Craig Taborn

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Craig Taborn
Craig Taborn.jpg
Taborn in 2008
Background information
Birth name Craig Marvin Taborn
Born (1970-02-20) February 20, 1970 (age 44)
Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States
Genres Jazz
Occupation(s) Musician, composer
Instruments Piano
Moog synthesizer
Labels DIW
Thirsty Ear
Website Taborn "doesn't have, or want, his own website"[1]

Craig Marvin Taborn (/ˈtˌbɔːrn/; born February 20, 1970) is an American pianist, keyboardist and composer. Also playing organ and Moog synthesizer, Taborn has worked mostly in jazz, although he also does dark ambient and techno music.

Taborn started playing piano and Moog synthesizer as an adolescent and was influenced at an early stage by the freedom expressed in the recordings of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, Sun Ra, and Cecil Taylor. While still at university, Taborn toured and recorded with saxophonist James Carter. He went on to play with numerous other musicians in electronic and acoustic settings, while also building a reputation as a solo pianist. In 2011, Down Beat chose Taborn as winner of the electric keyboard category, as well as rising star in both the piano and organ categories. By the middle of 2013, Taborn had released five albums under his own name and appeared on more than 70 as a sideman.

Early life[edit]

Craig Taborn was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota,[2] to John, a psychologist, and Marjorie, a social worker.[3] Growing up in Golden Valley, Minnesota, Taborn attended Breck School.[3] He borrowed records from a public library and listened to public radio, finding music from the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians and Sun Ra, among others.[3] His parents gave him a Moog synthesizer as a present when he was 12,[3][4] which was also around when he started playing piano.[2]

Taborn studied music theory and composition with university teachers for two years at high school.[5] While at high school, he borrowed from the library Segments II (Orchestra Of Two Continents) by Cecil Taylor, but found separating the various elements of the music too difficult. After attending a Last Exit concert (a loud free jazz band of Peter Brötzmann, Bill Laswell, Ronald Shannon Jackson and Sonny Sharrock), he went home and listened to the Taylor album again: "It was more manageable in terms of being able to hear detail and listen to content. That was a big moment in terms of being able to relax and process information in more abstract environments."[6]

He went on to study at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.[2] He auditioned for the jazz program in the university's School of Music, but joined the College of Literature, Science and the Arts.[7]

Music career[edit]


Taborn met drummer Gerald Cleaver soon after arriving at university.[4] Together, they established an electronic group, the Tracey Science Quartet.[4] Taborn also played with Marcus Belgrave and Wendell Harrison.[4] While still a university student, he became known for his membership of saxophonist James Carter's band,[8] where he contributed to a series of albums, beginning with JC on the Set, which was recorded in 1993. Frequent performances and tours with Carter and others meant that Taborn's studies were delayed: he graduated from the University of Michigan with a BA in general studies (rather than the intended English literature) in April 1995, after which he moved to New York.[7]

Taborn's first recording as leader came in 1994: Craig Taborn Trio, with bassist Jaribu Shahid and drummer Tani Tabbal. It featured his playing in a range of styles on piano and included several of his own compositions.[9] At this stage in his career, his comments on his tastes in composition and performance were:

Even though I like avant garde jazz and classical music, I like to swing. I like to work with harmony and melody in my own music, and I like acoustical instruments. But I can be quite dictatorial about the composed section, and lay down in great detail what everyone is supposed to do and how they should do it.[7]

During the 1990s he also worked with Mat Maneri,[10] Roscoe Mitchell, Nate Smith, Lotte Anker, David Binney, Wayne Krantz, Adam Rogers and others. In the late 1990s he collaborated with techno producer Carl Craig, recording Programmed as part of Innerzone Orchestra.[11]


