Malcolm Cecil

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Malcolm Cecil
Malcolm Cecil at Moog booth - 2015 NAMM Show.jpg
Cecil in 2015
Background information
Born(1937-01-09)9 January 1937
London, England
Died28 March 2021(2021-03-28) (aged 84)
  • Jazz
  • electronic
  • pop
  • rock
  • funk
  • Audio engineer
  • bassist
  • electrical engineer
  • record producer
  • Bass guitar
  • double bass
  • synthesizer
Associated acts

Malcolm Cecil (9 January 1937 28 March 2021) was a British jazz bassist, record producer, engineer and electronic musician. He was a founding member of a leading UK jazz quintet of the late 1950s, the Jazz Couriers, [1] before going on to join a number of British jazz combos led by Dick Morrissey, Tony Crombie and Ronnie Scott in the late 1950s and early 1960s. [2] He later joined Cyril Davies and Alexis Korner to form the original line-up of Blues Incorporated. Cecil subsequently collaborated with Robert Margouleff to form the duo TONTO's Expanding Head Band, a project based on a unique combination of synthesizers which led to them collaborating on and co-producing several of Stevie Wonder's Grammy-winning albums of the early 1970s. [3] The TONTO synthesizer was described by Rolling Stone as "revolutionary".


Early life

Cecil was born in London on 9 January 1937. He became a radio ham by the age of nine. He worked as an engineer in the Royal Air Force during the time that he was learning to be a professional jazz musician. He became a member of Ronnie Scott's group during his 20s, before changing styles and becoming one of the founders of Blues Incorporated. [4]

Cecil moved to South Africa before relocating to San Francisco in the mid-1960s. After a stint at the Los Angeles recording studio of Pat Boone, Cecil settled in New York City and began to modulate. [4]


With Robert Margouleff, Cecil formed the duo TONTO's Expanding Head Band, a synthesizer-based project. The duo were closely associated with Stevie Wonder's Talking Book (1972), sharing the Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical award as well as collaborating on and co-producing classic Wonder albums such as Music of My Mind , Innervisions and Fulfillingness' First Finale . [5] [6] Cecil is credited, with Margouleff, as engineer for the Stevie Wonder-produced album Perfect Angel (1974), by Minnie Riperton. [7]

Cecil and Margouleff began constructing the "The Original New Timbral Orchestra" (TONTO) in 1968. [4] It became the largest analog synthesizer, [8] [9] as well as the most advanced one at the time. It had a height of 6 feet (1.8 m), a maximum diameter of 25 feet (7.6 m), and a mass of one ton. [10] The synthesizer made its debut in the pair's album Zero Time (1971). [4] Their unique sound made them highly sought-after and they went on to collaborate with, amongst others, Quincy Jones, [4] Bobby Womack, [8] the Isley Brothers, [4] Billy Preston, [9] Gil Scott-Heron, Weather Report, [8] Stephen Stills, [9] the Doobie Brothers, [8] Dave Mason, [10] Little Feat, [8] Joan Baez, [4] and Steve Hillage. [7] TONTO also appeared in Phantom of the Paradise (1974), although Cecil was reportedly incensed because he had not approved of its use in the film. [4]

The vocalist Gil Scott-Heron, who wrote that he considered Cecil a creative genius, [11] along with keyboardist Brian Jackson enlisted Cecil and his TONTO synthesizer for the production of their collaborative album, 1980 . Scott-Heron and Jackson were featured on the album cover with the synthesizer. [12] TONTO was described as "revolutionary" by Rolling Stone , but it eventually fell behind more modern synthesizers that were simpler to utilize. [8]

Later life

Cecil sold TONTO in 2013 to the National Music Centre in Calgary. [10] Through John Leimseider, the museum finished a complete restoration of the synthesiser five years later, with Leimseider dying shortly afterwards. [10] [13] TONTO continued to be on display there at the time of Cecil's death. [9]

Cecil died on 28 March 2021. He was 84 and suffered from an unspecified long illness prior to his death. [14] [15]

Honours and recognition

Cecil was nominated for and won a Grammy Award in 1973 for best engineered recording – non-classical. This was in recognition for the work he did with Margouleff on Wonder's Innervisions . [14] [16] Cecil was later bestowed the Unsung Hero award for lifetime achievement by Q magazine in 1997. [14]


As leader/co-leader


With TONTO's Expanding Headband

As sideman

Production, programming, and/or engineering

As producer, programmer, and/or engineer: [24]

With Stevie Wonder


Related Research Articles

Stevie Wonder American musician and record producer

Stevland Hardaway Morris, known professionally as Stevie Wonder, is an American singer, songwriter, musician and record producer. A prominent figure in popular music during the second half of the 20th century, Wonder is one of the most successful songwriters and musicians. A virtual one-man band, his use of synthesizers and further electronic musical instruments during the 1970s reshaped the conventions of R&B. He also helped drive the genre into the album era, crafting his LPs as cohesive, consistent socially conscious statements with complex compositions. Wonder is often hailed as a "genius", and has been credited as a pioneer and influence to musicians of various genres including rhythm and blues, pop, soul, gospel, funk and jazz.

The 16th Annual Grammy Awards were held March 2, 1974, and were broadcast live on American television. They recognized accomplishments by musicians from the year 1973.

