Martin Taylor (guitarist)

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Martin Taylor
Martin Taylor 03.jpg
Martin Taylor at INNtöne Jazzfestival, 2017
Background information
Born (1956-10-20) 20 October 1956 (age 61)
Harlow, England
Genres Jazz
Occupation(s) Musician
Instruments Guitar
Years active 1964–present
Labels Linn, Acoustic Disc, Sony, Columbia, P3
Associated acts Stéphane Grappelli, David Grisman, Tommy Emmanuel

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.


Early life[edit]

Taylor was born in Harlow, Essex, 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, jazz bassist William 'Buck' Taylor. His father, though only taking up music at 30, later 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[1] and at 15 he quit school to become a professional musician.[2]

At the age of 15 Martin joined the band of Lennie Hastings a highly respected jazz drummer who spent many years with the Alex Welsh band. Lennie, although famous for his cod-German routines as Herr Lennie Hastings. complete with Irish (wig) and penny monocle was an extremely talented drummer. He had left the Welsh band and tried to make a go of it with his own band in 1973. The band attracted many fine musicians like Nick Stevenson (trumpet), Peter Skivington (bass guitar), Ron Brown (trombone) and Jamie Evans (piano). Lennie was able to attract high calibre guests like George Chisholm, Beryl Bryden and others. Although the band only lasted for less than a year, Martin (driven to gigs by his father Buck) has said that he learned a lot during that period and has many happy memories of playing with the Oo-Yah band (as it was often known).

Over the next few years Taylor played in numerous bands, holiday camps, radio dates, and cruise ships (one cruise led to playing with the Count Basie orchestra). Performing dates in and around London soon brought him into contact with 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 fingerstyle technique.[3]

Taylor attributes his musical talent to beginning to learn the guitar at an early age, playing frequently, and having many musicians on his father's side of the family.[4]

The Grappelli years[edit]

Through Isaacs, Taylor was introduced to Stéphane Grappelli, former violinist in Quintette du Hot Club de France with Django Reinhardt. When one of Grappelli's regular band members was injured, Taylor was invited to play a few European dates. Suitably impressed, Grappelli invited him to join 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. (He is sometimes incorrectly referred to as Scottish.) Another benefit of his Grappelli association was that he began to tour North America regularly, helping him reach a new audience and build new relationships. He came to know musicians such as Chet Atkins and David Grisman, with both of whom he would 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 after Grappelli suffered a heart attack. Although he made a full recovery, it was some time before he could tour again. Taylor found it difficult to replace the Grappelli gig with other work, and fell into a period of financial hardship, selling his guitars to survive. He became disenchanted with music, and virtually didn't touch guitar for almost a year. He finally agreed on 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. He called off the deal, and this was a catalyst in the next stage of his career.[5]

Going solo[edit]

Keen to avoid relying on other musicians for income, Taylor 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 tone ably demonstrated the quality of their equipment. These Linn recordings include solo work (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.

In 1991 Taylor performed in Australia, giving a solo performance on the Hey Hey It's Saturday show. Tommy Emmanuel spotted him on the show and contacted him and the two became close friends and frequent collaborators. Taylor has stated that though their backgrounds were different, they shared many similarities and found that they'd been living "parallel lives" on the opposite side of the world.

Spirit of Django and other associations[edit]

Martin Taylor (left) and Coleridge Goode in London, 2002 at the launch of the Stéphane Grappelli DVD "A Life in the Jazz Century"

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 with Sony Music, releasing two albums—Kiss and Tell and Nitelife. After Sony, he signed with P3 Music, with whom he has released the albums Solo, and The Valley which features guest appearances by Bryn Terfel and Sacha Distel.[6]

In 2002 a launch was held to celebrate the release of Paul Balmer's DVD film of Grappelli's life entitled "Stéphane Grappelli: A Life in the Jazz Century" at which Taylor performed in conjunction with other associates of Grappelli including John Etheridge, Jack Emblow (accordion) and the veteran bassist Coleridge Goode, who recorded with Grappelli and Django Reinhardt in 1946.

Solo technique[edit]

Since 2010, he has been teaching his solo method of guitar to students around the world at the Online Fingerstyle Guitar School with Martin Taylor.


