Remembering Cecil Taylor

March 25, 1929 – April 5, 2018

“Paying tribute to the innovative pianist”

Cecil Taylor (March 25, 1929 – April 5, 2018) was a major jazz pianist for over 60 years, carving out his own singular path in music.

Born in the Queens section of New York City, Taylor began playing piano when he was six, later studying at the New York College of Music and the New England Conservatory.

Classically trained and long interested in 20th century classical music, Taylor was attracted to improvising from an early age.

Influenced early on by Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk while listening to everyone, Taylor had a brief stint playing with Johnny Hodges but by 1956 was leading his own quartet with soprano-saxophonist Steve Lacy, bassist Buell Neidlinger and drummer Dennis Charles.

Taylor made his recording debut that year and, while still connected to the bop tradition, he was already displaying a very original voice on the piano with his own chord voicings.

Cecil Taylor’s adventurous style became much more percussive, dense and freer as the 1950s progressed, and by the end of the decade he was more advanced than any other pianist in jazz.

By 1962, when he formed a quartet with his long-time altoist Jimmy Lyons, Taylor was the leader of avant-garde jazz, playing often-thunderous improvisations that listeners either loved or hated.

Throughout his long career, Cecil Taylor (whether heard solo, heading his Unit or leading a large ensemble) never compromised his atonal music, mellowed with age, or played without passion or intensity.

Cecil Taylor was active until 2016, two years before his death at the age of 89.

This film clip features Cecil Taylor and his trio in 1995 performing his energetic avant-garde music.

-Scott Yanow