<i>Talking Book</i> 1972 studio album by Stevie Wonder

Talking Book is the fifteenth studio album by American singer, songwriter and musician Stevie Wonder, released on October 28, 1972, on the Tamla label for Motown Records. This album and Music of My Mind are widely noted as being the signal recordings of Wonder's "classic period". The sound of the album is sharply defined by Wonder's keyboard work, especially with synthesizers. His use of the Hohner clavinet model C on "Superstition" is widely regarded as one of the definitive tracks featuring the instrument.

<i>Innervisions</i> 1973 studio album by Stevie Wonder

Innervisions is the sixteenth studio album by American singer, songwriter and musician Stevie Wonder, released August 3, 1973, on the Tamla label for Motown Records, a landmark recording of his "classic period". It is also regarded as Wonder's transition from Little Stevie Wonder and romantic ballads to a more musically mature, conscious and grown-up artist. With Wonder being the first major artist to experiment with the revolutionary TONTO synth, developed by Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff, and the ARP synthesizer on a large scale, Innervisions became hugely influential on the subsequent future of commercial soul and black music.

<i>Music of My Mind</i> 1972 studio album by Stevie Wonder

Music of My Mind is the fourteenth studio album by American soul musician Stevie Wonder. It was released on March 3, 1972, by Tamla Records, and was Wonder's first to be recorded under his new contract with Motown, which allowed him full artistic control. For the album, Wonder recruited electronic music pioneers Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff as co-producers, employing their custom TONTO synthesizer on several tracks. It was a modest commercial success, but critics found the record representative of Wonder's artistic growth, and is generally considered by contemporary critics to be the first album of his classic period.

Tontos Expanding Head Band

Tonto's Expanding Head Band was a British-American electronic music duo consisting of Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff. Despite releasing only two albums in the early 1970s, the duo were influential because of their session and production work for other musicians and extensive commercial advertising work.

<i>Fulfillingness First Finale</i> 1974 studio album by Stevie Wonder

Fulfillingness' First Finale is a 1974 album by Stevie Wonder; widely considered one of the albums from his "classic period". Released on July 22, 1974, on the Tamla label, it is Wonder's nineteenth album overall, and seventeenth studio album.

<i>3 + 3</i> 1973 studio album by The Isley Brothers

3 + 3 is the eleventh album released by The Isley Brothers for the Epic label under their T-Neck imprint on August 7, 1973. In 2020, the album was ranked at 464 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list.

<i>Its My Pleasure</i> 1975 studio album by Billy Preston

It's My Pleasure is the tenth studio album by Billy Preston, released in June 1975 on A&M Records. The album shows the modernisation of Preston's music, placing a heavier emphasis on synthesizers. It was also his first collaboration with the singer Syreeta Wright who sings on one track. The album is notable for featuring harmonica by Stevie Wonder on two tracks. George Harrison also appears, playing guitar on one track. Also "Song of Joy" would later be covered by Billy's A&M label mates Captain & Tennille for their album of the same name.

Dont You Worry bout a Thing 1974 single by Stevie Wonder

"Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing" is a single by Stevie Wonder from his 1973 album Innervisions. It reached number 16 on the Billboard Pop Singles chart, number 10 on the Cash Box chart, and number 2 on the R&B chart. The song's lyrics convey a positive message, focusing on taking things in one's stride and accentuating the positive. In 1992, British band Incognito had a European hit with their cover of the song.

"For the Love of You" is a song recorded by The Isley Brothers, who released the song as the second single off their 1975 album, The Heat Is On. The record showcased the two sides of the act, with the album's first single "Fight the Power" reflecting a fast-paced funk vibe while showcasing a ballad side on the latter. The song later became a crossover hit for the brothers.

<i>Perfect Angel</i> 1974 studio album by Minnie Riperton

Perfect Angel is the second studio album by American singer Minnie Riperton, released in June 1974 by Epic Records. The album contains the biggest hit of Riperton's career, "Lovin' You", which topped the U.S. Pop Singles chart for one week in early April 1975.

Robert Margouleff is an American record producer, recording engineer, electronic music pioneer, audio expert, and film producer.

<i>The First Minute of a New Day</i> 1975 studio album by Gil Scott-Heron, Brian Jackson and the Midnight Band

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<i>Syreeta</i> (1972 album) Debut studio album by American singer and songwriter Syreeta Wright

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Living for the City 1973 single by Stevie Wonder

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<i>Zero Time</i> 1971 studio album by Tontos Expanding Head Band

Zero Time is the debut album by British-American electronic music duo Tonto's Expanding Head Band, released on 15 June 1971 by Embryo Records. The album is a showcase for TONTO, a multitimbral, polyphonic synthesiser build by the two members of the band, Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff, as a developed version of the Moog III synth in 1969. The duo began producing their own music together on the synth with the intention to push the machine's abilities, and their own abilities as musicians, to the limit. Recording their compositions in New York, they approached TONTO with no pre-conceived notions and intended to make music intrinsic to the synthesiser.

<i>Secrets</i> (Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson album) 1978 studio album by Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson

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<i>1980</i> (album) 1980 studio album by Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson

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It's About Time is the second and final album by British-American electronic music duo Tonto, previously known as Tonto's Expanding Head Band, released in 1974 by Polydor Records. The album is a showcase for TONTO, a multitimbral, polyphonic synthesizer built by the two members of the band, Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff, as a developed version of the Moog III synth in 1969.


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  2. Ronnie Scott at David Taylor's British jazz web site Archived 26 September 2013 at the Wayback Machine
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  25. "Malcolm Cecil – Discography". TONTO Studio. Retrieved 1 April 2021.