“I was washing dishes in a restaurant at the same time I was being written about in places like Down Beat” the iconoclastic jazz pianist and composer Cecil Taylor told Down Beat correspondent Gene Santoro, “and it was very good for me, because I had to decide what I really wanted to do. Did I want to pursue my ideals badly enough? It was the only way to learn that I did.” Ranked with jazz innovators Louie Armstrong, Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane, Taylor, along with Ornette Coleman, pioneered the 1960s free jazz movement with unorthodox play. Pounding out notes with fingers, fists, palms, elbows, and forearms, Cecil Taylor does not tickle the ivories so much as attack them. He forged a new concept of jazz with his improvisational compositions that disseminated conventional meter and melody. A paradigm of the misunderstood artist, Taylor was more influential than popular in his early years.
“In a more embracing cultural climate,” Stephanie Stein related in Down Beat, “Taylor, one of our most significant contemporary musicians, would stand a pivotal link in a musical time-line: Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Bartok, Tatum, Taylor; or for his absolute command of the piano, would share the esteem regarded his world-class peers.” Awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1973 and entry into Down Beat magazine’s Critics Poll Hall of Fame in 1975, Taylor has been named Down Beat’s number one pianist in numerous issues since his career began.
Taylor was born on March 25, 1929, in Long Island City, New York, and grew up in a two-family brick home in the borough of Queens. His father, Percy Clinton Taylor, was head chef at the Rivercrest Sanitarium in Astoria. When he came home from his 17-hour work day during the week, Taylor’s father sang hymns and listened to popular performers, including Louie Armstrong and Judy Garland. Almeida Ragland Taylor, Cecil’s mother, was his father’s second wife. A woman of many talents who spoke French and German, played piano, and danced, she was an actress in black silent films.
Taylor began piano lessons at age five under the tutelage of his mother, who preferred a professional career in medicine or law for Taylor. She died of cancer when he reached adolescence. Taylor’s Uncle Bill, a pianist, violinist, and drummer, subsequently moved in with Taylor and his father. Hoping Cecil would become a pianist, Uncle Bill took the youngster to hear jazz
For the Record…
Born Cecil Percival Taylor, March 25, 1929 (some sources say March 15, 1929; March 15, 1930; or March 15, 1933), in New York, NY; son of Percy Clinton (a chef) and Almeida (Maitie) Ragland (an actress) Taylor. Education: Attended New York College of Music; graduated from New England School of Music, 1953 (some sources say 1952 or 1955).
Pianist, composer, and educator. Leader of jazz group, 1953—; released debut LP, Jazz Advance, 1956; performed at Five Spot Cafe, New York City, 1956; led onstage band in play The Connection, 1960; toured Europe, 1962; organized Jazz Composers Guild, 1964; recorded with Jazz Composers orchestra, 1968; played for Maeght Foundation, France, 1969, and Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, 1972; performed in ensembles and as a solo artist at various jazz festivals, including Newport, 1957 and 1972, Great South Bay, 1958, Montreux, 1974, and Kool Jazz, 1984; two-piano performance with Mary Lou Williams, Carnegie Hall, 1977; performed with ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov; composed short ballet Tetra Stomp: Eatin’ Rain in Space, 1979; performed for President Jimmy Carter at the White House, 1979 (one source says 1978). Instructor in music, University of Wisconsin, 1970-71; Antioch College, Yellow Springs, OH, 1972-74; and Glassboro State College, NJ.
Selected awards: Guggenheim fellow, 1973.
performances in New York City. In addition, Taylor received classical training in public school and at the New York School of Music.
After reading that jazz great Duke Ellington believed future jazz musicians would need conservatory training, Taylor left for Massachusetts to attend the New England Conservatory of Music. Although he studied four years at the conservatory, he felt his real education began when he listened to Charlie Parker, Sarah Vaughan, and other musicians in the jazz clubs around Boston.
Taylor lived at home with his father after graduating from the conservatory in 1953. Rarely employed more than twice a year, he played an eclectic mix of stints, in Harlem and Greenwich Village, at West Indian dances, and for the Art Students League. He gigged with alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges before making the album that portended his idiosyncratic approach, Jazz Advance, in 1955. Bassist Buell Neidlinger, drummer Dennis Charles, and tenor saxophonist Steve Lacy joined Taylor on some old classics and original numbers when the record debuted in late 1956.
