Born in 1929 in Queens, New York, Taylor was the only child of a middle-class family. Taylor is generally acknowledged as having been one of the pioneers of free jazz. He began playing piano at the age of six, and later studied at the New York College of Music and New England Conservatory, where he studied the work of Stravinsky, Bartók and Elliott Carter. Taylor’s unique style – “tone clusters” over chords, spontaneity above all – was too personal to influence mainstream jazz piano idioms, but made him an inspiration to the international avant garde.
Taylor’s first recording, Jazz Advance, featured Lacy and was released in 1956 In an interview with critic Spencer Richards, Taylor rejected the suggestion that he was a “professional” musician: “I’ve always tried to be a poet more than anything else. I mean, professional musicians die.” By 1961, Taylor was working regularly with alto saxophonist Jimmy Lyons, one of his most important and consistent collaborators. Taylor began to perform solo concerts in the second half of the sixties. In 2014, Taylor was defrauded by a contractor. Neil Muir, from Long Island, was sentenced to between one and three years in prison for intercepting Taylor’s $492,722.55 (£293,227.02) Kyoto prize from Japan’s prestigious Inamori Foundation in November 2013. In addition to piano, Taylor was always interested in ballet and dance, not at least because his mother was a dancer. Taylor once said: “I try to imitate on the piano the leaps in space a dancer makes.” He also was a poet and integrated his poems into his musical performances.