Cecil Percival Taylor (born in New York City March 15 or 25, each date often cited, 1929) is an American pianist and poet now generally acknowledged to be one of the great innovative sources of free jazz (along with the better known Ornette Coleman). His first recording Jazz Advance was released in 1956, and is described by Cook & Morton in the Penguin Guide to Jazz: “While there are still many nods to conventional post-bop form in this set, it already points to the freedoms which the pianist would later immerse himself in”.
Taylor is known for being an extremely energetic, physical yet subtle player, producing exceedingly complex improvised sounds, frequently involving tone clusters and intricate polyrhythms. At first listen, his dense and percussive music can be difficult to absorb, often described as if playing “88 tuned drums.” He learned piano at six and went on to study at New York College and New England Conservatory. After first steps in rhythm and blues and swing-styled small groups in the early ’50s, he formed his own band with soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy in 1956. Throughout the 50’s and 60’s, it was often difficult to find work, despite landmark recordings such as Unit Structures, Nefertiti the Beautiful One Has Come, and a pairing with John Coltrane (released as Coltrane Time under John Coltrane’s name and as Hard Driving Jazz under Taylor’s).