Taborn at the Moers Festival, 2012

In 2001 Taborn made his first recordings under the leadership of Tim Berne, and with the Susie Ibarra trio. In the same year, he made his second recording as leader: Light Made Lighter, with Chris Lightcap on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums. "On the strength of this recording," wrote the Los Angeles Times reviewer, "Taborn emerges as one of the most exciting pianists to lead a band since the ascent of Matthew Shipp".[12] Another reviewer commented that "Taborn seems to revel in the cracks the way Monk did, hitting the awkward-sounding notes between the notes to punctuate his lines".[13]

Taborn went on to work, in 2002, with Dave Douglas, including for the album Freak In, after meeting the trumpeter while playing with Melvin Gibbs.[4] In the same year, Taborn worked with Hugh Ragin,[8] the Norwegian bassist Eivind Opsvik, and Marty Ehrlich's quartet.[4] In 2003 Taborn toured Europe with Ibarra's band.[4] He played with Drew Gress in the following year; and with Chris Potter,[14] from 2005.

Taborn's third release as a leader was Junk Magic in 2004, with tenor saxophonist Aaron Stewart, violinst Mat Maneri and drummer Dave King.[15] The album's title was also the name of the band, which was formed to be Taborn's electronic group, allowing him to explore the interactions of composition, improvisation and electronics.[16] Texture and pulse were important contributors to the overall sound.[17] He played the Monterey Jazz Festival in 2007.[3] He remarked in 2008 that he was attempting to phase out his use of a laptop in performance, to allow him to concentrate more on improvising.[18]

In late 2007 and early 2008, Taborn toured internationally with Chris Potter's Underground, as well as being part of shorter tours and making occasional appearances with Cleaver, Gress, Ibarra, Mitchell, and William Parker.[19] In April 2008 he toured Europe with Tim Berne's Science Friction,[18] and was back in Europe for the first three weeks of the following month, this time as part of David Binney’s quartet.[19]

He has worked with many other musicians, including David Torn, Michael Formanek, and Tomasz Stanko, as well as with members of The Bad Plus, having grown up with that band's drummer – David King – and bassist, Reid Anderson.[20] His first solo album, Avenging Angel, was released in 2011. In critic Nate Chinen's view, this album concentrated on "pure sound", being "full of moments where a note hangs sharply in the air, and you hear the gathering overtones, the vibrations of the strings" [21] Taborn toured internationally with Dave Holland's quartet "Prism" in 2012,[22][23] and remained part of that band into 2014.[24]

A further ECM album, Chants, led by Taborn and with bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Gerald Cleaver, was released in April 2013. This was the band's first release after eight years together.[1] For this album, Taborn's comments on composition and group performance were: "I knew that if I created a context and then deferred, fully, to Gerald's and Thomas's sensibilities it would inherently be stimulating and would also challenge the context. [...] I'd much rather engage with the group, always, than have the format be 'piano adventures with supporting cast'."[25]

Playing style[edit]

Taborn at Seixal Jazz, 2014

Taborn's range of playing styles was summarized by Mike Hobart in The Financial Times: Taborn "draws obliquely on the jazz tradition [...] he is as at home in free improvisation as he is in composition".[26] In an interview for Down Beat in 2011, Taborn described his improvising style, particularly for solo piano. When playing, he often adopts a modular approach, using small units of melody and rhythm and then developing them. This can begin from as little as three notes, with structure being built around referring back to elements of the units. He starts simply, using basic elements such as major and minor thirds, varies them in turn, and then continues to expand to create larger structures.[6]

Taborn has commented on the similarities and differences in his playing on piano and electronic instruments. Comparing his accompaniments on piano and Fender Rhodes, he said that:

I play some of the same chords on the piano, but there are definitely things I would do on the piano because it's a more transparent instrument that I wouldn't do on the Rhodes. [...] The Rhodes is so strong that when you play something on it, it really can dictate, because it’s louder and the timbre is much more opaque. So you leave more holes. On the piano, I would maybe play more sustain chords.[27]

Taborn prefers earlier models of Fender Rhodes, for their raunchier sound.[27] He also attempts to retain control over the sound that is presented to an audience when playing electronic instruments: he links his instruments to his own amplifier, and then has the venue take its feed from that amplifier.[18]

