that Cecil Taylor's music is not for everyone"), he praises Taylor's "remarkable technique and endurance", and his "advanced", "radical", "original", and uncompromising "musical vision".
This musical vision is a large part of Taylor's legacy:
Playing with Taylor I began to be liberated from thinking about chords. I'd been imitating John Coltrane unsuccessfully and because of that I was really chord conscious.
In 1982, jazz critic Stanley Crouch wrote that Taylor was gay, prompting an angry response.In 1991, Taylor told a New York Times reporter "[s]omeone once asked me if I was gay. I said, 'Do you think a three-letter word defines the complexity of my humanity?' I avoid the trap of easy definition."
Taylor moved to Fort Greene, Brooklyn, in 1983.He died at his Brooklyn residence on April 5, 2018, at the age of 89. At the time of his death, Taylor was working on an autobiography and future concerts, among other projects.
Derek Bailey was an English avant-garde guitarist and an important figure in the free improvisation movement. Bailey abandoned conventional performance techniques found in jazz, exploring atonality, noise, and whatever unusual sounds he could produce with the guitar. Much of his work was released on his own label Incus Records. In addition to solo work, Bailey collaborated frequently with other musicians and recorded with collectives such as Spontaneous Music Ensemble and Company.
Free jazz is an experimental approach to jazz improvisation that developed in the late 1950s and early 1960s when musicians attempted to change or break down jazz conventions, such as regular tempos, tones, and chord changes. Musicians during this period believed that the bebop, hard bop, and modal jazz that had been played before them was too limiting. They became preoccupied with creating something new and exploring new directions. The term "free jazz" has often been combined with or substituted for the term "avant-garde jazz". Europeans tend to favor the term "free improvisation". Others have used "modern jazz", "creative music", and "art music".
Albert Ayler was an American avant-garde jazz saxophonist, singer and composer.
Keith Jarrett is an American jazz and classical music pianist and composer.
Samuel Carthorne Rivers was an American jazz musician and composer. He performed on soprano and tenor saxophones, bass clarinet, flute, harmonica and piano.
Evan Shaw Parker is a British tenor and soprano saxophone player who plays free improvisation.
Ken Vandermark is an American jazz composer, saxophonist, and clarinetist.
Leonard Joseph Tristano was an American jazz pianist, composer, arranger, and teacher of jazz improvisation.
Tomasz Ludwik Stańko was a Polish trumpeter and composer. Stańko was associated with free jazz and the avant-garde.
Marilyn Crispell is an American jazz pianist and composer. Scott Yanow described her as "a powerful player... who has her own way of using space... She is near the top of her field." Jon Pareles of The New York Times wrote: "Hearing Marilyn Crispell play solo piano is like monitoring an active volcano... She is one of a very few pianists who rise to the challenge of free jazz." In addition to her own extensive work as a soloist or bandleader, Crispell is also known as a longtime member of saxophonist Anthony Braxton's quartet in the 1980s and '90s.
Charles H. Israels is a composer, arranger, and bassist who is best known for his work with the Bill Evans Trio. He has also worked with Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman, Coleman Hawkins, Stan Getz, Herbie Hancock, J. J. Johnson, John Coltrane, and Judy Collins.
Nefertiti, the Beautiful One Has Come is an album by the Cecil Taylor Unit, recorded live at the Café Montmartre in Copenhagen, Denmark on November 23, 1962. This concert is nearly all he recorded from 1962 to 1966.
Bradford Alexander Mehldau is an American jazz pianist, composer, and arranger.
Frank Wright was an American free jazz musician known for his frantic style of tenor saxophone. Critics often compare his music to that of Albert Ayler, although Wright "offers his honks and squawks with a phraseology derived from the slower, earthier funk of R&B and gospel music." According to AllMusic biographer Chris Kelsey, Wright "never recorded even a single record under his own name for a major label; he was 'underground' his entire career." In addition to tenor saxophone, Wright also played the soprano saxophone and bass clarinet.
Armen Nalbandian is a British-born Armenian American jazz pianist, composer, author, and activist from Los Angeles, California.
Dark to Themselves is a live album by Cecil Taylor recorded at the Ljubljana Jazz Festival, Yugoslavia, on June 18, 1976, and released on the Enja label. The album features Taylor on piano with alto saxophonist Jimmy Lyons, tenor saxophonist David S. Ware, trumpeter Raphe Malik, and drummer Marc Edwards. The original LP release presented the music in edited form, while the CD reissue contains the complete performance, restoring sections that were previously excised.
Live in the Black Forest is a live album by Cecil Taylor recorded in June 1978 at the SWF-Radio JazzConcert in Kirchzarten, Black Forest, West Germany, and released on the MPS label. The album features two performances by Taylor with Raphe Malik, Jimmy Lyons, Ramsey Ameen, Sirone and Ronald Shannon Jackson.
One Too Many Salty Swift and Not Goodbye is a live album by Cecil Taylor recorded in Stuttgart, Germany, on June 14, 1978 and released on the Hat Hut label. The album features performances by Taylor with Raphe Malik, Jimmy Lyons, Ramsey Ameen, Sirone and Ronald Shannon Jackson. The album was originally released as a triple LP featuring the Cecil Taylor Unit performances then rereleased as a double CD with duets by Lyons & Malik and Ameen & Sirone and a solo by Shannon Jackson added and the titles changed to the performers for each track.
Celebrated Blazons is a live album featuring performances by Cecil Taylor with William Parker and Tony Oxley recorded at the Akademie der Künste in Berlin on June 29, 1990 and released on the FMP label.
2 Ts for a Lovely T is a 10-CD limited-edition live album by American pianist Cecil Taylor. It was recorded during August 27 - September 1, 1990 at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club in London, and was released in 2002 on the Codanza label. The album features the group known as the "Feel Trio," with Taylor on piano, William Parker on bass, and Tony Oxley on drums.
Taylor plays the piano... like Art Tatum with contemporary-classical leanings...
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