Cecil Taylor

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Cecil Taylor ( Moers Festival 2008)

Cecil Percival Taylor (born March 15 or 25, 1929 in New York ; † April 5, 2018 ) was an American jazz pianist , composer and poet . He is considered to be one of the great inspiring personalities of freely improvised jazz .


At the age of five, Taylor received his first piano lessons from his mother. He studied harmony and composition at the New York College of Music and continued his composition studies between 1947 and 1951 at the New England Conservatory until he graduated (with Henry Cowell, among others ). After starting out in R&B and in swing bands at the beginning of the 1950s (such as Hot Lips Page and Johnny Hodges ), he founded his own band in 1956 with soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy , bassist Buell Neidlinger and drummer Dennis Charles . His first record, Jazz Advance , published by Transition in 1956, is today considered an innovation in which he already shows the freedom that would later become his trademark as an exceptional pianist: Taylor is known for his extremely energetic, physically-oriented style of playing as well as his extraordinary style complex art of improvisation, which often involves clusters and difficult polyrhythmic structures. His art is based on the achievements of new music and modern jazz (particularly by Bud Powell and Lennie Tristano ) as well as on West African percussion music . Critic Valerie Wilmer said Taylor played the piano like "88 tuned bongos". According to Joachim-Ernst Berendt , “what is actually overwhelming” lies in his improvisations “in the physical strength with which he plays”.

Projects in the 1960s brought Taylor into contact with John Coltrane and Archie Shepp . Despite being recognized in the Down Beat Poll, he initially had no success with the American audience and had to work as a dishwasher. Gil Evans offered Taylor the opportunity to present his music on the album Into the Hot (1961). The majority of his musical development had the reshaped ensemble with the alto saxophonist Jimmy Lyons (from 1961 until his death in 1986) and drummers like Sunny Murray , with whom Taylor went on a European tour from 1962–1963 and for the first time received greater recognition from his audience. Within this group, which performed without a bass player, the musicians often developed new, extremely expressive forms of ensemble playing. Instead of Murray, Andrew Cyrille then played in this unit . In the early 1970s, Taylor also began solo piano performances ( Air Above Mountains (Buildings Within) , 1976) and took several teaching positions at American universities. His concerts increasingly included theatrical, performative elements. He wrote poems, which he also recited during his concerts; he also performed with Max Roach and Mary Lou Williams .

After Lyons' death, Taylor turned to the smaller trio line-up and worked with bassist William Parker , with whom he played in the Feel Trio with Tony Oxley in the early 1990s . In addition, he has led numerous projects by large bands. His concerts in Berlin from 1988 to 1999 were largely published by the German label FMP and thus documented the performances in cooperation with European improvisers such as Derek Bailey , Evan Parker , Peter Kowald , Han Bennink and Tristan Honsinger .

In recent years he has toured with Oxley and trumpeter Bill Dixon . Most of his recordings in the last few decades have been released by small European labels, with the exception of the rather untypical album Momentum Space (with Dewey Redman and Elvin Jones ) on Verve / Gitanes . The classic Bridge label released its Algonquin album , a 1998 Library of Congress duet with violinist Mat Maneri .

Taylor has always been interested in ballet and dance. His mother, who died in his childhood, was a dancer and also played the piano and violin. He said: "I am trying to depict the jumps of a dancer in space on the piano". In 1977 and 1979 he worked with the dancer Dianne McIntyre . In 1979 he composed and played the music for the twelve-minute ballet Tetra-Stomp: Eatin 'Rain in Space with Michail Baryschnikow and Heather Watts .


In 1991 he was a MacArthur Fellow . The very early album Looking Ahead (1958) was added to the list in 1998 "100 Records That Set the World on Fire (While No One What Listening)" by The Wire added. For 2013 he was awarded the Kyoto Prize .


In 2004 the filmmaker Christopher Felver from Sausalito, California , finished his 72-minute documentary Cecil Taylor: All the Notes , which accompanied the camera-shy and interview-reluctant pianist over a period of ten years. The film had its European premiere in 2005 at the " Total Music Meeting " in the Berlinische Galerie in Berlin-Kreuzberg .