Collaborator David Torn commented that Taborn is "the rare musician who takes the approach, 'What can I do with this instrument?' rather than playing through its book of techniques": the sound at any moment takes priority.[19]


Taborn incorporates requirements to improvise within his compositions.[28] Commenting on his writing for trio and quartet, Taborn stated that "I like multiple kinds of rhythmic things. On their own, they're not so complicated, but when you fit them together, it sounds a little mysterious. A lot of that writing extends from my trio writing, where I'm writing things that are playable in real time. There's a certain orchestration you can get out of a four-piece. How far can we suggest a larger ensemble? [I want] to create the illusion of a larger ensemble".[28]


Down Beat critics in 2011 chose Taborn as winner of the electric keyboard category, as well as, unusually, rising star in both the piano and organ categories;[29] in the previous year, he had won the rising star in electric keyboard category.[30] In 2012, Taborn was chosen for the North Sea Jazz Festival's Paul Acket Award, which is given "to an artist deserving wider recognition for their extraordinary musicianship".[31] JazzTimes ranked Taborn in their 2013 critics poll as best piano player, No. 2 on electric keyboard as well as second best artist of the year.[32] In 2014 the Jazz Journalists Association honored him as "Pianist of the Year".[33]


An asterisk (*) after the year indicates that it is the year of release.

As leader[edit]

Year recorded Title Label Notes
1994 Craig Taborn Trio DIW Trio, with Jaribu Shahid (bass), Tani Tabbal (drums)
2001 Light Made Lighter Thirsty Ear Trio, with Chris Lightcap (bass), Gerald Cleaver (drums)
2004 Junk Magic Thirsty Ear Quartet, with Aaron Stewart (tenor sax), Mat Maneri (viola), Dave King (drums)
2011 Avenging Angel ECM Piano solo
2012 Chants ECM Trio, with Thomas Morgan (bass), Gerald Cleaver (drums)

As sideman[edit]

