Ce­cil Tay­lor, one of jazz pi­ano’s most un­com­pro­mis­ing pathfind­ers, died on April 5.

Mojo (UK) - - Contents - Charles War­ing

Ce­cil Tay­lor, Charles Neville, Bob Dor­ough and more, we bid you adieu.

ÒCe­cil Tay­lor has al­ways hated me since I said he couldn’t play,” wrote Miles Davis in his 1989 au­to­bi­og­ra­phy. It could be said that his per­cep­tion of Tay­lor, an avant-garde, starkly in­di­vid­u­al­is­tic pi­anist who com­posed and played with a fierce in­ten­sity, echoed the opin­ion of the jazz main­stream. In fact, such was Tay­lor’s rep­u­ta­tion that club own­ers on the ‘60s jazz cir­cuit re­fused to give him work, lest his re­lent­less atonal­ity scare away the au­di­ence. De­spite this, Tay­lor never once com­pro­mised his as­pi­ra­tions or di­luted his out­put to ap­pease pop­u­lar tastes. Born in Queens, the young Tay­lor first be­came in­ter­ested in mu­sic af­ter hear­ing Duke Elling­ton’s drum­mer, Sonny Greer. This awak­en­ing would later in­flu­ence his uniquely per­cus­sive ap­proach to the pi­ano, an in­stru­ment that he took up when he was six. By his late teens, Tay­lor was study­ing com­po­si­tion at the New Eng­land Con­ser­va­tory in Bos­ton. As the ‘50s com­menced, he saw in jazz the means of ex­plor­ing new mu­si­cal pos­si­bil­i­ties. Lead­ing a quar­tet which in­cluded sax­o­phon­ist Steve Lacy, Tay­lor’s 1956 de­but LP was Jazz Ad­vance, whose ti­tle al­luded to the pi­anist’s pro­gres­sive take on be­bop. Af­ter record­ing with John Coltrane in 1958 (for the LP Stereo Drive), a year later Tay­lor re­leased the prophet­i­cally-ti­tled Look­ing Ahead!, where he be­gan to rebel against con­ven­tional no­tions of melody, har­mony, and struc­ture. Though it was re­leased at a time when an­other rev­o­lu­tion­ary, sax­o­phon­ist Or­nette Cole­man, was lay­ing down the blue­print for what be­came known as free jazz, Tay­lor’s mu­sic re­mained fiercely in­di­vid­u­al­is­tic. “I try to im­i­tate on the pi­ano the leaps in space a dancer makes,” he once said, de­scrib­ing a style de­fined by dis­so­nant clus­ter chords and


frac­tured melodic lines char­ac­terised by wide jumps be­tween notes. In his thir­ties Tay­lor strug­gled to find work as a mu­si­cian (dish­wash­ing and dry clean­ing were two jobs he took to pay the rent), but his for­tunes im­proved in the 1970s, when he reg­u­larly per­formed in Europe and be­came famed for his de­mand­ing, lengthy solo pi­ano recitals punc­tu­ated by screams, po­etry and him at­tack­ing the keys with his fists and el­bows. He also started to record with more fre­quency. The pe­riod from 1980 to 2002 wit­nessed a plethora of al­bums for free jazz indies such as Soul Note, Leo, and FMP, and Tay­lor be­gan to re­ceive the re­spect his ground­break­ing sonic en­deav­ours de­served. One of his fi­nal per­for­mances – in Ja­pan, to mark his re­ceipt of the 50 mil­lion yen Ky­oto Prize for Arts And Phi­los­o­phy in 2013 – proved his quest­ing spirit and per­form­ing vigour were still strong into his ninth decade. “What I am do­ing,” he ex­plained of his life’s work, “is cre­at­ing a dif­fer­ent Amer­i­can lan­guage.”

Where there’s smoke: (main) Ce­cil Tay­lor, player of ‘88 tuned drums’, at the Mon­treux Jazz Fes­ti­val, July 1976; (be­low) in New York, 1985.

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