NEW YORK (Reuters) - Cecil Taylor, a U.S. jazz pianist who plied his craft with a distinctive percussive style that was not always appreciated even as he helped revolutionize the genre in the 20th century, died on Friday at age 89, the New York Times reported.
Taylor’s age and his death at home in Brooklyn were confirmed by Adam Wilner, his legal guardian, the newspaper said. Although there was no cause was given for his death, his friends said he had been in failing health, it said.
Wilner could not be reached for comment.
The New York Office of Chief Medical Examiner could not immediately confirm Taylor’s death.
A classically trained jazz musician, Taylor wrote music, led bands and played in countless nightclubs and music festivals in a career that spanned about six decades.
His entry into the New York jazz scene in the 1950s was less than welcoming, because, as the late jazz critic Nat Hentoff wrote, “many renowned musicians didn’t hear any melody or sense.”
Refusing to compromise on his preferred improvisational, free-form style, which was still in its infancy in the jazz world, Taylor found himself having to work as a cook, dishwasher, coffee shop deliveryman and record salesman to make ends meet.
“But when he found actual audiences, he sometimes electrified them,” Hentoff wrote in 2002. “Throughout his life in jazz, Cecil continues to spellbind or infuriate listeners.”
Cecil Percival Taylor was born in New York’s borough of Queens on March 25, 1929, to middle-class parents who guided his musical education once it became clear that he was not interested in pursuing a professional career.
He studied piano at the New York College of Music, and later attended the New England Conservatory in Boston, where he studied the works of composers including Stravinsky, Bartok and Elliott Carter.
He recorded his first album, “Jazz Advance,” in 1956 with a quartet with which he played at the Newport Jazz Festival the following year. On his next record, “Looking Ahead!” in 1958, Taylor played with a group that included the legendary saxophonist John Coltrane.
Among the notable venues for his performances were the White House under President Jimmy Carter and a series of concerts in East and West Berlin in 1988.
Reporting by Peter Szekely, editing by G Crosse