Year recorded Leader Title Label Notes
2005 Anker, LotteLotte Anker Triptych Leo Records Trio, with Gerald Cleaver (drums)
2005 Anker, LotteLotte Anker Live at the Loft ILK Music Trio, with Gerald Cleaver (drums); in concert
2008 Anker, LotteLotte Anker Floating Islands ILK Music Trio, with Gerald Cleaver (drums)
2014* Barber, DiegoDiego Barber Tales Sunnyside Duo
2001 Berne, TimTim Berne The Shell Game Thirsty Ear Trio, with Tom Rainey (drums)
2001 Berne, TimTim Berne Science Friction Screwgun Quartet, with Marc Ducret (guitar), Tom Rainey (drums)
2003 Berne, TimTim Berne The Sublime And Thirsty Ear Quartet, with Marc Ducret (guitar), Tom Rainey (drums)
2003–2004 Berne, TimTim Berne Electric and Acoustic Hard Cell Live Screwgun Trio, with Tom Rainey (drums); in concert
2005 Berne, TimTim Berne Feign Screwgun Trio, with Tom Rainey (drums)
2003 Binney, DavidDavid Binney Welcome to Life Mythology
2006 Binney, DavidDavid Binney Cities and Desire Criss Cross
2006 Binney, DavidDavid Binney Out of Airplanes BK
2009* Binney, DavidDavid Binney Third Occasion Mythology
2011 Binney, DavidDavid Binney Graylen Epicenter Mythology
2012 Binney, DavidDavid Binney Lifted Land Criss Cross Quartet, with Eivind Opsvik (bass), Tyshawn Sorey (drums)
2012 Bro, JakobJakob Bro December Song Loveland Quintet, with Bill Frisell (guitars), Lee Konitz (alto sax), Thomas Morgan (bass)
2007 Brown, RobRob Brown Crown Trunk Root Funk Aum Fidelity Quartet, with William Parker (bass), Gerald Cleaver (drums)
2010 Brown, RobRob Brown Unknown Skies Rogue Art Trio, with Nasheet Waits (drums); in concert
1993 Carter, JamesJames Carter JC on the Set DIW Quartet, with Jaribu Shahid (bass), Tani Tabbal (drums)
1994 Carter, JamesJames Carter Jurassic Classics DIW Quartet, with Jaribu Shahid (bass), Tani Tabbal (drums)
1994 Carter, JamesJames Carter The Real Quiet Storm Atlantic Quartets, with Dave Holland and Jaribu Shahid (bass; separately), Leon Parker and Tani Tabbal (drums; separately)
1996 Carter, JamesJames Carter Conversin' with the Elders Atlantic Quartet, with Jaribu Shahid (bass), Tani Tabbal (drums)
1998 Carter, JamesJames Carter In Carterian Fashion Atlantic Taborn plays with Jaribu Shahid (bass), Tani Tabbal (drums), plus Cassius Richmond (alto sax), Dwight Adams (trumpet), Kevin Carter (guitar) on some tracks
2008 Cleaver, GeraldGerald Cleaver Farmers by Nature AUM Fidelity As the band "Farmers by Nature". Trio, with William Parker (bass)
2009 Cleaver, GeraldGerald Cleaver Be It as I See It Fresh Sound Also credited to "Uncle June"
2010 Cleaver, GeraldGerald Cleaver Out of This World's Distortions AUM Fidelity As the band "Farmers by Nature"
2014* Cleaver, GeraldGerald Cleaver Love and Ghosts AUM Fidelity As the band "Farmers by Nature"; in concert
2005 Colley, ScottScott Colley Architect of the Silent Moment Cam Jazz
2009 Colley, ScottScott Colley Empire Cam Jazz Quintet, with Ralph Alessi (trumpet), Bill Frisell (electric guitar), Brian Blade (drums)
2002 Douglas, DaveDave Douglas Freak In RCA Bluebird
2002–2003 Ehrlich, MartyMarty Ehrlich Line on Love Palmetto With Michael Formanek (bass), Billy Drummond (drums)
2010 Endsley, ShaneShane Endsley Then the Other Low Electrical Records Quartet, with Matt Brewer (bass), Ted Poor (drums)
2009 Formanek, MichaelMichael Formanek The Rub and Spare Change ECM With Tim Berne and Gerald Cleaver
2011 Formanek, MichaelMichael Formanek Small Places ECM With Tim Berne and Gerald Cleaver
2007* Gang Font, Gang Font The Gang Font Feat. Interloper Thirsty Ear
2003* Fornier, Ya YaYa Ya Fornier Bearcat Random Chance
2004 Gress, DrewDrew Gress 7 Black Butterflies Premonition
