MacArthur Fellows Program

Cecil Taylor

Jazz Pianist and Composer | Class of 1991

Jazz Pianist and Composer
New York, New York
62 at time of award
April 5, 2018
Published July 1, 1991

About Cecil's Work

Cecil Taylor is an avant-garde jazz composer and pianist who is distinct for his exploration of the power of sounds beyond traditional harmony, melody and rhythm.

As one of the pioneers of free jazz, Taylor has created a personal aesthetic from the jazz tradition without easily accessed, traditional points of reference.  His work is percussive and spontaneous, and is characterized by sonic intensity and structurally intertwined chords and melodies.  It is occasioned by dense, aperiodic rhythms, and by clusters and glissandos produced with open palms, fists, elbows, and forearms.


Taylor’s work on recordings mostly derive from live performances and include Nefertiti, The Beautiful One Has Come (1962), 3 Phasis (1978), The Owner of the Riverbank (2000), and All the Notes (2004).  His 1988 series of performances at the Berlin Free Jazz Society constitutes one of the largest recording efforts to date devoted to a living jazz artist.The project produced thirteen discs of collaborations with a changing cast of musicians.  He regularly performs at festivals and concerts across the United States and in Europe.

Taylor attended the New York College of Music (1946-47) and received a degree from the New England Conservatory of Music (1953).

Last updated January 1, 2005

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