Marilyn Crispell is a graduate of the New England Conservatory, where she studied classical piano and composition. She has been a resident of Woodstock, New York since 1977, when she came to study and teach at the Creative Music Studio. She discovered jazz through the music of John Coltrane, Cecil Taylor, and other contemporary jazz players and composers. For 10 years she was a member of the Anthony Braxton Quartet and the Reggie Workman Ensemble. She has been a member of the Barry Guy New Orchestra and guest with his London Jazz Composers Orchestra, as well as a member of the Henry Grimes Trio, Quartet Noir (with Urs Leimgruber, Fritz Hauser, and Joëlle Leandre), and Anders Jormin's Bortom Quintet. In 2005 she performed and recorded with the NOW Orchestra in Vancouver, Canada and in 2006 she was codirector of the Vancouver Creative Music Institute and a faculty member at the Banff Centre International Workshop in Jazz.
Besides working as a soloist and leader of her own groups, Crispell has performed and recorded extensively with well-known players on the American and international jazz scene. She's also performed and recorded music by contemporary composers Robert Cogan, Pozzi Escot, John Cage, Pauline Oliveros, Manfred Niehaus, and Anthony Davis (including four performances of his opera X with the New York City Opera).
In addition to playing, she has taught improvisation workshops and given lecture/demonstrations at universities and art centers in the U.S., Europe, Canada, and New Zealand, and has collaborated with videographers, filmmakers, dancers, and poets.
Crispell has been the recipient of three New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship grants (1988-1989, 1994-1995, and 2006-2007), a Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust composition commission (1988-1989), and a Guggenheim Fellowship (2005-2006). In 1996 she was given an Outstanding Alumni Award by the New England Conservatory, and in 2004, was cited as being one of its 100 most outstanding alumni of the past 100 years.