2004 Gress, DrewDrew Gress The Irrational Numbers Premonition With Tim Berne (alto sax), Ralph Alessi (trumpet), Tom Rainey (drums)
2013* Gress, DrewDrew Gress The Sky Inside Pirouet Quintet, with Tim Berne (alto sax), Ralph Alessi (trumpet), Tom Rainey (drums)
2001 Ibarra, SusieSusie Ibarra Songbird Suite Tzadik Trio, with Jennifer Choi (violin)
2004 Ibarra, SusieSusie Ibarra Folkloriko Tzadik
1999* Innerzone Orchestra, Innerzone Orchestra Programmed Astralwerks
2000* Laswell, BillBill Laswell Dub Chamber 3 ROIR
2007* Laswell, BillBill Laswell Inamorata Ohm Resistance Credited to "Method of Defiance"; Taborn plays on one track
2011* Lee, OkkyungOkkyung Lee Noisy Love Songs Tzadik
2010 Lightcap, ChrisChris Lightcap Deluxe Clean Feed
2000 Maneri, MatMat Maneri Blue Decco Thirsty Ear
2001 Maneri, MatMat Maneri Sustain Thirsty Ear
2005 Meat Beat Manifesto, Meat Beat Manifesto At the Center Thirsty Ear
2004 Maneri, MatMat Maneri Pentagon Thirsty Ear
2010 Mitchell, NicoleNicole Mitchell Emerald Hills Rogue Art
1997 Mitchell, RoscoeRoscoe Mitchell Nine to Get Ready ECM With "The Note Factory" (including Matthew Shipp as second pianist)
2001 Mitchell, RoscoeRoscoe Mitchell Song for My Sister PI
2004 Mitchell, RoscoeRoscoe Mitchell Composition/Improvisation Nos. 1, 2 & 3 ECM Band includes Evan Parker
2005 Mitchell, RoscoeRoscoe Mitchell Turn Rogue Art
2007 Mitchell, RoscoeRoscoe Mitchell Far Side ECM With "The Note Factory" (including Vijay Iyer as second pianist); in concert
2014* Mitchell, RoscoeRoscoe Mitchell Conversations I Wide Hive Trio, with Kikanju Baku (percussion)
2014* Mitchell, RoscoeRoscoe Mitchell Conversations II Wide Hive Trio, with Kikanju Baku (percussion)
1999* Mora Catlett, FranciscoFrancisco Mora Catlett World Trade Music Community Projects
2005* Mora Catlett, FranciscoFrancisco Mora Catlett River Drum Premier Cru
2007 Mora Catlett, FranciscoFrancisco Mora Catlett Outerzone Premier Cru
2010* Mora Catlett, FranciscoFrancisco Mora Catlett Outerzone 2010 Andromeda M-31 AACE
2011 Mora Catlett, FranciscoFrancisco Mora Catlett Live At The Bronx Museum AACE
2002 Opsvik, EivindEivind Opsvik Overseas Fresh Sound
2004 Opsvik, EivindEivind Opsvik Overseas II Fresh Sound
2004 Parker, EvanEvan Parker Boustrophedon ECM Band includes Roscoe Mitchell
2013* Pavone, MarioMario Pavone Arc Trio Playscape Trio, with Gerald Cleaver (drums); in concert
2005 Potter, ChrisChris Potter Underground Sunnyside With Adam Rogers, Wayne Krantz (guitar), Nate Smith (drums)
2007 Potter, ChrisChris Potter Follow the Red Line – Live at the Village Vanguard Sunnyside
2009 Potter, ChrisChris Potter Ultrahang ArtistShare With Adam Rogers, Nate Smith
2011 Potter, ChrisChris Potter The Sirens ECM With David Virelles, Larry Grenadier, Eric Harland
1999 Ragin, HughHugh Ragin An Afternoon in Harlem Justin Time
2012* Reed, MikeMike Reed Clean On The Corner 482 Music Also credited to "People, Places & Things"
2007 Robbins, PetePete Robbins Do the Hate Laugh Shimmy Fresh Sound New Talent
2002* Rodriguez, RobertoRoberto Rodriguez El Danzon de Moises Tzadik 12-piece group
1997 Rogers, DavidDavid Rogers The World Is Not Your Home Jumble Mostly sextet, with Marion Hayden (bass), Gerald Cleaver (drums, percussion), Mark Stone (xylophone, vibraphone, percussion), Derek Bermel (clarinet, xylophone, percussion)
2010 Sclavis, LeoLeo Sclavis Eldorado Trio Clean Feed
2011 Sipiagin, AlexAlex Sipiagin Destinations Unknown Criss Cross Sextet, with Chris Potter (tenor sax), David Binney (alto sax), Boris Kozlov (bass), Eric Harland (drums)
2002–2004 Leo Smith, WadadaWadada Leo Smith Lake Biwa Tzadik
2001 Tsahar, AssifAssif Tsahar Embracing the Void Hopscotch
2005 Torn, DavidDavid Torn Prezens ECM Quartet, with Tim Berne (alto sax), Tom Rainey (drums)


