Martin Taylor (guitarist)
20 October 1956 |
Dr Martin Taylor, MBE (born 20 October 1956) is a British jazz guitarist who has performed in groups, guitar ensembles and as an accompanist. He is best known for his solo fingerstyle performances, in which he provides bass and chordal accompaniment in addition to a melody.
Taylor was born in Harlow, Essex, in 1956 into a family with a musical heritage and a gypsy/traveller tradition, although he did not strictly lead the traditional gypsy lifestyle. At the age of four he received his first guitar from his father, bassist William ‘Buck’ Taylor. His father frequently played the music of the Quintette du Hot Club de France and Taylor became inspired by their legendary guitarist Django Reinhardt. At age eight he was playing regularly in his father’s band and at 15 he quit school intent on becoming a professional musician.
Over the next few years Taylor played in numerous bands, in holiday camps, various radio dates and on cruise ships (one cruise led to the personal highlight of jamming with the Count Basie orchestra). Performing dates in and around London soon brought him into contact with fellow jazz guitarist Ike Isaacs who took the younger man under his wing. In addition to performing with Taylor as a duet, Isaacs helped develop his sense of jazz harmony and started him on the road to developing his unique fingerstyle technique.
Taylor puts his musical talent down to beginning to learn guitar at an early age, playing frequently and also having many musicians on his father's side of the family.
The Grappelli years
It was through Isaacs that Taylor was introduced to Stephane Grappelli, erstwhile violinist in Quintette du Hot Club de France with Django Reinhardt. When one of Grappelli’s regular band members sustained an injury, Taylor was invited to deputise for a few European dates. Suitably impressed, Grappelli invited him to join his band full-time. He accepted and performed and recorded with the Frenchman for the next eleven years, occupying the position once held by his idol Reinhardt.
His success with Grappelli allowed him more freedom in his career. He reduced some of his commitments and relocated to Scotland where he still lives (this explains why he is sometimes referred to as Scottish). Another benefit of his Grappelli association was that he began to tour North America regularly, allowing him to reach a new audience and to build new relations. He came to know musicians such as Chet Atkins and David Grisman, with whom he would both record, while another contact financed the production of an album, Sarabanda. The album received substantial airplay but financial difficulties at the record label prevented any major success.
This success was tempered by a difficult period in the mid 80s stemming from Grappelli suffering a heart attack. Although the Frenchman would go on to make a full recovery, it was some time before he would be able to tour again. Taylor found it difficult to replace the Grappelli gig with other work and fell into a period of financial hardship, being forced to sell his guitars to survive. He became disenchanted with music and his guitars went virtually untouched for almost a year. He finally agreed a price for his one remaining guitar, a gift from mentor Isaacs, but, on the way to close the deal he pulled his car over to allow himself a final play of the instrument and suddenly found his passion for playing re-ignited. The deal was called off and this incident proved to be the catalyst in the next stage of his career.
Keen to avoid having to rely on other musicians for income, Taylor took a gamble and started to perform as a solo act. His individual style and engaging stage personality paid off and the gigs proved successful. After a few years he stopped touring with Grappelli and, aided by a recording contract with Scottish label Linn Records, he concentrated on his solo career. Primarily a manufacturer of high-end audio equipment, Linn felt that Taylor’s intimate and intricate style and unique tone would ably demonstrate the quality of their equipment. Some of these Linn recordings are solo (Artistry and Portraits which featured Chet Atkins) and some recorded as a modern jazz quartet (Don’t Fret). The relative success of these albums, and his concert dates, raised his profile in the guitar community as his peers became interested in his unique style.
Spirit of Django and other associations
Around the mid-90s Taylor started a band inspired by the music of Django Reinhardt and the Hot Club which he named Spirit of Django. He recorded and toured successfully with this band while continuing his solo commitments. At the end of the decade he signed for Sony, releasing two albums - 'Kiss and Tell' and 'Nitelife'. After Sony he was signed to record company P3 music with whom he has released the albums Solo, and The Valley which features guest appearances by Bryn Terfel, Sacha Distel and Simon Dinnigan.
