Connect with us

Artist Features

Lynyrd Skynyrd, 38 Special, Molly Hatchet, The Allman Brothers – and Taylor Roberts



Guitarist Taylor Roberts reflects on being named “Jacksonville’s Best Musician of 2023” – just don’t call him a ‘jazz’ guitarist…

Above photo Taylor Roberts – photo credit: Ashley Napolitano

I have to be honest with you all – – I hate being labeled a “Jazz Guitarist.”

Despite the genre being closer to my heart than any other (and the tens of thousands of hours I spent practicing it), I’ve always believed that I shouldn’t limit myself. I believe I’ve got my own thing happening at this stage in my career; solo 7-string guitar arrangements of popular songs from all genres and eras, with a sometimes inescapable “Jazz Accent.”

But since Folio Weekly doesn’t have a category for that, I’d rather just be considered a guitarist. Or on a grander scale, a musician.

I’m saying all of this to say that several people have been pleasantly surprised that a “jazz guitarist” won, by popular vote, Jacksonville’s Best Musician of 2023. For a town that’s famous for bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd, 38 Special, Molly Hatchet, and The Allman Brothers, I was shocked as well.

Guitarist Taylor Roberts. Photo credit Frank Allen, Sr.

Folio Weekly has been a popular local publication in my hometown for decades. I’ve known and befriended many who have worked for them over the years that I’ve spent in Jacksonville. It would definitely be considered “alternative journalism” from the perspective of entities like NBC, CNN, FOX, etc, but I’ve always gravitated towards it due to its championing of arts and subculture. Maybe that’s my inner teenage punk rocker rearing its bleached-blonde head.

All told, I couldn’t be more grateful that my name seems to be getting passed more and more these days; not just in the Jazz Guitar community, but among local and regional lovers of all things music. I’ve always admired and respected musicians who dedicate their lives to one specific genre; the direction that some modern players like Kurt Rosenwinkel, Dan Wilson, Gilad Hekselman, Adam Rogers, Cecil Alexander, and too many others to name are taking this music is simply astounding and inspires me to carve out my own path even more. (In other words, I gotta hit the shed!)

I’ll be the first to admit that there are dozens of Jacksonville musicians who deserved to be awarded (or at least nominated for) this accolade who didn’t even make the list. Maybe they aren’t as visible, or maybe they don’t care so much about the fuss or fanfare…who knows? All I can tell you is that Jacksonville is filled to the brim with some of the best musicians I will ever know or have the honor to play with. Not only that; I’m happy to report that the community is extremely tightly knit. Despite the occasional squabble (what family doesn’t have those), at the end of the day, we all love and look out for each other. If you want a perfect example of what I’m talking about, come by the Blue Jay Listening Room any Tuesday night and hear the house band at the weekly Jazz Jam. It’s easily one of the heaviest rooms in the southeast while being incredibly supportive to students and up-and-comers alike.

Guitarist Taylor Roberts. Photo credit Frank Allen, Sr.

I could talk about my local/regional music family all day, but I digress. I believe that part of the reason for my winning this award is that I diversify my repertoire as much as possible. When I first began to do that, it was out of necessity. I had taken on the role of sole breadwinner to a family of four around 2012, so it was time to really step things up. I’d been playing lots of solo gigs already, and accompanying singers and horn players, but only in a straight-ahead jazz setting. My practice time had become a bit limited due to a pretty substantial change in my life (having kids will cause one to rearrange priorities), but I was beginning to branch out a lot more than I had in the past.

I played in a wedding band for about a year. We ran the whole gamut of party music, and I won’t deny a certain primal satisfaction I got from playing palm-muted power chords through an overdrive pedal every weekend. It helped me to rediscover the music I grew up on; old and new Motown, 80s rock and roll, 90s alternative, and my first true love of being on a stage, playing with people I love, and watching a room full of 200 people have the best night of their life.

As I learned the guitar parts for the repertoire that this band performed, I began translating a lot of these songs to solo guitar, which seemed to broaden my appeal to listeners. “Freebird?” Sure, why not? After all, it’s not up to me to determine what a song can mean to someone I don’t know. 

When I was first asked to write this article, I was a bit hesitant, but I have to remember that it’s not about me. It’s about Jazz Guitar and how much of a beautiful trajectory it’s been taking for as long as it’s been a part of my life. I just happen to do something that most people in my area enjoy, so that’s why I got the award (along with a healthy dose of campaigning).

I’ll leave you all with this: The Jacksonville music scene is STRONG, especially when it comes to Jazz. If you’re ever in the area, just ask around and you’ll be pointed in the right direction.

Now I have to get back to working on “Yearning for Your Love” by the Gap Band.


Subscribe to Jazz Guitar Today – it’s FREE!

Continue Reading

Join the JGT Newsletter

Featured Luthiers