Originally engaged for six weeks at the Five Spot Cafe that same year, Taylor experienced his first success at the neighborhood bar when his contract was extended. With his seminal quartet, he transformed the cafe into the foremost jazz club in New York City. Though he mesmerized the crowd, the club’s owners were unhappy when patrons, who were immersed in Taylor’s performance, neglected to order drinks. As the 1950s ended, Taylor won accolades for defying established jazz forms with his percussive, irregular rhythmic style in his performances at prestigious jazz festivals, including Newport. Yet, the musician was unable to find steady work.
In 1961 Taylor’s father, who had never remarried, died at the time Taylor inaugurated the free jazz movement. Alto saxophonist Jimmy Lyons and drummer Sunny Murray joined Taylor to produce his key album entry in improvisational autonomy, 1962’s Nefertiti, the Beautiful One Has Come. That same year the musician was unemployed when he was honored with Down Beat magazine’s New Star Pianist Award but followed with a fairly successful Scandinavian tour.
In 1964 Taylor, who had already begun to perform original numbers solely on his albums, became one of the founders of the Jazz Composers Guild. Drummer Andrew Cyrille joined Taylor and ally Jimmie Lyons the following year in an association that continued for decades. Although his devotees were not numerous in 1966, Taylor’s release of Unit Structures solidified his reputation as the foremost pianist/composer of the era. Critics objected to the strain placed on listeners by his totally unconventional rhythmic and lyric patterns, but Taylor remained uncompromising in his pursuit of a black methodology in jazz composition. His interpretation of the piano as a percussive, rather than string, instrument rather than string, mingled European avant-garde influences with the blues.
As the decade of the 1970s began, Taylor was a frustrated educator, teaching music at the University of Wisconsin. He felt his students lacked seriousness and gave failing grades to two-thirds of his class. After Wisconsin University officials overturned the grades, Taylor accepted a position at Antioch College in Ohio. He then moved to Glassboro State College in New Jersey, where he stayed until 1974, the same year he began recording without accompaniment. Audiences found his solo albums accessible, heightening a new era of acceptance for Taylor; his public performances, however, were controversial.
Down Beat’s Lee Jeske was baffled by Taylor’s April 17, 1997, Carnegie Hall appearance with Mary Lou Williams, commenting that the two-piano exhibition struck him “like two heavyweight prizefighters ferociously maintaining their individual styles for 15 rounds.” When ballet superstar Mikhail Baryshnikov teamed with Taylor, who claimed dance as an impetus for his work, their jazz-dance acts opened to mixed reactions in Philadelphia, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
The effect of lackluster press on Taylor was minimal, however. He maintained a dogged hold on his inimitable style. “At the start of the Sixties,” noted Bob Blumenthal in Rolling Stone, “Taylor’s music broke the binds imposed by straight-ahead swing and, along with the more rhythmically regular work of Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane, ushered in an era of bold jazz discovery. Two decades later, it is still called ‘new music.’” An inspired Taylor concluded the decade by composing the ballet Tetra Stomp: Eatin’Rain in Space and holding a concert at the White House upon the invitation of President Jimmy Carter.
Taylor was named number one pianist for the ninth consecutive year in Down Beat magazine’s Critics Poll in 1986, the same year Jimmie Lyons, his master alto sax player of more than 25 years, died. Recovering from his grief, Taylor led Leroy Jenkins, Thurman Barker, and Freddie Waits in a quintet in 1987. The following year, the release of two of Taylor’s albums on compact disc (CD), Conquistador! of 1966 and Cecil Taylor. of 1978, received a rave review from Down Beat’s Art Lange, “If Taylor’s career can be seen as an ocean which approaches and recedes, this music is the first indications of an oncoming tidal wave.”
