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Cecil Percival Taylor (born March 15 or March 25, 1929 in New York Citymarker) is an Americanmarker pianist and poet. Classically trained, Taylor is generally acknowledged as one of the pioneers of free jazz. His music is characterized by an extremely energetic, physical approach, producing complex improvised sounds, frequently involving tone clusters and intricate polyrhythms. His piano technique has been likened to percussion, for example described as "eighty-eight tuned drums" (referring to the number of keys on a standard piano).


Taylor began playing piano at age six and studied at the New York College of Music and New England Conservatorymarker. After first steps in R&B and swing-styled small groups in the early 1950s, he formed his own band with soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy in 1956.

Taylor's first recording, Jazz Advance, featured Lacy and was released in 1956. It is described by Cook and 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 which the pianist would later immerse himself in." Taylor's Quartet featuring Lacy also appeared at the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival. He collaborated with saxophonist John Coltrane (Coltrane Time/Hard Drivin' Jazz, 1958), a session which was not a happy experience.

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 Taylor's approach to performance (long pieces) unhelpful in conducting business. Landmark recordings continued to appear: Nefertiti the Beautiful One Has Come (1962) Unit Structures (1966).

By 1961, Taylor was working regularly with alto saxophonist Jimmy Lyons, one of his most important and consistent collaborators.. Taylor, Lyons and drummer Sunny Murray (and later Andrew Cyrille) formed the core personnel of 'The Unit', Taylor's primary group effort until Lyons's premature death in 1986. With 'the Unit', musicians developed often volcanic new forms of conversational interplay.

Taylor began to perform solo concerts in the early 1970s. Many of these were released on album and include Indent (1973), Silent Tongues (1974), Garden (1982), For Olim (1987), Erzulie Maketh Scent (1989) and The Tree of Life (1998). He began to garner critical, if not popular, acclaim, playing for Jimmy Carter on the White House Lawn, lecturing as an in-residence artist at universities, and eventually being awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1973 and then a MacArthur Fellowship in 1991.

Following Lyons's death in 1986 Taylor formed the "Feel Trio" in the early 1990s with William Parker (bass) and Tony Oxley (drums) (which can be heard on Celebrated Blazons, Looking (The Feel Trio) and the 10-CD set 2 T's for a Lovely T). He has also performed with larger ensembles and big-band projects. His extended residence in Berlin in 1988 was extensively documented by the German label FMP, resulting in a massive boxed set of performances in duet and trio with a who's who of European free improvisors, including Oxley, Derek Bailey, Evan Parker, Han Bennink, Tristan Honsinger, Louis Moholo, Paul Lovens, and others. Most of his later day recordings have been put out on European labels, with the exception of the unexpected release of Momentum Space (a meeting with Dewey Redman and Elvin Jones) on Verve/Gitanes. The classical label Bridge recently released his 1998 Library of Congress performance Algonquin, a duet with violinist Mat Maneri. Few recordings from 2000 have yet been published, though Taylor, now in his seventies, continues to perform for capacity audiences around the world with live concerts, usually played on his favored instrument, the Bösendorfer piano that features 9 extra lower register keys. A documentary spotlighting the enigmatic musician, All the Notes, was released on DVD in 2006 by director Chris Felver.

In addition to piano, Taylor has always been interested in ballet and dance. His mother, who died while he was still young, was a dancer and also 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 1977 and 1979. In 1979 he also composed and played the music for a twelve-minute ballet "Tetra Stomp: Eatin' Rain in Space", featuring Mikhail Baryshnikov and Heather Watts.

Taylor is also an accomplished poet, citing Robert Duncan, Charles Olson and Amiri Baraka as major influences. He often integrates his poems into his musical performances, and they frequently appear in the liner notes of his albums. The CD Chinampas, released by Leo Records in 1987, is a recording of Taylor reciting several of his poems, accompanying himself on percussion.

Taylor was featured in the 1981 documentary film Imagine the Sound, in which he discusses and performs his music, poetry and dance. He is openly gay.

Influence and musical style

According to Steven Block, free jazz originated with the performances of Cecil Taylor at the Five Spot Cafe in 1957 and Ornette Coleman in 1959. In 1964, Taylor co-founded the Jazz Composers Guild to enhance the working possibilities of avant-garde jazz musicians.

Taylor's style and methods have been described as 'constructivist'. Despite Scott Yanow's warning regarding Taylor's "forbidding music":

he goes on to praise Taylor's "remarkable technique and endurance," and his "advanced", "radical", "original", and uncompromising "musical vision."

This vision is one of Taylor's greatest influences upon others:

Taylor was recognized with a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 1991.



  1. Yanow, Scott (2008). "Cecil Taylor biography", AllMusic.
  2. "being matter ignited...", Interview with Cecil Taylor by Chris Funkhouser published in Hambone, No. 12 (Nathaniel Mackey, editor).
  3. "Pitch-Class Transformation in Free Jazz". Author(s): Steven Block. Source: Music Theory Spectrum, Vol. 12, No. 2, (Autumn, 1990), pp. 181-202. Published by: University of California Press on behalf of the Society for Music Theory.
  4. Review: [untitled]. Author(s): Robert Palmer. Reviewed work(s): Indent by Cecil Taylor. Source: The Black Perspective in Music, Vol. 2, No. 1, (Spring, 1974), pp. 94-95.

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