Taylor, Cecil

Taylor, Cecil, 1929-2018, African-American jazz pianist, composer, and poet, b. Queens, N.Y. A child prodigy on the piano, Taylor studied at the N.Y. College of Music and New England Conservatory in Boston. In 1955, he formed his first quartet in New York, releasing his first album a year later. Through the mid-‘60s, Taylor’s music moved beyond the confines of jazz to incorporate modern composition techniques including tone clusters and complex polyrhythms, becoming a leader in what was called the free jazz movement along with Ornette Coleman. Among his notable album releases were Stereo Drive (1958) with saxophonist John Coltrane ), Looking Ahead (1959), and Unit Structures (1966). In the later ‘60s-‘70s, he performed a series of solo concerts and began to gain greater recognition for his compositions and performances including earning a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1973 and being invited to play at the White House by Jimmy Carter in 1978 as part of a jazz festival held on its lawn. From the ‘80s, Taylor led a variety of small and larger ensembles, continuing to explore more abstract structures. He regularly toured Europe where his music was more widely appreciated than in his home country. Taylor was awarded a MacArthur Foundation "Genius Grant" in 1991. He also performed his own poetry in concert.

See A.B. Spellman, Four Lives in the Bebop Business (1985, 2004), H. Mandel, Miles, Ornette, Cecil: Jazz Beyond Jazz (2007), V. Wilmer and R. Williams, As Serious As Your Life: Black Music and the Free Jazz Revolution, 1957–1977 (2018).

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