Responding to the barrage of Taylor re-releases that had appeared by 1990, Lange commented, “A recent avalanche of Cecil Taylor recordings serves to remind us of certain things that shouldn’t require prompting: of the longevity of his rich, variegated recording career...of the depth and breadth of his creative abilities and attitudes; of the appreciation for his art outside of the United States.” The momentary lapses of “insecure or uninspired playing” by a few of Taylor’s accompanists, surmised Lange, exposed Taylor’s demands on jazz musicians who “had to invent their roles” when accompanying a musical nonconformist like Taylor. The effort accompanists had to exert to follow Taylor was fulfilling to sidemen like the late Jimmie Lyons. Lyons once noted, reported Kevin Lynch in Down Beat, “Playing with Cecil made me think differently about what the music’s about. It’s not about any cycle of fifths—it’s about sound.”
An influential presence on the jazz music scene for more than three decades, Cecil Taylor confided to Down Beat’s Santoro the ideals by which he fulminated music’s formal limits, “You have to try to understand that pursuing music is a choice that you make.... So you then begin the process of really getting down to it: the distance between whatever excellence it is you’re striving for in whatever it is you’re trying to convey and the person you would like to be.... After all, it’s a life’s work.”
Jazz Advance, Transition, 1956, reissued, Blue Note, 1991.
Nefertiti, the Beautiful One Has Come, Arista/Freedom, 1962.
Unit Structures, Blue Note, 1966.
Conquistador!, Blue Note, 1966.
Silent Tongues, Arista/Freedom, 1974.
Air Above Mountains (Buildings Within), Enja, 1976.
Cecil Taylor, New World, 1978.
3 Phasis, New World, 1978.
One Too Many Salty Swift and Not Goodbye (recorded in 1978), hat Art, 1986.
For Olim, Soul Note, 1986.
Garden (recorded in 1981), hat Art, 1986.
The Eight (recorded in 1981), hat Art, 1987.
Cecil Taylor in Berlin ’88, FMP, 1988.
Looking (Berlin Version), FMP, 1989.
In Florescence, A&M, 1990.
Dark to Themselves (recorded in 1976), Enja, 1990.
Looking Ahead (recorded in 1958), Fantasy/OJC, 1990.
The Great Concert of Cecil Taylor, Prestige.
Cecil Taylor Jumpin’ Punkins, Candid.
Cell Walk for Celeste, Candid.
The World of Cecil Taylor, Candid.
(With Art Ensemle of Chicago)Thelonious Sphere Monk, DIW.
(With Buell Neidlinger)New York City R&B, Candid.
(With Max Roach)Historic Concerts, Soul Note.
(With John Coltrane)Coltrane Time, United Artists.
(With Segments II)Winged Serpent, Soul Note.
Billboard, January 13, 1990.
Down Beat, April 1980; June 1982; May 1986; November 1986; May 1987; January 1988; May 1989; June 1990; May 1992.
New Yorker, May 5, 1986.
High Fidelity, March 1986; April 1989.
Rolling Stone, June 28, 1979; December 13, 1990.
Double bassist, violinist, cellist, pianist
Afree jazz and improvisational musician, American composer/orchestral leader Alan Silva is a master of numerous instruments, among them the violin, cello, synthesizer, piano, and, especially, the double bass. His performances and recordings as a bassist, particularly in the 1960s and 1970s, are legendary. During this period, he helped record some of the most explorative releases in improvised music, working with the likes of Cecil Taylor, Sun Ra, Albert Ayler, Archie Shepp, Sunny Murray, Bill Dixon, Frank Wright, Andrew Hill, and Jimmy Lyons. In 1969 he founded his own ensemble, the Celestial Communication Orchestra, organized sessions for smaller group settings, and tried his decidedly uncompromising, fresh approach to music on other instruments, most recently the keyboards.
A British citizen prior to the age of 18, Alan Silva was born in Bermuda on January 22, 1939. His father was originally from Africa, while his mother was a native of Portugal. At age five, he relocated with his family to the New York, spending the remainder of his childhood in Harlem. Influenced by the rich musical culture of the neighborhood, Silva collected jazz recordings and, because he was too young to attend club performances, listened to bebop on the radio. Around 1950 he started taking piano and drum lessons from various musicians who enjoyed the same style. "The Ellington band played our church when I was 12," he recalled in an interview with Dan Warburton for the Wire magazine. "Harlem was progressive—I hate people describing it as a ghetto. There were rent parties, events at church and dancing: you had to dance, to Latin bands as well as bebop."
