Cecil Taylor is considered on the best jazz pianists for his time. He has been one source that was always uncompromising with his own existence as well. 1960’s was the time when his music became the leading advocate because of the free jazz movement. However, he was not alone to make this happen. Along with Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane, he paved strong ways for his career. Free jazz movement was the platform which marked the turning point of the history of jazz music and challenged the forms of tonal harmonic system. Taylor has always tried to imitate on the piano leaps through which the dancers make a move. Taylor’s composition and playing has always been one the most sophisticated and harmonizing melodies to listen. People who have been working with Taylor have been one of the most astounding personalities including William Parker, Tony William, Bill Dixon, Albert Ayler, Mark Helias and many more recognizable music celebrities.
Taylor’s career had its ups and downs. When his career reached its peak in the 90’s, Taylor was not invited to play at Lincoln Center because his music was accused as unfit by many of the directors who had different definition of jazz music. However, this was not something that turned him down and so together with Alice Tully, they gave a piano concert which won him considerable respect. Taylor had appeared in many of the concerts throughout Europe after he gained recognition and also performed as the solo pianist and led his troop in the concerts at the same time. Taylor, undoubtedly is the artist of high respect and a ‘direct link’ to America’s art music. His innate musical qualities have certainly led him to discover many new boundaries of the music which is joyful and harmonizing at the same time. Till now, the music world is awaiting for his new and innovative music styles that are yet to be discovered.
25th March, 1929 was the day when Cecil Taylor was born in New York. With a helping hand and determination of his mother, Taylor started playing piano at the age of five. During the period of 1951 to 1955, Taylor attended the New England Conservatory where he only concentrated on learning piano and music theory. In 1953, he started his early professional career with Johnny Hodges and Hot Lips Pages. However, in 1953, Steve Lacy was the one with whom he formed his first ever quartet through which he released his one of the most important album named as Jazz Advance in 1956. Five Spot helped Taylor to begin the Greenwich Village club as a way through which new East Coast jazz was introduced and was a platform for Taylor. This was the period in which Taylor made his appearance at the Great South Bay Jazz Festival and Newport Jazz Festival. His free jazz quartet was then replaced with a hard bop band in the 1960.
Taylor was awarded as the Downbeat’s new star for pianist in the 1962 however; he was still not able to get any work in the field for most of the 60’s. During this period, Taylor claimed that he was forced to live on the welfare for minimum of five years. He then took part in the October Revolution in Jazz which was basically a series of New York City’s concerts in 1964. In the 70’s he started his career as a music teacher where he taught at Glassboro State College in New Jersey and Antioch College, the University of Wisconsin.
All of the Taylor’s musical albums were released in the Europe from 1967 to 1977. His career became to get stronger in the 1973 when he began to tour on a daily basis as a solo pianist and sometimes led his group. Taylor was also awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and then started his own labeled recording unit known as Unit Core. He was also elected into the Down Beat hall of Fame after that in 1975 and in 1979, he was chosen as the music composer for the play “Tetra Stomp: Eatn’ Rain in Space”.
The period between 70’s and 80’s proved to be the lucky ones for Taylor. This was the time when Taylor collaborated with Diane McIntyre who owned a dance company Sound In Motion. The company basically focused on amalgamating jazz with the spoken poetry with dance. Taylor was then honored with a month-long festival of music which happened in Berlin in 1988. The festival involved many of the prominent jazz musicians of the time. He was given the name of NEA Jazz Master in 1990 and was awarded a genius grant in aid by the Mc Arthur Foundation in 1991.
Taylor had also seen the time during his successful period where his work was considered as non artistic and was accused. Taylor now being in his eighties still continues to compose and write music and poetries. Without any doubt, he is still continuing to extend the boundaries of his music by learning more and more.
Cecil Taylor’s music has always been the controversial one for the mainstream audiences. However, Taylor has always been sincere with his artistic vision which has extended many of his life’s passion including dance, architecture, reading and theatre. He has been a poet maybe not a well known one but he amalgamated his poetic side with many of his musical pieces. Taylor has been one the most sophisticated and complex improviser in the jazz music. Taylor in his early days used some standards like vehicle improvisations but after the 60’s he has been composing the music that has been completely innovative and new to the mainstream jazz. One of the most exclusive compliments that Taylor has got is that his playing of piano felt as if he were playing a set of drums.
Taylor generally emphasized on the intense clusters if sound which can be played with amazing techniques and these musical pieces were often used in the marathon performances. The tremendous sweep and energy his music had has bluffed many of the listeners who believed that Taylor’s musical pieces never had any structure. However, many formal elements were found that were present in Taylor’s work which made some people understand the true meaning of his music. Taylor has stressed upon the mystical and spiritual nature of African American music. He has worked extensively in this genre and has provided with great musical pieces for the dancers. Taylor truly understood the way how dancers moved and composed his music accordingly. He is till now one of the most sophisticated jazz music directors who has been serving his life for opening up new boundaries to learn more and have an extensive role in the jazz music that has been awaited by the people who truly understand the mystical feeling of his music. In a nutshell, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that Taylor’s music is not something that is for everyone.
Videos and Recordings
Cecil Taylor plays Bemsha Swing: