NEW YORK (CelebrityAccess) — Cecil Taylor, the legendary free jazz pianist whose innovative sound helped to challenge the orthodoxy of bebop, died at his Brooklyn home on April 5th. He was 89.
According to the New York Times, Taylor’s death was confirmed by his legal guardian, Adam C. Wilner. While no cause of death was provided, Taylor was known to be in failing health for some time, the Times said.
A native of Queens, New York, Taylor began playing piano at an early age, and commenced with classical training in the instrument, studying at the New York College of Music and then the New England Conservatory in Boston.
In 1955, he returned to New York, where he formed a quartet with soprano saxophonist, Steve Lacy, the bassist Buell Neidlinger, and drummer Dennis Charles.
In 1956, he released his first album “Jazz Advance” which hinted at his future rejection of formalism in jazz. While the album earned poor reviews from critics, it has since become a seminal recording in the free jazz movement.
“When you think about musicians who are reading music,” Taylor said in “All the Notes,” a 1993 documentary, “my contention has always been: The energy that you’re using deciphering what the symbol is taking away from the maximum creative energy that you might have had if you understood that it’s but a symbol.”
Through the late 1950s and 1960s, Taylor continued to push the boundaries of jazz, eschewing contemporary chord progressions and became known for his uncompromising performances with long pieces. His recordings from the period include “Looking Ahead!” (1959) and “Unit Structures” (1966) which were aggressively atonal, and ferociously complex.
However, his musical iconoclasm also had a professional cost for Taylor and he often had trouble finding gigs.
“I was washing dishes in a restaurant at the same time I was being written about in places like Down Beat, and it was very good for me because I had to decide what I really wanted to do. Did I want to pursue my ideals badly enough? It was the only way to learn that I did.” Taylor told Down Beat correspondent Gene Santoro.
In the latter part of his career, Taylor finally began to earn broader recognition for his contributions to the form, performing for President Jimmy Carter on the White House Lawn, and earning a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1973 and then a MacArthur Fellowship in 1991.
Later collaborations include big band ensembles with other jazz notables including Joe Locke, Max Roach and his 2004 performance with the Cecil Taylor Big Band at the Iridium was named best performance of 2004 by All About Jazz,
In 2013, he was awarded the Kyoto Prize for Music.