Malcolm Cecil

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Malcolm Cecil
Cecil in 2015
Cecil in 2015
Background information
Born(1937-01-09)9 January 1937
London, England
Died28 March 2021(2021-03-28) (aged 84)
  • Jazz
  • electronic
  • pop
  • rock
  • funk
  • Audio engineer
  • bassist
  • electrical engineer
  • record producer
  • Bass guitar
  • double bass
  • synthesizer

Malcolm Cecil (9 January 1937 – 28 March 2021) was a British jazz bassist, record producer, engineer and electronic musician. He was a founding member of a leading UK jazz quintet of the late 1950s, the Jazz Couriers,[1] before going on to join a number of British jazz combos led by Dick Morrissey, Tony Crombie and Ronnie Scott in the late 1950s and early 1960s.[2] He later joined Cyril Davies and Alexis Korner to form the original line-up of Blues Incorporated. Cecil subsequently collaborated with Robert Margouleff to form the duo TONTO's Expanding Head Band, a project based on a unique combination of synthesizers which led to them collaborating on and co-producing several of Stevie Wonder's Grammy-winning albums of the early 1970s.[3] The TONTO synthesizer was described by Rolling Stone as "revolutionary".

Early life[edit]

Cecil was born in London on 9 January 1937. He became a radio ham by the age of nine. He worked as an engineer in the Royal Air Force during the time that he was learning to be a professional jazz musician. He became a member of Ronnie Scott's group during his 20s, before changing styles and becoming one of the founders of Blues Incorporated.[4]

Cecil moved to South Africa before relocating to San Francisco in the mid-1960s. After a stint at the Los Angeles recording studio of Pat Boone, Cecil settled in New York City and began to modulate.[4]


With Robert Margouleff, Cecil formed the duo TONTO's Expanding Head Band, a synthesizer-based project. The duo were closely associated with Stevie Wonder's Talking Book (1972), sharing the Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical award as well as collaborating on and co-producing classic Wonder albums such as Music of My Mind, Innervisions and Fulfillingness' First Finale.[5][6] Cecil is credited, with Margouleff, as engineer for the Stevie Wonder-produced album Perfect Angel (1974), by Minnie Riperton.[7]

Cecil and Margouleff began constructing "The Original New Timbral Orchestra" (TONTO) in 1968.[4] It became the largest analog synthesizer,[8][9] as well as the most advanced one at the time. It had a height of 6 feet (1.8 m), a maximum diameter of 25 feet (7.6 m), and a mass of one ton.[10] The massive synthesizer with Malcolms revolutionary newly designed joy stick modular and pioneering a way to make the multiple keyboards to play more than one key at a time and could talk to each other for the first time made revolutionizing the way Synthisizers could be played forever. TONTO's debut was the pair's first album Zero Time (1971).[4] Their unique sound made them highly sought-after and they went on to collaborate with, amongst others, Quincy Jones,[4] Bobby Womack,[8] the Isley Brothers,[4] Billy Preston,[9] Gil Scott-Heron, Weather Report,[8] Stephen Stills,[9] the Doobie Brothers,[8] Dave Mason,[10] Little Feat,[8] Joan Baez,[4] and Steve Hillage.[7] TONTO also appeared in Phantom of the Paradise (1974), although Cecil was reportedly incensed because he had not approved of its use in the film and only used it as a prop. .[4]

The vocalist Gil Scott-Heron, who wrote that he considered Cecil a creative genius,[11] along with keyboardist Brian Jackson enlisted Cecil and his TONTO synthesizer for the production of their collaborative album, 1980. Scott-Heron and Jackson were featured on the album cover with the synthesizer.[12] TONTO was described as "revolutionary" by Rolling Stone, but it eventually fell behind more modern synthesizers that were simpler to utilize.[8]

Later life[edit]

Cecil sold TONTO in 2013 to the National Music Centre in Calgary.[10] Through John Leimseider, the museum finished a complete restoration of the synthesiser five years later, with Leimseider dying shortly afterwards.[10][13] TONTO continued to be on display there at the time of Cecil's death.[9]

Cecil died on 28 March 2021. He was 84 and suffered from an unspecified long illness prior to his death.[14][15]

Malcolm was survived by his wife of 63 years, Poli Cecil, and their son, Milton "Moonpup" Cecil.

