With uncompromising vision and sheer force of expression, pianist Cecil Taylor has redefined the parameters of jazz improvisation and composition. Since his remarkable 1956 debut, Taylor’s demanding music has alternately alienated and thrilled audiences, establishing him both as one of the great innovators of jazz music and among the most significant musicians of the 20th century. Featured here at Town Hall Seattle, this special solo performance marked a rare opportunity to experience the incomparable piano legend and NEA Jazz Master in an intimate and respectful environment.
Born in Long Island in 1929, Taylor began playing piano at the age of six at the behest of his mother, and he later studied music formally at the New York College of Music and the New England Conservatory. In the early 1950s Taylor worked in R&B and swing ensembles, including a brief stint in Johnny Hodge’s quintet. In the mid-1950s Taylor formed his first ensemble with Steve Lacy, Dennis Charles, and Buell Neidlinger, which then recorded Taylor’s 1956 debut, Jazz Advance. Half a century after its release Jazz Advance remains one of the most extraordinary debuts in jazz, and it is an early indication of the direction Taylor’s music, and indeed the whole of what would become the jazz avant-garde movement, would pursue.
Although a residency at the Five Spot in New York gained him moderate critical attention and a bold reputation, Taylor lived in poverty and supported himself as a dishwasher when he was unable to find venues to host his music. After joining with altoist Jimmy Lyons and drummer Sonny Murray, however, Taylor toured Scandinavia in the winter of 1962-63, and recorded the dramatic live sets that later became Nefertiti, The Beautiful One Has Come. Working both within and outside of the jazz tradition, Taylor’s new trio seemed to leave tonality and traditional rhythmic forms behind, while also displaying Taylor’s utterly astonishing musical technique. Critics have pointed out the purely-percussive elements of Taylor’s playing, with some likening his keyboard to “88 tuned drums.” Taylor, however, has famously remarked that he has merely attempted to “imitate on the piano the leaps in space a dancer makes.” Also an accomplished poet, he often incorporates his writing into performances.
For more than half a century Taylor has pursued his own musical path with the utmost integrity and determination. Composing for and directing unique large ensembles, working in any number of his well-established small groups, or performing in the solo piano setting which he has mastered, the consistent theme of Taylor’s storied life has been the extraordinary nature of his work.
Click here for the complete schedule for the rest of the upcoming shows at the 2008 Earshot Jazz Festival