Year recorded Title Label Notes
2004* The Val-Inc. Remixes Thirsty Ear


  1. ^ a b Canter, Andrea (April 22, 2013) "A Craig Taborn Homecoming: 'Heroic Frenzies' at the Walker, April 26th". Jazz Police.
  2. ^ a b c Kennedy, Gary W. "Taborn, Craig (Marvin)" The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz (2nd ed.) (online)
  3. ^ a b c d e Espeland, Pamela (February 1, 2008) "Keyboardist Craig Taborn Surfaces with Underground". MinnPost.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g DiPietro, Phil (May 2, 2003) "Craig Taborn: Suggesting Textural Dimension". All About Jazz.
  5. ^ "New York Jazz Pianist Craig Taborn Talks to Chicago's Rob Clearfield". (September 8, 2011) Chicago Reader.
  6. ^ a b Doerschuk, Bob (August 2011) "Craig Taborn: Illuminating Ideas" Down Beat, p. 42.
  7. ^ a b c Woodford, John (June 1995) "Non-Piano Man". Michigan Today.
  8. ^ a b Layne, Joslyn "Craig Taborn: Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved April 10, 2013.
  9. ^ Dryden, Ken "Craig Taborn Trio: Review". AllMusic. Retrieved April 27, 2013.
  10. ^ Chinen, Nate (January 15, 2009) "Holding Jazz Electronica to a Higher Standard". The New York Times.
  11. ^ "Innerzone Orchestra: Programmed" (September 13, 1999) CMJ New Music Report, p. 58.
  12. ^ Reich, Howard (November 11, 2001) "Pianist Craig Taborn Comes into His Own". Los Angeles Times.
  13. ^ Henrdrickson, Tad (November 19, 2001) "Craig Taborn Trio: Light Made Lighter" CMJ New Music Report, p. 24.
  14. ^ Fordham, John (December 5, 2009). ""The Guide: Music: Craig Taborn: London". The Guardian, p. 29.
  15. ^ "Junk Magic: Review". AllMusic. Retrieved April 11, 2013.
  16. ^ Canter, Andrea (April 18, 2013) "Frenzied Hero: Craig Taborn on Composition, Creativity and Collaboration". The Jazz Police.
  17. ^ Chinen, Nate (June 1, 2004) "Blue Shift". The Village Voice.
  18. ^ a b c Panken 2008, p. 48.
  19. ^ a b c Panken 2008, p. 50.
  20. ^ Adler, David R (August 9, 2011) "Craig Taborn: Alone, at Last". JazzTimes.
  21. ^ Chinen, Nate (July 5, 2011) "Going it alone: The Mysterious Rewards of Solo Jazz Piano". International Herald Tribune. p. 12.
  22. ^ Hum, Peter (June 25, 2012) "Prism Filled Air with Vivid, Visceral Music". Ottawa Citizen.
  23. ^ North Sea Jazz.
  24. ^ Cohen 2014, p. 30.
  25. ^ "Craig Taborn Trio @ Baltimore – April 30". JazzTimes. Retrieved April 29, 2013.
  26. ^ Hobart, Mike (December 10, 2009) "Craig Taborn" The Financial Times, p. 21.
  27. ^ a b Garelick, Jon (November 21–27, 2003) "Going Electric: Craig Taborn and the Fender Rhodes". The Boston Phoenix.
  28. ^ a b Cohen 2014, p. 32.
  29. ^ "2011 DownBeat Critics Poll". Down Beat.
  30. ^ "2010 DownBeat Critics Poll". Down Beat.
  31. ^ "Craig Taborn Winner of the Paul Acket Award 2012". North Sea Jazz.
  32. ^ "JazzTimes Critics Poll". Official ECM Facebook page.
  33. ^ "Jazz Journalists Association".
  • Cohen, Aaron (February 2014). "Prism: Fantastic Four". Down Beat (Maher) 81 (2). 
  • Panken, Ted (September 2008). "Keyboard Wizard: Unraveling Craig Taborn's Electric (And Acoustic) Soundscapes". Down Beat (Maher) 75 (9).