Honours and recognition[edit]

Cecil was nominated for and won a Grammy Award in 1973 for best engineered recording – non-classical. This was in recognition for the work he did with Margouleff on Wonder's Innervisions. He and Robert Margouleff beat Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon and Elton John's seminal Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. Malcolm and Margouleff were also nominated for best Engineer (non-Classical) in 1973 for Talking Book.[14][16] Cecil was later bestowed the Unsung Hero award for lifetime achievement by Q magazine in 1997.[14]


As leader/co-leader


With TONTO's Expanding Headband[edit]

  • 1971: Zero Time[7]
  • 1974: It's About Time[7]
  • 1996: TONTO Rides Again (compilation of above)[7]
As sideman

Production, programming, and/or engineering[edit]

As producer, programmer, and/or engineer:[24]

With Stevie Wonder[edit]



  1. ^ The Jazz Couriers at David Taylor's British jazz web site Archived 8 December 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ Ronnie Scott at David Taylor's British jazz web site Archived 26 September 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Holmes, Thom (2015). Electronic and Experimental Music: Technology, Music, and Culture. Routledge. ISBN 9781317410232.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Roberts, Randall (29 March 2021). "Malcolm Cecil, synthesizer pioneer and Stevie Wonder collaborator, dies at 84". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2 April 2021.
  5. ^ Betts, Graham (2014). Motown Encyclopedia. AC Publishing. ISBN 9781311441546.
  6. ^ The Mojo Collection (4th ed.). Canongate Books. 2007. ISBN 9781847676436.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae "Malcolm Cecil – Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved 29 March 2021.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Blistein, Jon (29 March 2021). "Malcolm Cecil, Producer for Stevie Wonder and Co-Creator of Revolutionary TONTO Synth, Dead at 84". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2 April 2021.
  9. ^ a b c d Irwin, Corey (28 March 2021). "Malcolm Cecil, Stevie Wonder Producer, Dies at 84". Ultimate Classic Rock. Retrieved 2 April 2021.
  10. ^ a b c d Porter, Martin; Goggin, David (13 November 2018). "TONTO: The 50-Year Saga of the Synth Heard on Stevie Wonder Classics". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2 April 2021.
  11. ^ Scott-Heron, Gil (2011). Now and Then. Canongate Books. ISBN 9781847677440.
  12. ^ Suskind, Alex (11 June 2013). "Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson". Wax Poetics. Retrieved 22 December 2018.
  13. ^ Hussey, Allison (28 March 2021). "Malcolm Cecil, Synth Pioneer and Stevie Wonder Producer, Dies at 84". Pitchfork. Retrieved 2 April 2021.
  14. ^ a b c Brandle, Lars (29 March 2021). "Malcolm Cecil, Synth Pioneer and Stevie Wonder Collaborator, Dies at 84". Billboard. Retrieved 2 April 2021.
  15. ^ "Malcolm Cecil, influential producer and Stevie Wonder collaborator, has died". NME. 29 March 2021.
  16. ^ "16th Annual Grammy Awards (1973)". The Recording Academy. Retrieved 2 April 2021.
  17. ^ Rideout, Ernie, ed. (2011). Keyboard Presents Synth Gods. Berklee Press. p. 27. ISBN 9780879309992.
  18. ^ Domanick, Andrea (12 February 2020). "Best concerts in L.A. this week: Courtney Barnett, Mac DeMarco, Ginuwine". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 1 April 2021.
  19. ^ Cook, Richard; Morton, Brian (2002). The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD. Penguin Books. p. 1073. ISBN 9780140515213.
  20. ^ Lord, Tom (1992). The Jazz Discography. Vol. 4. Lord Music Reference. p. C-713. ISBN 9781881993032.
  21. ^ Gramophone. Vol. 40. General Gramophone Publications Limited. 1962. p. 36.
  22. ^ "Bebop from the East Coast 1960/1962". BBC Music Magazine. 20 January 2012. Retrieved 1 April 2021.
  23. ^ Jones, Jackie (25 June 2007). "20 People Who Changed Black Music – Revolutionary Poet Gil Scott-Heron, the First Rap Rebel". Miami Herald. Retrieved 1 April 2021.
  24. ^ "Malcolm Cecil – Discogs". discogs. Retrieved 27 November 2014.
  25. ^ "Malcolm Cecil – Discography". TONTO Studio. Retrieved 1 April 2021.

External links[edit]