His earliest influence was gypsy jazz legend Django Reinhardt from the Hot Club of Paris. Other influences include mentor Ike Isaacs, Ted Greene, Kenny Burrell, Wes Montgomery and Joe Pass. Although Taylor is inspired by many guitarists, musically he relates more to pianists. His philosophy is that the guitar should, like the piano, be a complete instrument able to provide bass, harmony and melody. Art Tatum and Bill Evans are major influences and this can clearly be heard in his playing. Guitarist Lenny Breau was also an important influence on adapting piano to guitar.
Taylor's set lists largely include songs from the Great American Songbook and his own compositions. His arrangements and compositions are often influenced by composers like Nelson Riddle and Duke Ellington and, as such, include many moving lines to fill in the spaces, e.g. walking basslines, syncopated chordal 'stabs' (to emulate horn sections), and complex jazz harmony. All this is achieved without compromising the melody which he considers the most important element in any arrangement.
Martin Taylor often uses guitars built by Scottish-based luthier Mike Vanden. Together they produced the 'Martin Taylor Artistry' archtop with another, nylon-stringed, archtop used for Spirit of Django. Throughout the '90s he played a Yamaha AEX1500 which he also helped develop.
In January 2012 Peerless guitars announced the release of two guitars endorsed by Martin, the higher-spec Maestro and the Virtuoso.
- 1981 Skye Boat
- 1985 Acoustic Guitar Duets (with Louis Stewart)
- 1987 Sarabanda
- 1990 Don't Fret
- 1991 Change of Heart
- 1992 Artistry
- 1993 Reunion (with special guest Stephane Grappelli)
- 1994 Spirit of Django (as Martin Taylor's Spirit of Django)
- 1995 Portraits (with Chet Atkins)
- 1996 Years Apart (as Martin Taylor's Spirit of Django)
- 1996 Masterpiece Guitars: The Guitars of The Chinery Collection (collaboration with Steve Howe)
- 1997 Two's Company
- 1997 Gypsy [live in UK in 1997] (as Martin Taylor's Spirit of Django)
- 1999 Kiss & Tell
- 2000 In Concert [live/solo from Pittsburgh, P.A. in 1997] (also available on DVD)
- 2000 Stepping Stones (sampler compilation by Linn Records)
- 2001 Nitelife
- 2002 Solo
- 2004 Sketches: A Tribute to Art Tatum (originally recorded in 1984/1978)
- 2004 The Valley
- 2007 Freternity (also available on DVD)
- 2008 1 a.m. (duet album with Alison Burns on vocals)
- 2008 Double Standards
- 2010 Last Train To Hauteville (as Martin Taylor's Spirit of Django)
- 2012 One For The Road (duets with Alan Barnes (musician) on clarinet)
- 2012 First Time Together! (with Frank Vignola and David Grisman)
- 2013 The Colonel and the Governor (with Tommy Emmanuel)
- Greg Friedmann (2003). Fingerstyle Guitar Magazine. p. 41.
- Martin Taylor with David Mead (2005). The Autobiography of a Travelling Musician. p. 69. ISBN 1-86074-642-X.
- Martin Taylor with David Mead (2005). The Autobiography of a Travelling Musician. pp. 103–105. ISBN 1-86074-642-X.
-  Interview with Martin Taylor for Celtic Connections 2008
- Greg Friedmann (2003). Fingerstyle Guitar Magazine. p. 50.
- Martin Taylor with David Mead (2002). The Martin Taylor Guitar Method. ISBN 0-7866-6503-3.
- More details of these guitars can be found at Mike Vanden's website
- Noble, Douglas J. (April 1996). "Martin Taylor interview". The Guitar Magazine.
-  Premier Guitar website