In the mid-1950s, Silva managed to sneak his way into a jam session featuring one of his favorite artists, Donald Byrd, and asked the renowned trumpeter for private lessons. He bought a trumpet from a pawn shop, began studies with Byrd, and attended several of his mentor's recording sessions. Although both Silva and his teacher eventually realized he would never become a great trumpet player, he remained a pupil of Byrd's for five years.
At age 19 he enrolled at Columbia University to pursue a degree in music education. As a student there he was greatly influenced by the teachings of musicologist Alan Lomax and grew increasingly interested in the concept of collective improvisation, rejecting the idea of prescribed notation. "I believe improvisation is one of the oldest forms of organization," said Silva, as quoted on Vanita and Joe Monks Monastery Bulletin website. "Probably language, poetry, storytelling, all aspects of life is [sic] improvised."
At 23 Silva started studying double bass under the instruction of Ali Richardson. A regular piano-bar player in Greenwich Village, Richardson sparked Silva's interest in the free jazz movement and the music of George Russell, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Ornette Coleman. Soon Silva began to distance himself from bebop, a form in which he now believed individual solos were given too much importance. After this, conventional solos never appeared in Silva's own compositions and arrangements; even as leader, he made no exceptions for himself. His goal was to capture the personality of the ensemble as a whole, not unlike the vision of the emerging free jazz leaders. "Ornette was moving outside the system, proposing collective improvisation without piano," he recalled to Warburton. In addition to free jazz musicians, he took notice of other important figures of varied backgrounds such as John Cage, Cecil Taylor, Sun Ra, and Ravi Shankar.
In 1962, while living in Brooklyn, Silva formed his first group, the Free Form Improvisation Ensemble (FFIE). Members of the collective included pianist Burton Greene, flutist Jon Winter, saxophonist Gary Friedman, trumpeter Eddie Gale, and drummer Clarence Walker. The FFIE's first significant break occurred two years after its formation when Greene secured the group a spot at Norman Seaman's 1964 New Music Festival at New York's Town Hall. Afterwards, trumpeter Bill Dixon invited the members to join the Jazz Composers Guild alongside the likes of Paul and Carla Bley, Sun Ra, Archie Shepp, Roswell Rudd, Mike Mantler, and Taylor.
Although the guild dissolved, reportedly because Shepp signed with Impulse! Records, Silva continued to work extensively with its former members. He joined Taylor for the demanding 1966 releases Unit Structures and Conquistador, remaining on and off with the pianist's ensemble until 1969. He also played with Sun Ra from 1965 until 1970 and Albert Ayler, from 1966 until 1970. In 1968 Silva stayed in Paris for several months, playing dates with Sunny Murray, Bernard Vitet, and others. He returned to New York in 1969 to found another group, the Celestrial Communication Orchestra (CCO) and that summer joined Shepp, Grachan Moncur III, Clifford Thornton, Dave Burrell, and Murray for a performance at the Pan-African Festival in Algiers. The performance was released under the title Live at the Pan-African Festival on the BYG label.
In 1970 Silva's Celestrial Communication Orchestra released its first effort, Luna Surface. The album followed by a three-record set called Seasons that had been recorded in December of 1970. According to Eremite Records, this compilation is "universally regarded as one of the high water marks in avant-garde jazz" and a prime example of Silva's harmonic concepts. The solos, explained Silva to Warburton, "came naturally out of the primordial sound. Solos were free but had to stay within a certain range so as not to get in the way of each other—what I call 'strata harmony,' a range determined by the note you were playing in the chord. The last section is the densest piece I've ever done, based on trills, with an electroacoustical texture beneath to set up the vibrations. When I heard the tapes, I insisted they release it all, as a triple album."
