James Taylor Quartet
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James Taylor Quartet
|Origin||Rochester, Kent, England|
|Genres||Acid Jazz, jazz funk|
|Associated acts||The Prisoners|
|Past members||Graeme Flowers|
The James Taylor Quartet (or JTQ) are a British four-piece jazz funk band formed in 1985 by Hammond organ player James Taylor following the break-up of his former band The Prisoners, and in the wake of Stiff Records' bankruptcy. The band consists of James Taylor (organ), Mark Cox (guitar), Andrew McKinney (bass), and Pat Illingworth (drums). Recordings and live performances often include vocalist Yvonne Yanney.
Film theme beginnings
The James Taylor Quartet's first single, "Blow-Up" (a funked-up version of Herbie Hancock's main theme from the seminal 1960s film of the same name), was released in 1987 on the Re Elect The President label, which would later become the Acid Jazz label. The track was championed by the NME and John Peel, appearing in Peel's Festive Fifty chart for 1987. The band's debut seven track mini album, Mission Impossible (1987) followed and predominantly comprised covers of 1960s film themes such as "Alfie", "Mrs. Robinson" and "Goldfinger" in a rough, up-tempo, almost punk-like style, that was primarily focused on Taylor's Hammond organ playing. Their second album, The Money Spyder (1987), was the soundtrack to an imaginary spy film, applying the band's distinctive style to Taylor's own compositions.
While promoting these albums The James Taylor Quartet developed a strong reputation as a live band, that remains to this day. The live set focuses on accessible rhythm driven music, that some classify as having elements of modern dance music, despite including a lot of improvised solos. During this period a contract with a major record led to them playing to ever increasing audiences. The band recorded their signature tune "The Theme From Starsky and Hutch" featuring Fred Wesley and Pee Wee Ellis of The JBs in 1988 and this was included on their next album Wait A Minute (1988). Their popularity as a live act led to the release of the live album Absolute – JTQ Live in 1991, which attempted to capture the experience of the band in concert (even though it was recorded 'live' in the studio, the audience cheering being overdubbed later).
Emergence of acid jazz
In the early 1990s the band changed direction and released a string of song-based albums to appeal to the then fashionable Soul and Acid Jazz scene in the UK. They featured vocalists such as Rose Windross of Soul II Soul, Alison Limerick and Noel McKoy. McKoy became a permanent member of the band for part of this period. The single "Love the Life" reached the Top 40 and the accompanying album Supernatural Feeling (1993) reached the top 30 in the UK Albums Chart. The next album In the Hand of the Inevitable (1995), featuring Alison Limerick as guest vocalist on three songs, saw a return to the Acid Jazz label, where it remains the label's biggest selling album.
Return to funk roots
Since then the James Taylor Quartet have returned to their original style of instrumental Hammond-led jazz funk workouts on albums, that have showcased the band's instrumental talents. Cover versions such as "Whole Lotta Love", "Dirty Harry" and "Jesus Christ Superstar"' are still recorded in the same spirit as the band's debut "Blow-Up" single, but the albums are mainly original compositions. Live gigs regularly feature a vocalist and showcase songs from the soul period of the band. They received a Music of Black Origin nomination for their second live album Whole Lotta Live (1998).
Collaborations and other projects
The James Taylor Quartet produced a bona-fide film theme of their own, when they contributed to the soundtrack of the first Austin Powers film. As well as their own recordings, James Taylor and members of the quartet have collaborated with Tom Jones on the duets album Reload and featured on records by The Wonder Stuff, Manic Street Preachers, The Pogues, Kingmaker and U2. They were also the house band on Gaby Roslin's short-lived Channel 4 chat show.
In the late 1990s, James Taylor began composing and recording library music for the Bruton Music company. A series of releases were made available for use by the media industry in TV advertisements, programmes, films etc. As this material is not available for sale to the general public it is sought after by completist, diehard fans.
The James Taylor Quartet have also released three albums under the name New Jersey Kings. These are similar in style to the core funky Hammond sound of JTQ, but have tended to be recorded live in the studio resulting in a more natural yet raw sound.
Some performances during 2005 included an augmented horn section and have been promoted as the James Taylor Funk Orchestra. During 2005 Nigel Price (guitar) replaced David Taylor.
Soundtrack From Electric Black
As part of the EFG London Jazz Festival, the James Taylor Quartet were backed by a full orchestra when they played at Cadogan Hall in London on 21 November 2018 for the premiere performance of their new album 'Soundtrack from Electric Black', which preceded the album's release on 30 November on Audio Network.
'Soundtrack from Electric Black' was the culmination of over thirty years of holding onto a musical vision that has developed within Taylor since he was a small child growing up in 1970s Britain.
Taking his inspiration from the truly great film composers such as Bernard Herrmann, Lalo Schifrin, Henry Mancini, Quincy Jones and John Barry, Taylor wanted to make exciting, cinematic orchestral music that, as he puts it, "grooves like a motherfucker" in a way that retains an identifiable UK vibe; punky, angry and hip.
Taylor had always lamented never being able to convince a record label to fully commit to making the record he wanted to make – or, more accurately, needed to make: "Labels would usually go halfway, give me some budget for a big horn section or a decent studio. But I guess, ultimately, they didn't share my vision, so the record never got made - until now."
Realising it takes a substantial musical education to create orchestral music, Taylor applied to study composition and orchestration at various music colleges but was rejected. As a result, to familiarise himself with how musical scores look and work, he joined a local church choir.
Taylor eventually gained the confidence to compose and score out his own Mass using a four part choir, which led to composing for string quartets and, finally, full orchestral scores.
