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Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Friday, October 8, 2010

The musical mind of John Taylor

I recently sat down with John Taylor to take a lesson and try and ask as many questions as I could from this great pianist. Now almost 70 John has made a name for himself as one of Europe's most prominent pianists. He's known largely from his sideman work in groups from both North America as well as Europe. However his recent solo piano offerings (Insight, Phases, and Song and Variations) if not widely publicized or marketed have been in the Cd players of many musicians I know. Even some very heavy, non-pianist, musicians have remarked to me without prompting how much they dig those solo piano records. Lots of pianists record solo piano records but what is it about John Taylor's playing that transcends the instrument and attracts the ears of so many musicians?

I have been a fan ever since my days as a Kenny Wheeler maniac transcribing both Kenny's tunes and John's ways of blowing on them. One of Kenny's recent bands including Chris Potter and Dave Holland has toured several times in North America where we were treated to Kenny's new music including (in their live concerts only) a great straight-up blues tune by Dave Holland (the title escapes me) At the concert in Montreal in 2005 listening to John take a mammoth solo on the blues (recorded by CBC on one of the last years of JazzBeat...yes I recorded the concert off the radio so I'll listen again to hear what the title of the Dave Holland tune was) I was struck by how much of Herbie's influence I heard in John's playing. I remember at the concert feeling that all of a sudden the pieces of my appreciation for John Taylor came together. It really made sense that John Taylor was coming from such a grounded place within Jazz. It came then as no surprise to me when during our lesson it came up that Taylor was in Ronnie Scott's house band in London for 15 years. There he played with all the greats from both Europe and North America including some musicians very much grounded in the jazz tradition and language as Joe Henderson and Freddie Hubbard.

Among other things I asked John what he was working on and he showed me this little tidbit. On of his students has been incorporating some of the sounds that the French composer Messiaen used particularly his voicing of chords from the octatonic scale. John played me some left hand voicings that he's been using.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Piano Voicings V

For my next installment on basic jazz piano voicings I've decided to include a simple way of looking at using chords voiced in fourths. Everybody quickly recognizes this sound and some of the greats who started using this sound exclusively back in the '60s include Chick Corea and McCoy Tyner. However the sound goes as far back as Bud Powell, George Shearing, and Dave Brubeck. Examples from the former abound but examples from the latter provide an interesting evolution of the jazz piano sound from the shell voicings of the swing era to the more modern sounds in the post-bop era. One record in particular which spans this gap is Brubeck's first solo piano record "Brubeck Plays Brubeck". While not of the same caliber of sophistication as some of the other solo pianists of his generation this record offers an interesting first recording of some of Brubeck's famous tunes like "In Your Own Sweet Way" and "The Duke". At the same time it shows the development of jazz piano out of the bebop era into more modern territory.  I've included a little exercise which if practiced in 12 keys will complement the sound of the shell voicings (See my early posts "Jazz piano voicings I-IV) Have fun.