The Wire

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Cecil Taylor has died

The US pianist, poet, bandleader and free music trailblazer was 89 years old

Born on 25 March 1929, Cecil Taylor grew up in Queens, New York. He took up the piano with his mother's permission, and went on to study composition and arranging at New England Conservatory in Massachusetts. He moved to Boston in 1955, where he formed a quartet with saxophonist Steve Lacy, bass player Buell Neidlinger and drummer Dennis Charles, who appeared on his 1956 debut album Jazz Advance (Transition). In 1958 Taylor collaborated with John Coltrane on Stereo Drive (1959). Now titled Coltrane Time, it’s the only known recording of the pair together.

In 1962 Taylor toured Scandinavia with alto saxophonist Jimmy Lyons and drummer Sunny Murray, and also performed with Albert Ayler. He continued to work regularly with Lyons – the latter remained a member of Taylor's group The Unit (alongside Sunny Murray and later Andrew Cyrille) up until his death in 1986 .

Over the last few decades Taylor has mostly performed solo or in a trio, very occasionally working with larger ensembles. He expressed a great disdain for electric pianos and keyboards. In 2016 New York Whitney museum paid tribute to the artist with a two week retrospective of his work.

“I’m difficult because I don’t want anything else except absolute art,” Taylor told Phil Freeman in The Wire 386. “That’s why I exist.” Phil begged to differ. “Spending two days in [Taylor's] company is a uniquely enjoyable experience,” he declared in the same article. “He’s friendly, funny, urbane in an almost aristocratic manner, generous with his time, and – surprisingly for someone who has so thoroughly constructed his own soundworld – attuned to the music of the moment. As brilliant artists go, Cecil Taylor is one of the most approachable guys around.”

Taylor died at his New York home in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.