Subsequently, the Royan Contemporary Music Festival commissioned Silva for its 1971 season. The result, My Country, issued on Leo Records, further solidified Silva's reputation as a composer and orchestra leader. He was, however, unable to hold the large ensemble together. After its dissolution, he briefly worked with Frank Wright's group, Center of the World, then decided to take a break from performing and recording. Because of his interest in music education, in 1975 he cofounded the Institut Art Culture Perception (IACP) in Paris, where he taught improvisation.
For the Record . . .
Born on January 22, 1939, in Bermuda and raised in Harlem, New York City. Education: Studied with trumpeter Donald Byrd and double bassist Ali Richardson; attended Columbia University.
Founded the Free Form Improvisation Ensemble, 1962; founded the Celestrial Communication Orchestra, 1969; recorded Seasons, 1970; founded the Institut Art Culture Perception, 1975; recorded mainly on keyboards, 1990s–.
Addresses: Record company— Eremite Records, web-site: http://www.eremite.com.
While not as active publicly in the 1980s, he appeared on record with Taylor, Andrew Hill, Bill Dixon, and others. He also teamed on cello with percussionist Roger Turner for the 1986 album Take Some Risks. Over time Silva appeared ambivalent about his role as a double bassist, often claiming to have lost his interest in playing the instrument. Upon his return in the 1990s, in fact, he abandoned it in favor of keyboards, on which he experimented with technology and multimedia projects. Beginning with 1993's In the Tradition through 2002's Tone, both trio dates with percussionist Roger Turner and trombonist Johannes Bauer, Silva refrained from playing double bass. Questioned about this decision, he insists that tapes of work on his primary instrument are ready for release; quite possibly, these will surface as soon as colleagues and fans stop asking if his double bass has disappeared forever.
Alan Silva and the Sound Visions Orchestra, Eremite, 2001.
With Celestial Communication Orchestra
Lunar Surface, BYG, 1969.
Seasons, BYG, 1972.
Desert Mirage, IACP, 1982.
My Country, Leo, 1989.
(With Bobby Few and Frank Wright) Duos, 1975.
(With Burton Greene and Sunny Marry) Firmanence, Fore, 1979.
(With Roger Turner) Take Some Risks, IACP, 1986.
(With Roger Turner and Johannes Bauer) In the Tradition, In Situ, 1993.
(With Oluyemi Thomas) Transmissions, Eremite, 2001.
(With Roger Turner and Johannes Bauer) Tone, FMP, 2002.
Cook, Richard, and Brian Morton, editors, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, Penguin, 1998.
Wire, February 2003.
"Alan Silva & Oluyemi Thomas: Transmissions (Eremite)," One Final Note, http://www.onefinalnote.com/issue6/silva.html (August 22, 2003).
"Alan Silva/Oluyemi Thomas: Transmissions," Jazz Weekly, http://www.jazzweekly.com/reviews/asilva_transmissions.htm (August 22, 2003).
"Alan Silva & the Sound Visions Orchestra," Eremite Records, http://www.eremite.com (August 22, 2003).
"Alan Silva Wants His MTV," Vanita & Joe Monks Monastery Bulletin, http://www.monastery.nl/bulletin/silva/silva.html (August 22, 2003).
"Silva/Jordan/Parker: Emancipation Suite #1," Jazz Review, BBC Music, http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/jazz/reviews/silva_emancipation.shtml (August 22, 2003).
Pianist Cecil Taylor was one of the pioneers of avant-garde jazz, often called free jazz, along with the saxophonists John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman. Known for masterful leadership of his ensembles, Taylor demonstrated stupendous physical stamina on stage, often playing for more than two hours without a break. "Taylor doesn't play other people's music or lean on a marketing concept. The idea is that he is a once-and-forever new concept," wrote Ben Ratliff in the New York Times, adding, "His music is an eruption…. [I]t comes from as broad a consciousness and as deep a commitment to beauty as we have in American culture."
