Remembering Malcolm Cecil, Synth Trailblazer (1937-2021)


The world and greater Nippertown lost another creative musical genius, Woodstock resident, Malcolm Cecil. Malcolm Cecil is best known for producing Stevie Wonder’s quartet of Grammy Award-winning classic albums, “Music of My Mind”, Talking Book”, “Inner Visions” and “Fulfillingness’ First Finale”. 

But he was much more than that. Formally educated in both music and electrical engineering, he became a sought-after bass player in his native England.  After emigrating to the USA in 1968, he created TONTO(The Original New Timbral Orchestra), an analog polyphonic synthesizer consisting of a series of MOOGs, Oberheim, EMS, Roland, Yamaha, and ARP synthesizers. This instrument is still the world’s largest synthesizer and was revolutionary in the fact that the instruments “talked to each other”. 

The debut album made by Malcolm and his then partner Robert Margouleff (Tonto’s Expanding Headband), “Zero Time” impressed Stevie Wonder enough to have Stevie employ TONTO and Cecil on the previously mentioned albums as well as 1991’s “Jungle Fever “ soundtrack.  TONTO has also been used by Gill Scott Heron, Little Feat, Richie Havens, Gil-Scott Heron, Weather Report, and Doobie Brothers among others. 

As well as having prominence in the international music scene, he did not neglect  the local music scene as he produced/ engineered local 518 musicians as well. 518 latin jazz band,  Dave Gleason and Sensemaya’s 2011 release “Havana Before Dawn” was mixed at Malcolm’s studio. Dave recollects his time with Malcolm. 

“Malcolm was the engineer on “Havana Before Dawn.” When we recorded and mixed the album It was immediately clear that he was a true genius. He effortlessly knew how to get pure sounds and a perfect blend. He also had great stories about Stevie Wonder, Gil Scott Heron, and playing bass in London after the war. There was one moment when we were mixing in his home studio, with Tonto behind us, and Tony Garcia picked up a paperweight off an end table and started tossing it around to himself. A moment later he looked at it and realized it was a Grammy award. I caught his eye when he realized it. We laughed and went on with the mixing.” 

Malcolm was also was generous with his time as a sideman as a bass player with many small jazz ensembles in the Hudson Valley. So long Malcolm, the world and greater Nippertown will miss you.

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