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Martin Taylor: Solo Jazz, Amazing Collaborations…A True Virtuoso

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A couple of years back I heard Martin Taylor at a NAMM booth jamming with Andreas Oberg.  They were “tearing it up” – Bob Bakert, Jazz Guitar Today editor

Opening/Cover Photo, Ziggy Spiz

JGT:  You have played with the best of the best.  Musicians love to play with you, that is so obvious by the grins on their faces. Can you discuss some of the great artists you have enjoyed playing with? 

Although I think of myself essentially as a solo player, I really love to play in guitar duo formats. I’m currently touring a lot with the wonderful Swedish jazz guitarist Ulf Wakenius.

Ulf was in the Oscar Peterson group for 10 years, and I played with Stephane Grappelli for 11 years, so we share a similar musical background. We played with the heavy weights!

Martin Taylor and Stephane Grappelli

We were both very young when we started working with these jazz legends, so we share a history of working with the old masters. We still continue to play and pass on what we learned from them, stuff you just couldn’t learn from going to a music college. Ulf always refers to us as the Last of the Mohicans. I guess we are the last of a small group of jazz musicians that have a real connection with those old jazz greats.

Frank Vignola and I are going into the studio soon to record a whole bunch of old jazz standards.

We work great together as a guitar duo. We speak the same musical language and know the vocabulary very well, so we don’t have to rehearse or even call out a song. One of us just starts playing a song, confident in the knowledge that the other guy knows the song. Some of these songs are pretty old and obscure, but we haven’t caught each other out yet.

Charlie Byrd, Martin Taylor & Barney Kessel

I was fortunate enough to get to work with so many of my jazz guitar heroes when I was still very young. Players like Barney Kessel, Herb Ellis, Charlie Byrd, Joe Pass, Mundell Lowe, Tal Farlow and Bucky Pizzarelli.  I had a lot of fun working with Barney back in the 1980’s, and was really honored when Barney asked me to join him and Charlie in The Great Guitars in the early 90’s when Herb left to re-join Oscar Peterson.

JGT:  I see you playing duos with fellow virtuosos like Tommy Emmanuel and in larger ensembles but it seems most of your performances are solo guitar. What is your favorite setting and format to play in? 

I’ve always been fascinated with the guitar as a solo instrument, ever since I saw Andre Segovia play when I was very young. I knew I wanted to explore the guitar as a solo instrument, but I came from a jazz background (my father, Buck Taylor, was a jazz bassist) and I wanted to play solo jazz guitar.

In the beginning I was totally unaware of anyone actually playing solo jazz guitar, so I got my inspiration from piano players like Fats Waller, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, and Oscar Peterson. Then I met my guitar mentor Ike Isaacs and he introduced me to the music of George Van Eps, Lennie Breau, and Joe Pass. Ike was a wonderful solo player, with an extensive harmonic knowledge, and he helped and encouraged me to play solo. Hearing Joe Pass for the first time was a total revelation to me.

Martin Taylor and Tommy Emmanuel

I think the most wonderful thing about the guitar is that it is such a complete instrument. It’s a harmonic instrument, so we can play solo, we can accompany and we can also be the soloist. Outside of playing solo I particularly enjoy playing in guitar duos.

The first guitar duo I played in was with Ike Isaacs, also around this time I was in a guitar duo with the Irish jazz guitarist Louis Stewart, and I was working quite a lot in the USA in a guitar duo with Emiliy Remler. 

It played later in duos with Barney Kessel, Charlie Byrd, Mundell Lowe, Joe Pass, Bireli Lagrene, and quite a few other great jazz players.

I also sometimes collaborate with non-jazz players too like the English folk guitarist Martin Simpson, acoustic guitarist Peppino D’Agostino, and Tommy Emmanuel and I made a duo record called The Colonel and The Governor. We’ve also toured extensively together around the world.

JGT:  You always have a strong sense of rhythm and melody in your playing.  What is your philosophy of comping, soloing/improvising?

I guess it’s because I listened so much to piano players. I approach the guitar like a piano player. When I play solo you can almost hear the left and right hands of a piano player. That’s what I’m always aiming for. 

My philosophy when comping is that I am there purely to compliment the other player or players. That’s where the word comp comes from, to compliment. 

The way I improvise is always from a melodic starting point. Play the melody, then vary it. That’s what Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbeck, Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli did. 

If you start with the melody then you can always vary it and take it out as far as you want. I have the chord sequence in my head like a kind of pencil sketch, and then I just color in the sketch. I don’t think in chords or arpeggios, and I don’t know anything about modes. In fact, but for a long time I thought Myxolydian was a disease caught by rabbits!

JGT:  You are a very prolific performer, as well as teacher.  What is the balance for you these days?   What is your touring schedule like for the next year where people can come and see you live?  

I play about 80 concerts a year in North America, Europe and Asia. I used to play a lot more, but I like spending time at home with my family. I have a home studio where I record and film.  I’ve been on the road since I was 15, so I feel it’s time to slow down just a little!

JGT:  In addition to your online presence with ArtistWorks, how much are you teaching one on one and masterclasses?

In 2010 I was asked by ArtistWorks in Napa, California to start my own fingerstyle guitar school. I now have online students all over the world who submit videos to me to critique and film responses.  I also hold three Martin Taylor Guitar Retreats in California, New York, and Scotland each year

Check out the Exclusive Martin Taylor video lessons – compliments of ArtistWorks.