Discographic notes

  • The World of Cecil Taylor , 1960
  • Unit Structures , Blue Note 1966
  • Conquistador! , Blue Note 1966
  • The Great Concert (identical to Nuits de la Fondation Maeght ), 1969
  • Cecil Taylor Unit , 1978
  • Fly! Fly! Fly! , 1980
  • Tzotzil Mummers Tzotzil , 1987
  • Pleistozaen with Water , 1988 (with Derek Bailey)
  • Remembrance , 1988 (with Louis Moholo )
  • Leaf Palm Hand , 1988 (with Tony Oxley)
  • Looking (The Feel Trio) , 1989
  • The Light of Corona , 1996
  • Qu'a: Live at the Iridium, vol. 1 & 2 , 1998
  • Cecil Taylor & Tony Oxley: Ailanthus / Altissima: Bilateral Dimensions of 2 Root Songs , 2008, ed. 2010


Improvisation is a tool of refinement, an attempt to capture the 'dark' instinct. "

- Cecil Taylor

The pianist and pioneer of modern jazz ... lines up run after run, then abruptly changes the tempos, plunges into wild clusters, piles them up to form complex sound structures and finally increases them with the highest intensity, only to crumble and ripple again allow. Taylor's concerts are special experiences even after decades. They are endowed with a deep sense of dramaturgy, which rules out any kind of hardship that Taylor is poised over and over again. "

The felt hammers of the huge grand piano are transformed under the fingers, palms, elbows and forearms into the drums of the Dogon from Niger bows and also into those of Baby Dodds , drum legend from New Orleans. His thoroughly meditative beginning in Ashmumniem soon leads to a brutal condensation of the material. The sound becomes like metal on an anvil, and Cecil Taylor shapes it in quick succession. His fist turns into a hammer that hits the keys. The rather delicate American has developed mastery of glissandi and clusters into a highly subtle and vital "whipping technique". "


  • Meinrad Buholzer, Abi S. Rosenthal, Val Wilmer: In Search of Cecil Taylor. Wolke-Verlag, Hofheim 1990, ISBN 3-923997-38-8 .
  • AB Spellman : Four Jazz Lives. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor MI 2004, ISBN 0-472-08967-6 (Reprint of "Four Lives in the Bebop Business." Pantheon, New York NY 1966).
  • Meinrad Buholzer: Always a Pleasure - Encounters with Cecil Taylor. Ebikon, 2018, ISBN 978-3-033-06872-8 .

Web links

Commons : Cecil Taylor  - Collection of Images, Videos and Audio Files

Individual evidence

  1. cf. Leonard Feather , Ira Gitler : The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz. Oxford University Press, New York 1999, ISBN 0-19-532000-X .
  2. Carlo Bohländer u. a. Reclam's jazz guide. Stuttgart 1970 etc., Ian Carr , Digby Fairweather , Brian Priestley : Rough Guide Jazz. The ultimate guide to jazz music. 1700 artists and bands from the beginning until today. Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 1999, ISBN 3-476-01584-X .
  3. Ben Ratliff: Cecil Taylor, pianist Who Defied Jazz Orthodoxy, Is Dead at 89. The New York Times , April 6, 2018, accessed April 6, 2018 .
  4. Quotation from Felix Klopotek : Cecil Taylor . In: Wolf Kampmann (Ed.), With the assistance of Ekkehard Jost : Reclams Jazzlexikon . Reclam, Stuttgart 2003, ISBN 3-15-010528-5 , p. 510.
  5. So Berendt in his Jazzbuch (Frankfurt a. M. 1973, p. 248), where he continues: “The German pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach , who was heavily influenced by Taylor, has pointed out that other pianists at most for minutes in the Are able to develop such a burning and bursting intensity, and that it is unbelievable that Taylor can endure such a game for whole evenings in long concerts and club appearances. "
  6. ^ Richard Cook : Jazz Encyclopedia . London 2007.
  7. Meinrad Buholzer writes in the liner notes for the Willisau Concert : “A Taylor concert is always a choreographic event. The way he swirls his fingers across the keyboard is dance. And dance is still there when Taylor gets up between the pieces and, still half intoxicated, in a trance, turns around the piano. "
  8. ^ Taylor film: All the notes
  9. after Konrad Heidkamp Die Fantasie Gottes: Even the late works of the jazz musician Cecil Taylor are grandiose unreasonable demands Die Zeit , April 22, 2004.