Royal Academy of Music Jazz Orchestra – John Taylor Celebration (October 12, 2022) – London Jazz News
This month of September would have seen the 80th birthday of pianist and composer John Taylordied just two months before his 73rd birthday in 2015. The Royal Academy of Music Jazz Orchestra will perform a concert of Taylor’s big band works on October 12, joined by special guests Stan Sulzmann, Norma Winstone, Nikki Iles and Liam Noble. Preview by Charles Rees:
John Taylor is one of the most revered jazz pianists. Ask any British pianist, almost all will cite Taylor as a primary influence and many others around the world will say the same; ‘JT is my hero’, explains Nikki Islands. And yet, Taylor’s talents as an arranger and orchestrator are little known. Those of us who have had the good fortune to play some of his great ensembles in the London Jazz Orchestra, or to hear his fascinating works for symphony orchestra recorded in Bremen can attest that he was as gifted in this field as he was at the piano. .
Taylor actually produced a fairly extensive catalog of large set cards in his lifetime. After his death, much of this catalog was lost until recently, when his widow, Carol, passed on her late husband’s records to Norma Winston. Thanks to the subsequent work of smart nick and Kit Downesthe value of a big band music concert has been discovered and will be performed by the Jazz Orchestra of the Royal Academy of Music on October 12.
“John was a hugely important figure as a pianist, composer and improviser, whose influence reached around the world,” says Nick Smart, head of jazz at the Royal Academy of Music. “It has always been important for us at the Academy to include projects that celebrate some of the great musicians who make up our history within the lineage of British jazz – alongside the American founders of music who are a fundamental part of any jazz program – and John is right up there in terms of characters who characterized something unique, while still being steeped in jazz traditions.
Joining Smart and the Academy Jazz Orchestra are four musicians with close ties to John Taylor, the first of whom is a saxophonist Stan Sulzman. He talked a bit about what it’s like for him to revisit this music: “It’s been a few years now since I’ve played some of these songs, but I used to play them with John; Bargain we played in his sextet and then I played the orchestral version of Pure and Simple in Bremen. It’s very nostalgic to come back and play them.
Featured on the piano, in addition to the six students studying jazz piano at the Academy, will be both Nikki Islands and Liam Noble. Iles spoke a bit about Taylor’s influence on his playing: “Funny how I’ve transcribed many pianists over the years, but never John. I loved him too much and my instinct was to keep it a mystery…and to be honest, what would be the point? He was unique! And yet, I definitely learned about interaction, about fearless “go for it”, about energy, sound, space, touch and creating atmospheres, while watching it live. We also asked Liam Noble…and his response was to write a piece about John Taylor in the LJN series “Ten Tracks…”.
Singer Norma Winston will also make a brief appearance during the show. His bond with Taylor is unique. “I think John Taylor was the most creative jazz pianist Britain has produced,” she said. “The problem with John is that he would never quite play what you expected. I loved his boldness and risk-taking and it was a joy to explore a surprising direction that he was suddenly going to pick up. I think he’s always brought out more of the people he’s played with than they expected. Unfortunately, that experience is no longer possible, so it’s wonderful that the young musicians of the Academy are introduced to his big band writing, which has some of the same elements of surprise and exploration.
This project actually has a deeper meaning to the Academy than just being a celebration of what would have been Taylor’s 80th birthday. As Nick Smart explains, “The last time I saw him was in February 2015, when he was leading an ensemble at the first Academy Jazz Festival we’ve ever had. We were hoping, well assumed really, that this would be the start of a long relationship. But sadly, he was taken away far too soon and with shocking suddenness. It is a great privilege to present this concert and do our best to send his musical vibes to unique beauty in the ether – hope they reach it somewhere!”
It’s so rare to hear the works of John Taylor for big band, and when such an opportunity presents itself, it should not be missed; especially this performance which features some of his closest musical friends and collaborators alongside the next generation of British jazz performers.
LINK: Reservations for October 12 (limited availability)
10 tracks by John Taylor… by Liam Noble