His earliest influence was gypsy jazz guitarist 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, particularly Art Tatum.[7]

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.[8]


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.[9] Throughout the '90s he played a Yamaha AEX1500, which he helped develop.[10]

In January 2012, Peerless guitars announced the release of two guitars endorsed by Martin,[11] the higher-spec Maestro and the Virtuoso.


  • 1979 Vintage 1981 (with Stéphane Grappelli, Mike Gari and Jack Sewing)
  • 1981 Triple Libra (with Peter Ind) (Pinnacle)
  • 1981 Skye Boat (Concord Jazz)
  • 1984 Buddy DeFranco Meets Martin Taylor (Hep)
  • 1985 Acoustic Guitar Duets (with Louis Stewart)
  • 1989 Sarabanda (Gramavision)
  • 1990 Don't Fret (Linn)
  • 1991 Change of Heart (Linn)
  • 1992 Artistry (Linn)
  • 1993 Réunion (with Stéphane Grappelli) (Linn)
  • 1994 Spirit of Django (Linn)
  • 1995 Portraits (with Chet Atkins) (Linn)
  • 1995 Tone Poems 2 (with David Grisman) (Acoustic Disc)
  • 1996 Years Apart
  • 1999 Two's Company (Linn)
  • 1999 I'm Beginning to See the Light with David Grisman (Acoustic Disc)
  • 1999 Kiss & Tell (Columbia)
  • 2000 Gypsy (Linn)
  • 2000 In Concert (Milestone)
  • 2001 Nitelife (Columbia/Sony)
  • 2002 Solo (P3)
  • 2003 Masterpiece Guitars with (Steve Howe) (P3)
  • 2004 The Valley (P3)
  • 2005 Gypsy Journey (P3)
  • 2006 Sketches: A Tribute to Art Tatum (P3)
  • 2007 Freternity (P3)
  • 2008 1 a.m. (P3) (with Alison Burns)
  • 2008 Double Standards (P3)
  • 2009 Celebrating Grappelli
  • 2010 Last Train to Hauteville (P3)
  • 2011 Live at Wigmore Hall 4/21/96 (Acoustic Disc)
  • 2011 Two for the Road (Woodville)
  • 2012 One for the Road (with Alan Barnes)
  • 2012 First Time Together! (with Frank Vignola and David Grisman)
  • 2013 The Colonel and the Governor (with Tommy Emmanuel) (Mesa/Bluemoon)
  • 2015 One Day (P3)

Honours and awards[edit]

Member of the Order of the British Empire, awarded by the Queen Elizabeth II (2002)[12]


  1. ^ Greg Friedmann (2003). Fingerstyle Guitar Magazine. p. 41. 
  2. ^ Martin Taylor with David Mead (2005). The Autobiography of a Travelling Musician. p. 69. ISBN 1-86074-642-X. 
  3. ^ Martin Taylor with David Mead (2005). The Autobiography of a Travelling Musician. pp. 103–105. ISBN 1-86074-642-X. 
  4. ^ "Scotland". Retrieved 2014-06-30. [permanent dead link]
  5. ^ Greg Friedmann (2003). Fingerstyle Guitar Magazine. p. 50. 
  6. ^ Greenberg, Adam. "The Valley - Martin Taylor". AllMusic. Retrieved 8 October 2016. 
  7. ^ Dryden, Ken. "Martin Taylor | Biography & History | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 8 October 2016. 
  8. ^ Martin Taylor with David Mead (2002). The Martin Taylor Guitar Method. ISBN 0-7866-6503-3. 
  9. ^ "Mike Vanden Guitars and Mandolins: Exceptionally fine hand crafted instruments built in the Highlands of Scotland". Retrieved 2014-06-30. 
  10. ^ Noble, Douglas J. (April 1996). "Martin Taylor interview". The Guitar Magazine. 
  11. ^ "Peerless Guitars Unveils Martin Taylor Maestro and Virtuoso Signature Models". 2012-01-15. Retrieved 2014-06-30. 
  12. ^ Martin Taylor Official Website, retrieved 2016-08-24 

External links[edit]