A tribute to John Taylor


John Taylor with Dave Holland at Birmingham Conservatoire in 2011 (This picture was taken by the late Russ Escritt)

John Taylor with Dave Holland at Birmingham Conservatoire in 2011 (This picture was taken by the late Russ Escritt)

Tony Dudley-Evans remembers the great jazz pianist who died suddenly on Friday night.

I was shocked and immensely saddened to hear of the sudden death of John Taylor (see here). John was part of a generation of British jazz musicians who in the 1960s and 1970s began to develop a distinctive voice for British jazz and he remained one of the finest and most original players and composers in Europe, widely respected throughout the continent and also in the USA. Surprisingly, for much of his career most of his work came outside of UK; he was Professor of Jazz Piano at the Cologne College of Music, and he was perhaps better known in jazz circles in continental Europe. Fortunately, initially with the help of Nick Purnell, a great supporter of John’s, his profile in UK rose significantly in the last 15  years or so.

Others will give a more detailed and informed summary of John’s musical skills. Here I would like to share a few memories of John in concert, both in Birmingham and in Cheltenham. John was always a wonderful person to be presenting in concert; he was warm and friendly, and invariably enthusiastic about playing. What’s more, he always drew a good crowd and his playing would captivate the audience, both the confirmed jazz fan and the people trying out the music for the first time. He always had time for the audience after the gig with his easy and modest manner.

I particularly remember two concerts at the CBSO Centre Birmingham with John in trio format, the first time with Joey Baron and Marc Johnson, and the second with Palle Danielson and Martin France. John loved the Steinway at the CBSO Centre and was top form on both occasions, and I don’t think I have ever heard another jazz piano trio that could match either of those two trios.

John also played a major role in putting together the memorial concert for Tony Levin in 2011 at the Midlands Arts Centre; Tony had played in an early group of John’s and they continued to play together for many years. In Cheltenham we had John as Artist in Residence in 2004 and in 2012 his 70thbirthday was celebrated with a commission for a specially formed octet that included his two sons, drummer Leo Taylor and guitarist Alex Taylor. John had always said that he really wanted to form a band with his sons and it felt good to be able to make that happen. A duo performance with Julian Arguelles in 2013 was also very special.

All these events rank among my favourite jazz memories, but the strongest for me is much more recent.  Just last month at Birmingham Conservatoire John led a concert with two student groups playing both his music and that of associates such as Kenny Wheeler and Stan Sulzmann. John has been teaching at the Conservatoire for a few years and it is significant there is a very strong crop of young pianists graduating from the course this year (John Turville should also get much of the credit). In the June concert John was able to bring out something special in the playing of those groups that was truly inspirational and John’s enthusiasm and affection for the students was infectious.

There were lots of plans for more concerts, residencies and teaching for JT.  His passing is a huge loss.

Categories: Opinion

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1 reply

  1. A massive loss to jazz, British and International and thank for a fine tribute Tony. I first saw John in the early 1970s when he was part of the John Dankworth Quartet accompanying Cleo Laine. I last saw him in a tiny church in a small Dorset village called Plush where he was playing a small but distinguished music festival they stage there every year. Alfred Brendel had graced the Festival in previous years. John was in the same calibre, though musically very different. I loved his playing on the early Harry Beckett albums. But my standout memory was a performance that he and John Surman gave at Birmingham’s Bartons Arms, as part of Christine Bolton’s Jazz Club Friday series with Chris on bass and Tony Levin on drums. It was an evening of fast and free-flowing jazz of the highest order in slightly unprepossessing surroundings.

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