Taylor was born in 1929 in New York City and grew up in Queens, the same borough that was home to the Rivercrest Sanitarium, a mental health facility where his father, Percy, worked as head chef. His mother, Almeida Ragland Taylor, who was a dancer and an actor in some of the earliest black silent films, taught her son a little French and German as well as the piano. Both she and Percy hoped their son would become a professional, perhaps a doctor or lawyer. His mother died before he reached his teens, however, so Taylor's passion for music was stoked at an impressionable age by his uncle, a professional musician who lived with the family. He took the young Taylor to live jazz shows in the city. Although Taylor studied classical music at the New York College of Music and theory and composition at the prestigious New England Conservatory of Music, he was also intrigued by several new currents in jazz music that emerged during the 1940s and the post-World War II years, including bebop. After graduating in 1953, he moved back to New York and began playing jazz at a variety of venues.
Broke from Bebop Pack
Taylor recorded his debut record, Jazz Advance, in Boston. Three other musicians—Steve Lacy on saxophone, Buell Neidlinger on bass, and Dennis Charles on drums—joined Taylor in his first ensemble, whose sound was dubbed post-bebop by puzzled music critics. In an article about jazz trends, New York Times writer John S. Wilson called the record "a fascinating, if sometimes unnerving, sampling of a jagged but thoroughly articulate style made up of slivers of Thelonius Monk, Béla Bartók and Jelly Roll Morton, mixed with precise technique by an adamant individualist."
Around that time Taylor began playing regularly at the Five Spot Café, a tiny but legendary jazz venue in the Bowery, then a seedy part of Manhattan. His playing was reportedly so hypnotic that nobody ordered drinks for fear of breaking the spell. During this period Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane were also Five Spot regulars and sometimes played with Taylor. Collectively they were hailed as creators of a new, thoroughly modern sound in jazz. Coltrane and Taylor recorded together once, in 1958; the session was issued under various titles, including Coltrane Time and Hard Driving Jazz.
After nearly a decade as a professional musician, Taylor began to find his own style as a composer, exemplified by his 1961 recording Into the Hot. It included three original compositions in which Taylor "first fully revealed his gifts as a composer," wrote Stanley Crouch in the New York Times. "Call-and-response, tension and release, metric shifts and the orchestration of both bluesy and unconventional effects come off marvelously." The record, made with saxophonists Archie Shepp and Jimmy Lyons, marked the beginning of a long collaboration between Taylor and Lyons that endured until Lyons's death in 1986.
Formed the Cecil Taylor Unit
Taylor and Lyons soon joined with Sunny Murray, a jazz drummer whose pioneering percussion willfully departed from the traditional function of keeping time in a piece of music. Often billed as the Cecil Taylor Unit, the combo broke from standard Western musical traditions, creating free-jazz compositions that "featured muscular improvisations of such challenging techniques and structure they bewildered listeners and most fellow musicians alike," Crouch wrote in the New York Times.
Releases from this period include Unit Structures (1966) and an epic three-volume set, The Great Concert of Cecil Taylor (1969), which was recorded live in Paris. For many years Taylor's new style, sometimes referred to as black classical music, seemed to be shunned by the more mainstream jazz music industry. Oftentimes Taylor's releases were issued on independent labels, and gigs took place at private gatherings in New York City. In Europe, however, the sound found more appreciative audiences. Nevertheless, Taylor's works influenced a generation of musical innovators on both sides of the Atlantic.
In the 1970s Taylor began to perform as a solo pianist, and two releases showcased his concert style, Indent (1973) and Silent Tongues (1974). His occasional collaboration with traditional jazz pianist Mary Lou Williams culminated in a two-piano performance at Carnegie Hall in April of 1977. A year later he performed on the South Lawn of the White House at an event commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island. The concert, with its all-star lineup, was considered a pivotal moment in the history of jazz, marking its acceptance into mainstream culture.
Feted in Berlin
Taylor, however, continued to work outside the mainstream. In 1979 he played a series of gigs with Sun Ra, an equally original American jazz artist, whose recording "Arkestra" helped define a new subgenre, other-worldly sounds, that paved the way for electronic-music pioneers. That same year Taylor performed with drummer Max Roach; the events were recorded as Cecil Taylor & Max Roach: Historic Concerts. The two performed together on occasion for the next twenty years.
