Malcolm Cecil, Stevie Wonder Producer, Dies at 84

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Malcolm Cecil, an influential producer, multi-instrumentalist and synthesizer pioneer known for his work alongside Stevie Wonder, has died at the age of 84.

“It is with the heaviest of hearts that we share the passing of the legendary creative genius, musician, engineer, producer, and synthesizer pioneer, Malcolm Cecil,” read a tweet from the Bob Moog Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to music education. The foundation noted that Cecil had been battling “a long illness” prior to his death.

Born and raised in London, Cecil began his music career as a jazz bassist throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s.

He would relocated to New York where he would later join Robert Margouleff in the electronic music duo Tonto’s Expanding Head Band. Tonto in the band’s name was an acronym standing for “The Original New Timbral Orchestra.” That title was bestowed to Cecil’s creation, the world’s largest multitimbral polyphonic analog synthesizer.

Tonto’s Expanding Head Band released only two albums of their own – 1971’s Zero Time and 1974’s It’s About Time – however, their impact was better evidenced in their work with other artists.

Wonder enlisted Cecil, Margouleff and their revolutionary TONTO synthesizer for four studio albums: Music of My Mind (1972), Talking Book (1972), Innervisions (1973) and Fulfillingness’ First Finale (1974). Cecil would be a co-producer on all four LPs, as well as Wonder’s 1991 soundtrack to the Spike Lee film Jungle Fever.

In a 2019 interview with Okay Player, Cecil recalled his first encounter with Wonder.

“On Memorial Day weekend, the studios were closed. It was really hot that day in New York City,” the producer explained. “I hear a ring on my doorbell. I’m on the third floor in front of the building. I opened the window, and I stuck my head out and looked down and there was [bassist Ronnie Blanco] standing with this guy with a pistachio green jumpsuit.”

Cecil quickly went downstairs. The young man in the jumpsuit was Wonder, and he wanted to meet TONTO. At that time, the massive instrument was housed at a nearby studio. The men walked over and Wonder quickly familiarized himself with the device. That day he’d lay down demos to songs which would eventually appear on Music of My Mind.

Cecil’s further credits throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s included work with the Isley Brothers, Billy Preston, Quincy Jones, Randy Newman, the Doobie Brothers, James Taylor, Gil Scott-Heron, Little Feat and Stephen Stills.

The National Music Centre in Calgary, Canada acquired TONTO from Cecil in 2013, where the legendary piece of equipment remains on display.

 

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