Through his experience in making production music albums for various major labels, Taylor began to notice Audio Network - a global music company working in partnership with known and emerging artists to market and release their music across digital service providers as well as providing an opportunity in music for video. Audio Network gives artists the freedom to create the music they love, and then provides exposure to a large global customer base all backed by significant investment and support from a skilled music and production team.
"Audio Network are one of the biggest bookers of recording studios, orchestras and live musicians in the country, so I set about persuading them to let me record this album with a full orchestra at Abbey Road Studios inside Studio Two, The Beatles Studio," explains Taylor. "This was a big ask and Audio Network have been incredibly supportive."
'Soundtrack from Electric Black' was originally intended for production use only, but the vibe in the studio was ecstatic. Taylor says, "At the end of the session the orchestra applauded the compositions, which took Audio Network by surprise – me too! One of Abbey Road's engineers said it was the best thing he'd recorded there in 20 years."
With that kind of enthusiasm, Audio Network decided to put 'Soundtrack from Electric Black' forward for a full commercial release.
Such a decision increases Taylor's senses that the commercial music business as he knows it is becoming more aligned with music for video. He said, "Audio Network are pulling the cream of the British jazz scene together - Tim Garland and Jason Rebello, for example - and getting them to write and record together in a kind of family way like how classic old labels such as Motown and Stax used to. It feels very fresh and exciting."
Taylor says the last time saw so many big names under the same roof was at the start of the Acid Jazz boom in 1989, when Polydor Records started signing all the main players. "It feels like the real creative powerbase in the British music scene has relocated, and there is a healthy vibrant energy rising Phoenix-like from the ashes of the old music biz – and from the production music, of all places."
It's this shift which has finally allowed Taylor to compose, orchestrate, record and release commercially 'Soundtrack from Electric Black', which, Taylor says "wouldn't get past the front door of the average major label, which is good news for British music."
- Mission Impossible (Re–elect the President, 1987; Acid Jazz, 1993)
- The Money Spyder (Re–elect the President, 1987; Acid Jazz, 1993)
- Wait a Minute (Urban/Polydor, 1988)
- Get Organized (Urban/Polydor, 1989)
- Do Your Own Thing (Urban/Polydor, 1990)
- Absolute – JTQ Live (Big Life; Polydor, 1991)
- Supernatural Feeling (Big Life; Polydor, 1993) – with Noel McKoy
- Extended Play (Acid Jazz, 1994)
- The BBC Sessions (Nighttracks, 1995; Strange Fruit, 1997)
- In the Hand of the Inevitable (Acid Jazz, 1995)
- (A Few Useful Tips About) Living Underground (Acid Jazz, 1996)
- Whole Lotta Live 1998 (JTI, 1998)
- Penthouse Suite [live] (Acid Jazz, 1999)
- A Bigger Picture (Gut, 1999)
- Message from the Godfather (Ubiquity, 2001)
- Room at the Top (Sanctuary, 2002)
- The Oscillator (Rootdown, 2003)
- A Taste of Cherry (Real Self, 2006)
- James Taylor's 4th Dimension: Picking Up Where We Left Off (Real Self, 2007)
- Don't Mess With Mr. T – James Taylor Quartet Plays Motown (Dome, 2007)
- Live at the Jazz Cafe (Real Self, 2008)
- New World (Real Self, 2009)
- The Template (ChinChin, 2011)
- Closer to the Moon! (Real Self, 2013)
- The Rochester Mass (Cherry Red, 2015)
- Bumpin' on Frith Street – Live at Ronnie Scott's (Gearbox, 2016)
- Soundtrack from Electric Black (Audio Network, 2018)
- People Get Ready (We're Moving On) (Audio Network, 2020)
- Retro Acid Jazz (Bruton Music, 1995)
- Swinging London (Bruton Music, 2000) [16 full tracks, 48 tracks with the commercial breaks/cuts included]
- Swinging London: The Library Sessions (Bruton Music, 2000) [12 track version of the 16 track release]
- The Hustle (Bruton Music, 2004)
- The Cinema Sessions (Bruton Music, 2007) [2CD]
- Funky Keys (Bruton Music, 2016)
- Quick Fire: The Audio Network Sessions (Cherry Red, 2017)
- The First Sixty Four Minutes (Re–Elect The President, 1988) [re-package of Mission Impossible and The Money Spyder; 2LP-on-1CD; re-released as 1987]
- Creation (Acid Jazz [USA], 1997)
- Blow Up! – A JTQ Collection (Music Club, 1998)
- The Best Of The Acid Jazz Years (Acid Jazz [Japan], 1999)
- Mission Impossible & In The Hand Of The Inevitable (Recall 2 cd/Snapper Music, 1999) [2CD]
- The Very Best Of The James Taylor Quartet – The Gold Collection (Acid Jazz, 2000) [2CD]
- The Live Best Of The James Taylor Quartet – The Gold Collection (Fine Tune, 2000)
- Espionage: The Very Best Of The James Taylor Quartet (Metro, 2001)
- Check It Out: Best Of The Acid Jazz Years (Recall 2 cd/Snapper Music, 2001) [2CD]
- The Collection (Spectrum/Universal, 2001) [compilation of Wait A Minute, Get Organized, Do Your Own Thing, Absolute – JTQ Live]
- Hammond–Ology: The Best Of The James Taylor Quartet (Sanctuary, 2001) [2CD]
- Hammond A Go–Go: The Best Of Acid Jazz (Not Bad Records, 2014) [2CD]
New Jersey Kings albums
- Party to the Bus Stop (Acid Jazz, 1992)
- Stratosphere Breakdown (Acid Jazz, 1995)
- Uzi Lover (JTI, 2001)