JGT:  Jazz Guitar Today is a guitar magazine so I need to ask about your guitars.  Please tell us about the Fibonacci Joya you play.  Do you have a preference in amplifiers?  Do you use any effects like reverb and delay? Strings and gauges, action height and feel…?  Is there anything about the body size, shape, neck shape, nut width, scale length that you prefer and care to comment on?

I play the ‘Martin Taylor Joya’ which I designed and have hand built by Fibonacci Guitars in Surrey, England. It’s a small archtop with only a 15″ lower bout, so it’s really comfortable to play and sounds amazing both acoustically and plugged in. We started selling Joya’s last year and it’s been very successful. It feels good to be able to make a high-end guitar like this available at a slightly more affordable price. 

I haven’t used an amplifier in over 20 years and don’t even own one. I’ve used several different pre-amps during that time, and always go direct into the PA system. I’m currently using LR Baggs Align Series pedals. I have the DI box, Reverb, EQ, and the Session pedal which gives an incredible polished and mastered sound. 

On concerts I also use an Xvive Guitar Transmitter. It’s handy for going out front during sound check, and I no longer keep tripping over my guitar cord!

I also like to use a condenser mic on the guitar and mix it in with the direct sound. It gives a nice sparkle where I need it. It adds “air” to the sound.

I’ve been using Elixir strings for a long time now. Heavy Round Wound starting with a .12  I know a lot of jazz guitarists play with flat wound, but I’ve never used flats.

JGT:   Regarding recording, what is your process for a project…?  On the technical side, do you have favorite pre amps, microphones, etc. that you use to capture all of the nuances of your performance?

I do nearly all my recording now in my studio at home. I plug into the LR Baggs Session, EQ, and DI, but use the Lexicon reverb on Logic Pro Plus. I have two microphones on the guitar, a Milab DC96-B condenser mic pointing at the 14th fret, and an AEA ribbon mic pointing at the tailpiece. The secret is the mic positioning and mixing the two mics with the direct sound.

JGT:  You have written some beautiful pieces.  How much is composition a part of your musical life?

I don’t enjoy writing music because I have a tendency to get obsessed by it which leads to me being unable to function socially until I’ve got the music out of my system! But, I write and record some music in my home studio for TV when I have time, and I only write music for myself when I have a specific project. I have a few of my compositions that I’m particularly proud of, True, One Day, Chez Fernand, have all been covered by other guitarists. I actually prefer hearing other musicians playing my music than playing them myself! It’s good to hear how each musician interprets a piece of music than originated from me but has been given new life and character.

JGT:  What are your latest musical projects, CDs, Albums, Compositions, Commissions, Videos, Tours, etc?

I’ve just recorded my first ever CD on nylon string guitar. Three years ago my son and daughter-in-law gave me a very nice Conde Hermanos classical guitar for my 60th birthday, so I decided to record a bunch of romantic songs on the guitar. The CD is called Love Songs (The Guitar Label).

I’m currently recording a solo album of jazz standards which will be available later in 2019. Most of the songs I already recorded a long time ago, but I feel I can play them so much better now and bring so much more to the music. There will also be a video of me recording each song in the studio. 

JGT:  What do you listen to when your looking for inspiration… do you have favorite artists and/or pieces?

Mostly orchestral music. I love harmony, and get inspiration from listening to the great composers and orchestrators. I never have music on in the background at home or in the car when I’m driving. I like to give music my full attention, so only listen to music when I’m in my studio. 

JGT:  Are  there  young/new artists you would like to acknowledge as people who  we might enjoy?

Julian Lage is one of my very favorite guitarists. I’m known Julian since he was 13 years old and he never ceases to amaze me. He’s got his own thing going on. A very inspiring and incredible young man.

JGT:  I know that you are a patron of the “Make Wish Foundation” in Sri Lanka.  Giving back is important to you, can you tell us a little about the program and how you got involved.

I got involved through my connection with our local Sri Lankan Buddhist Temple. I was a regular visitor, and at one time was Vice President of the temple. Getting to know some of the Scottish Sri Lankan Community I was approached by the director and went to Sri Lanka to play charity concerts and visit children’s hospitals. The charity raises money for the families of terminally ill children in Sri Lanka. I’ve been a regular visitor to Sri Lanka over the years and wanted to help in any way I could.

I also started the Guitars for Schools Charity in Scotland 20 years ago when I set up the Kirkmichael International Guitar Festival. Unfortunately, the festival no longer exists, but the charity is still going strong.

JGT:  Your incredible list of awards and acknowledgements is amazing and for anyone would be a huge source of pride but your Honorary Doctorate form the University of West Scotland bestowed upon you in 1999 has to be a particular highlight.   How did that come about? 

That was my first Honorary Doctorate, I was also made an Honorary Doctor of Music of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland a few years later. They came as a total surprise to me. I left school when I was 15 and have no academic qualifications, so it’s something I never imaged would happen in my wildest and weirdest of dreams. 

I feel incredibly honored to have received them, and I’m not exactly sure how they came about, but I was very happy to accept. I think my mother was more pleased than me to know I’d finally got some qualifications!

The biggest surprise though came in 2002 when the Queen made me an MBE for Services to Music (Member of the Order of the British Empire) I went to Buckingham Palace to receive the MBE personally from the Queen. I’ve never been so nervous in my life!

Martin Taylor and The Queen!

More Online with Martin Taylor:

Fingerstyle Guitar with Martin Taylor at ArtistWorks

Martin Taylor Patreon Site 

Dr Martin Taylor MBE martintaylor.com

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