Cecil Taylor 1929 - 2018

taylor

With the passing of Cecil Taylor it could be argued that jazz has lost another titan. But the pianist was never defined by the word 'jazz', let alone music in the broadest sense. Taylor wrote poetry, often disarmingly abstract, that was inextricably linked to his interest in language and culture, which in turn led to a range of Afro-centric and surreal titles for his recordings, be it Nefertitti, The Beautiful One Has Come, It's In The Brewing Luminous or One Too Many Salty Swift And Not Goodbye. Furthermore, there was a deep fascination with choreography and movement, which coalesced with his commitment to spoken word and music in both humorous and engaging ways. When Taylor played an unforgettable duet with drummer Max Roach at the Barbican in London in 1999 he first did a solo set, entering the stage in futurist leggings and jersey, trademark skullcap and antennae dreads – his sartorial style caught the eye as much as his music the ear – and executed some playful pirouettes as he recited verse. Taylor told me sometime before the concert: "When you go right into battle with Maximilian you have to be fully armed and ready", as a mark of great respect for his equally inspirational partner, as well as of his commitment to the demanding art of spontaneous composition, which he saw as a kind of ballet in beats or intense corps-a-corps with others where there was no room for compromise on form and content.

Raised in Queens, New York, Taylor was immersed in music from an early age, playing piano at six before going on to study at the New York College of Music and New England Conservatory, and while his initial work in the 1950s showed his absorption of the techniques of Tatum, Ellington and Monk, it also provided a glimpse of the lexicon he would subsequently develop. Taylor took the percussive playing of his forebears to new heights, creating barrages of polyrhythms and juddering motifs, often at high tempo, in which the right hand, rather than stating just one theme, acted practically as a whirling ride cymbal while the left sculpted pithy melody like a bass drum. The low end was as much a well of lyricism as it was chordal accompaniment. Constant momentum, whirlwind tonalities and unbroken streams of ideas, no matter how abrasive, were among Taylor's key contributions to post-war piano vocabulary.

Like many other American improvisers Taylor was interested in European composers such as Bartók but, perhaps cognizant of the ways of his mother, a renowned dancer, he brought torrid physicality to his music between the 1960s and noughties. His classic group albums, such as Unit Structures, Conquistador, Winged Serpent (Sliding Quadrants) and 3 Phasis, saw him work with brilliant players such as Jimmy Lyons, Sunny Murray, William Parker, Gunter Hampel, Tomasz Stańko and David S.Ware among others, while his several majestic solo albums, such as Air Above Mountains, underlined his ability to use the keyboard as a source of great orchestral richness.

Taylor had quite a mischievous side to his character that often led to slights on other musicians, but his influence, heard in anybody from Don Pullen and Matthew Shipp to Craig Taborn, Vijay Iyer and Alexander Hawkins, has been immense. A rebellious, subversive and cerebral figure, Taylor was a very complex person, a man fully aware of many kinds of minority status who challenged stereotypes and claimed ownership of his aesthetic, professing as much in the expression Dark To Themselves.

– Kevin Le Gendre
– Photo by Joe Chonto

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website

If you do not change browser settings, you consent to continue. Learn more

I understand

Breaking News

Jazz FM sold to Bauer Media Group

Jazz FM sold to Bauer Media Group

Jazz FM, which is broadcast nationally on DAB and recently...

Read More.....
Musson, Kjær and Marshall set for Iklectik date this weekend

Musson, Kjær and Marshall set for Iklect…

Three of the key figures on London's improv scene –...

Read More.....
Say A Little Prayer: Aretha Franklin 25/03/42 – 16/08/18

Say A Little Prayer: Aretha Franklin 25/…

  As far as monikers go, 'Lady Soul' may well have...

Read More.....
'A Great Day in Harlem' celebrates 60th anniversary

'A Great Day in Harlem' celebrates 60th …

Photographer Art Kane's legendary jazz photograph 'Harlem – 1958', commonly...

Read More.....
Zara McFarlane and Ayanna Witter Johnson for Kinch’s Flyover Show

Zara McFarlane and Ayanna Witter Johnson…

Soweto Kinch's free one-day arts festival, The Flyover Show, returns...

Read More.....
Steely Dan tributes and basses high at Sligo Jazz Project

Steely Dan tributes and basses high at S…

In a week of outstanding musical offerings in Sligo, perhaps...

Read More.....
Maria Schneider and Ensemble Denada meld mystery and drama with McCaslin at Molde

Maria Schneider and Ensemble Denada meld…

  Molde might be a small coastal town in western Norway...

Read More.....
John Zorn's Simulacrum project rewrite radical organ trio template at Jazz em Agosto

John Zorn's Simulacrum project rewrite r…

King Crimson and tech-death titans such as Cynic and Atheist...

Read More.....
Ron Davis lines up with Seonaid Aitken for SymphRONica Scottish sojourn

Ron Davis lines up with Seonaid Aitken f…

Canadian pianist Ron Davis (above left) has enlisted the Scottish...

Read More.....
Christian McBride’s New Jawn and Chick Corea Akoustic Trio create magic in Malta

Christian McBride’s New Jawn and Chick C…

If Valletta's sun-baked limestone is a constant reminder of Malta's...

Read More.....
Tomasz Stańko – 11 July 1942 – 29 July 2018

Tomasz Stańko – 11 July 1942 – 29 July 2…

In 2002, the Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stańko provided an answer...

Read More.....
Steve Coleman & Five Elements floor all comers with Mayweather-style beat magic

Steve Coleman & Five Elements floor …

They say that writing about music is like dancing about...

