Malcolm Cecil, an influential producer, multi-instrumentalist, and synthesizer pioneer known for his work on some of Stevie Wonder’s biggest albums of the 1970s, has died. The Bob Moog Foundation announced on Twitter that the producer passed away Sunday morning (March 28), noting that he had been suffering from a “long illness.” Malcolm Cecil was 84 years old.
Born in London in 1937, Cecil began his music career as a jazz bassist throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s in groups like The Jazz Couriers and Blues Incorporated. Having developed an early interest in electronics, he moved to New York after serving in the Royal Air Force and teamed up with Robert Margouleff, who had purchased one of the first Moog Series IIIc modular synthesizers. Together, they began working on Original New Timbral Orchestra (TONTO), the world’s largest multitimbral polyphonic analog synthesizer. The duo called themselves Tonto’s Expanding Head Band and released two albums of their own – 1971’s Zero Time and 1974’s It’s About Time.
Shortly after the release of their first album, Stevie Wonder enlisted Cecil and Margouleff for four studio albums: Music of My Mind (1972), Talking Book (1972), Innervisions (1973) and Fulfillingness’ First Finale (1974). Cecil was a co-producer on all four records, as well as Wonder’s 1991 soundtrack to Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever.
In the ‘70s and ‘80s, Cecil went on to work with artists including the Isley Brothers, Billy Preston, Quincy Jones, Minnie Riperton, Randy Newman, the Doobie Brothers, James Taylor, and more. Gil Scott-Heron and keyboardist Brian Jackson recruited Cecil for their collaborative album 1980, which featured the TONTO synthesizer on the cover.
It is with the heaviest of hearts that we share the passing of the legendary creative genius, musician, engineer, producer, & synthesizer pioneer, Malcolm Cecil, show here w his creation TONTO. He passed away today at 1:17am after a long illness. #malcolmcecil #TONTO #moog pic.twitter.com/yYqcmuf5AV
— Bob Moog Foundation (@MoogFoundation) March 28, 2021