Cecil Taylor's staggering technique and complex, abstract improvisations easily made him the greatest free jazz pianist of all time. Most often described as "percussive," Taylor's intense, fire-breathing approach to the piano broke free from traditional melody and harmony, creating its effect through thick note clusters, dissonance that often crossed into atonality, and abrupt shifts in pulse and register. Taylor's music demands tremendous energyRead more from both the listener and himself, and his performances frequently reach marathon length. His modern classical influences and seeming emphasis on purely abstract sound have earned the wrath of traditionalists, who claim that what Taylor plays isn't jazz (as if that somehow diminished his achievements); however, Taylor's conception is both firmly rooted in jazz and underpinned by its own unique logic. Taylor was born on Long Island in 1929, and he began piano lessons at age six; his main early influences were Duke Ellington and Bud Powell. While studying at the New England Conservatory of Music, he also discovered Dave Brubeck and Horace Silver. Taylor first worked with Johnny Hodges and Hot Lips Page, but soon formed his own quartet, featuring Steve Lacy, Buell Neidlinger, and Dennis Charles. Taylor recorded his proto-avant-garde debut album, Jazz Advance, for Blue Note in late 1955, and played Newport in 1957. In 1960, the quartet (now with Archie Shepp) recorded for Candid. By the time he toured Europe in 1962, Taylor had hooked up with longtime altoist Jimmy Lyons and groundbreaking free drummer Sunny Murray, and broken almost completely away from standard structures, chord progressions, and steady rhythms. His 1966 sessions for Blue Note -- Unit Structures and Conquistador -- were classics but, unable to find work, he was mostly silent save for a 1969 European tour with Sam Rivers, after which he began teaching. In 1973, he won a Guggenheim Fellowship, kicking off his most productive period on record; he began recording for smaller and more adventurous labels, resulting most notably in the brilliant Silent Tongues (a 1974 solo concert at Montreux) and 1978's The Cecil Taylor Unit (his first studio album since 1966). Taylor has continued to record prolifically (mostly in concert) ever since, for labels like Hat Art, Soul Note, and FMP. ~ Steve Huey Read less
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