Read More.....
Archie Shepp, Herbie Hancock and Tuba Titans kick out the cool at Montreal Jazz Festival

Archie Shepp, Herbie Hancock and Tuba Ti…

Canadians are patronisingly characterised in the US as 'over-polite' but...

Read More.....
Wayne Shorter enters the multiverse with album and graphic novel

Wayne Shorter enters the multiverse with…

Iconic saxophonist Wayne Shorter is set to make a dramatic...

Read More.....
Nérija alumni illuminate Jazz Re:fest's Brighton Dome bonanza

Nérija alumni illuminate Jazz Re:fest's …

  Day-trippers pour out of the trains in their hundreds, heading...

Read More.....
Brötzmann Cocked To Blast At Third Brighton Alt Bash

Brötzmann Cocked To Blast At Third Brigh…

The south coast's premier experimental music symposium – the Brighton...

Read More.....
Szun Waves launch New Hymn To Freedom with live dates

Szun Waves launch New Hymn To Freedom wi…

Electronica jazz trio Szun Waves release their second album, New...

Read More.....
Donny McCaslin’s big Blow set for Scala

Donny McCaslin’s big Blow set for Scala

US saxophonist Donny McCaslin follows the breakthrough success of 2016's...

Read More.....
PRS Foundation Momentum Music Fund now open for applications

PRS Foundation Momentum Music Fund now o…

The PRS Foundation's Momentum Music Fund has helped the likes...

Read More.....
Beats & Pieces Big Band launch Ten with video and tour

Beats & Pieces Big Band launch Ten w…

Manchester's mighty Beats & Pieces Big Band continue their yearlong...

Read More.....
Robert Glasper leads R+R=NOW for stormy Celebrate Brooklyn blow-out

Robert Glasper leads R+R=NOW for stormy …

The history of collectives in jazz are nearly as old...

Read More.....
Are you ready for the Write Stuff? 2018 Applications Now Open

Are you ready for the Write Stuff? 2018 …

Budding music writers listen up! This year's Write Stuff music...

Read More.....
John Coltrane’s The Lost Album: Both Directions at Once hits Top 20 Albums

John Coltrane’s The Lost Album: Both Dir…

Last week's release of John Coltrane's The Lost Album: Both...

Read More.....
Boogie at the Bandstand - Love Supreme's festival within a festival

Boogie at the Bandstand - Love Supreme's…

With an abundance of big names on the larger stages...

Read More.....
Keyon Harrold, Vijay Iyer and EXPO Commissions for 40th Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Fest

Keyon Harrold, Vijay Iyer and EXPO Commi…

The 40th edition of the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival...

Read More.....
Roy Carr 1945 – 2018

Roy Carr 1945 – 2018

Doyen of the music press for half a century and...

Read More.....
Pharoah's Prophecies Pave Way For New Wave Of Spiritual Sentinels At This Year's Love Supreme

Pharoah's Prophecies Pave Way For New Wa…

"I've already had my mind blown once today," a geezerish...

Read More.....
Meshell Ndegeocello and The Bad Plus for Innervisions Fest at Under The Bridge

Meshell Ndegeocello and The Bad Plus for…

Chelsea music venue, Under the Bridge, will play host to...

Read More.....
Brockley Beer & Improv Sessions Brew Up New Series

Brockley Beer & Improv Sessions Brew…

Connoisseurs of craft ales and well-crafted extemporisation, rejoice! Another series of...

Read More.....
Archie Shepp, Phronesis, Kandace Springs and Kit Downes added to EFG London Jazz Festival

Archie Shepp, Phronesis, Kandace Springs…

The line-up for this year's EFG London Jazz Festival, which...

Read More.....
Wynton Marsalis Quartet open up to the spirit of Ornette at Barbican

Wynton Marsalis Quartet open up to the s…

Wynton Marsalis is more forward-thinking than he gets credit for...

Read More.....
Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas step up with Sound Prints at the Village vanguard

Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas step up with…

Joe Lovano remarked that "it was the end of an...

Read More.....
Jazz Women celebrated at Jazz Centre UK exhibition

Jazz Women celebrated at Jazz Centre UK …

Southend-on-Sea's Jazz Centre UK presents a major exhibition, Jazz Women...

Read More.....
Boggamasta boogie on down at Brussels Jazz Weekend

Boggamasta boogie on down at Brussels Ja…

The UK equivalent to the Brussels Jazz Weekend would be...

Read More.....
Orphy Robinson gets Gibraltar rocking beyond Borders

Orphy Robinson gets Gibraltar rocking be…

British vibes virtuoso Orphy Robinson is artist-in-residence at the year's...

Read More.....
Vijay Iyer Sextet and Julian Lage jive to Jazz Cafe

Vijay Iyer Sextet and Julian Lage jive t…

Having reopened its doors in January 2016, following a multi-million-pound...

Read More.....


Subcribe To Jazzwise

Advertisement

Call 0800 137201 to subscribe or click here to email the subscriptions team

Get in touch

Jazzwise Magazine,
St. Judes Church,
Dulwich Road, 
Herne Hill,
London, SE24 0PD.

0208 677 0012

Latest Tweets

Jazz FM sold to Bauer Media Group https://t.co/AABGd8xVee https://t.co/LM7pm2Aw1E
Follow Us - @Jazzwise
That new Necks' album... when it goes all Jerry Lee Lewis... 😊🤡📞
Follow Us - @Jazzwise

Newsletter

© 2016 MA Business & Leisure Ltd registered in England and Wales number 02923699 Registered office: Jesses Farm, Snow Hill, Dinton, Salisbury, SP3 5HN . Designed By SE24 MEDIA