THE RELEVANT QUEER: Jazz Musician & Composer Cecil Taylor, Born March 25, 1929

Cecil Taylor performing in Amsterdam in 1988. Photograph: Frans Schellekens/Redferns

“Improvisation is the ability to talk to oneself.”

TRQ: Cecil Taylor, Born March 25, 1929

Jazz musician and composer Cecil Taylor was born in New York City. He attended the New York College of Music and the New England Conservatory of Music. Inspired by jazz greats like Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk, as well as classical music, Taylor began making a name for himself with Jazz Advance, recorded in 1956. 

Confrontational and anarchic, Taylor was weary of using the “jazz” label to his music and rejected traditional European approaches to composing. His approach to composition through group work was similar to Ellington’s. Known for his improvisation that innovated approaches to harmony, tempo and structure, Taylor from the start made experimental music that is dense, complex and demanding. 

In a 1991 interview with The New York Times, Taylor also rejected “gay” as a label to describe his complex sense of sexuality. As a queer black jazz musician whose work most listeners find difficult, Taylor remained unshakable. According to music critic Alex Ross of the Times, Taylor was “one of the greatest, most unswervingly original, most incorrigibly sublime figures in the recent history of music.” 

Over the course of his fifty-year career, Taylor recorded dozens of albums. He won a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters award in 1990, and a MacArthur Foundation grant in 1991. He also won Japan’s Kyoto Prize in 2013. 

While working on his autobiography and planning future concerts, Taylor died on April 5, 2018 in New York City. 




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