In the 1980s Taylor spent time in what was then West Berlin, which was known for its flourishing arts scene. He made scores of recordings with European and American expatriate free-jazz musicians who had come of age in the 1960s, just as he was releasing his first compositions. In the mid 1990s he played frequently with another member of that generation, Finnish saxophonist Harri Sjöström. Among their joint releases was the two-volume set Qu'a: Live at the Iridium (1998). In 2005 Taylor was the subject of a documentary, Cecil Taylor: All the Notes, which showed the musician at his favorite piano—a Bösendorfer with ninety-seven keys instead of the standard eighty-eight.
"We can hear more of the world's music than ever before," Taylor reflected in a 1991 interview with Peter Watrous in the New York Times. "If Debussy can hear a Balinese gamelon orchestra at a Paris world fair and change his concept, I can learn from [Iannis] Xenakis, Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington.… Literature, theater, it's all important. You want to create the utmost that is possible, to continue the ideas of certain people who have enriched your life."
At a Glance …
Born Cecil Percival Taylor on March 25, 1929, in New York, NY; son of Percy Clinton (a chef) and Almeida Ragland (an actress) Taylor. Education: Attended New York College of Music; graduated from New England Conservatory of Music, 1953.
Career: Composer, solo musician, and leader of ensemble jazz groups since 1953; recording artist since 1956.
Memberships: Jazz Composers Guild, founder, 1964.
Awards: Guggenheim fellow, 1973; designated Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts, 1990; John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation fellow, 1991.
Addresses: Record label—Enja Records, PO Box 190333, D-80603 Munich, Germany.
Jazz Advance, Transition, 1956.
Into the Hot, Impulse, 1961.
The World of Cecil Taylor, Candid, 1961.
Coltrane Time (with John Coltrane), United Artists, 1962.
Nefertiti, the Beautiful One Has Come, Arista/Freedom, 1962.
Unit Structures, Blue Note, 1966.
Conquistador! Blue Note, 1966.
The Great Concert of Cecil Taylor, Prestige, 1969.
Indent, Arista/Freedom, 1973.
Silent Tongues, Arista/Freedom, 1974.
Air Above Mountains (Buildings Within), Enja, 1976.
The Cecil Taylor Unit, New World Records, 1978.
3 Phasis, New World Records, 1978.
Mary Lou Williams & Cecil Taylor, Pablo Records, 1978.
Cecil Taylor & Max Roach: Historic Concerts, Soul Note, 1979.
It Is in the Brewing Luminous, Hat Hut, 1980.
Winged Serpent (Sliding Quadrants), Soul Note, 1985.
For Olim, Soul Note, 1986.
Cecil Taylor in Berlin '88, FMP, 1988.
In Florescence, A&M, 1990.
The Tree of Life, FMP, 1998.
Qu'a: Live at the Iridium (with Harri Sjöström), Cadence, 1998.
The Light of Corona (with Harri Sjöström), FMP, 2003.
The Owner of the River Bank, Enja, 2004.
Incarnation, FMP, 2004.
Almeda (with Harri Sjöström), FMP, 2005.
Daily Variety, June 27, 2002, p. 7.
New York Times, April 21, 1957, p. 100; June 8, 1980, p. D20; May 10, 1991; March 4, 2002, p. B5.
San Francisco Chronicle, May 8, 2005, p. 32.
Taylor, Cecil (Percival), African American jazz pianist and composer; b. N.Y., March 15, 1933. He began piano lessons at age 5; was improvising and composing by the age of 8; later studied percussion. He studied harmony and composition at the N.Y. Coll. of Music; subsequently studied composition at the New England Cons, of Music in Boston; also immersed himself in the Boston jazz scene. He then worked with his own combos in N.Y.; first appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival (1957); gained a name for himself as a performer in the Off-Broadway production of Jack Gelber’s The Connection (1959). He made his first tour of Europe in 1962, and then played in many jazz centers on both sides of the Atlantic; performed at N.Y.’s Carnegie Hall in 1977. He made a number of remarkable recordings, including Into the Hot (1961), Unit Structures (1966), Silent Tongues (1975), The Cecil Taylor Unit (1978), and 3 Phasis (1978). His digitally agile piano style and penchant for extended improvisation made him an important figure in avant-garde jazz circles in his time.
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire