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.