Cecil taylor was born on March 25, in 1929 in Corona, Queens, New York. He started playing the piano at a really young age and practiced at least six days out of the week. Once graduating from high school, he attended both New York’s college of Music and Boston’s New England Conservatory (NPR, 2018).
Notoriety & Evolution of Jazz
Taylor’s rise in the jazz world occurred in the mid-1950s. He was considered a pioneer of improvised jazz and a fresh take on the genre itself. When he first started playing jazz, he used his training in classical music as a basic standard before being able to venture off into his avant-garde style that was and is still well adored (Yanow). His style of playing the piano was heavily percussion based and could be described as “the piano being played as if they were a set of drums. (Yanow).” This description ascribed to how Taylor was able to re-invent the wheel and be one of the creators for what is now known as free jazz.
What is Free Jazz?
Free jazz is the shift from the traditional form of jazz as well as the subgenres of jazz like bebop and modal jazz. Free jazz to the artists who play it, view it as removing the constraints that the other forms of jazz had placed within the genre. Within free jazz, there is a lot of improvization and ambiguity. Free jazz is able to call upon all types of music around the world as its influence and not ascribe to a label. Some components of free jazz include pulsations, improvizations, and swings without a meter. This amalgamation of free jazz from many different outlets and being able to diverge away from traditional jazz gave way to artists like Taylor. This form of jazz brought about uniqueness to Cecil Taylor’s sound and style of playing the piano.
Taylor’s Early Influences & Career
Some of Taylor’s early influences include Duke Ellington and Dave Brubeck, which is his early forms of influences before venturing off into free jazz. Some of Taylor’s early gigs include Johnny Hodges and Hot Lips Pages. However, in the late 1950s, Taylor eventually form his own group which included a drummer, bassist, and a soprano player.
Taylor originally started playing cafe gigs but often had a hard time finding work due to the lack of profuse job opportunities. In the 1960s, Taylor recorded under Candid. This work then turned into him touring and living in Europe for a few months before returning back to the U.S. Once he returned back to the U.S., he did not engage with work for a year due to people considering his piano style being too advanced (Yanow). In the 1970s, opportunities started grow and Taylor taught at three universities. He performed at the white house for Jimmy Carter in 1979 and also received a fellowship for his extensive work. Eventually after the death of his friend Lyons, he started to become less active in the decades following the 1970s. However, in the 2000s, he became more active then he had been. He started to work various gigs and played with several bands.
Cecil Taylor died on April 5, 2018 at the age of 89.
Vitale, T (2018). Cecil Taylor, Jazz Icon of the Avant-Garde, Dies at 89. NPR.
Yanow, S. (2018). All Music.