John Taylor, the gifted pianist, composer and educator who has died aged 72, was one of the key British jazz musicians of his generation, a versatile sideman and occasional leader whose work featured on many key albums of the last 40 years.
Born in Manchester in 1942, he also featured in not one but two of the greatest piano trios of recent times – one with Peter Erskine (drums) and Palle Danielsson (bass), the other with Marc Johnson (bass) and Joey Baron (drums).
He started his career working with saxists Alan Skidmore and John Surman in the late-’60s and subsequently played with an impressive list of artists including Charlie Mariano, Cleo Laine, Gil Evans, Lee Konitz, Ralph Towner and Charlie Haden. He was also a founding member of the legendary Azimuth which also featured Norma Winstone on vocals and Kenny Wheeler on trumpet and flugelhorn.
I first heard John’s playing on vocalist David Sylvian’s 1986 superb double album Gone To Earth. He anchors the gentle ballad ‘Laughter And Forgetting’, elevating some material which may have been pedestrian in other hands with deliciously bright, intriguingly-voiced chords, alongside frequent collaborator Wheeler.
John also worked with Sylvian on the one-off single ‘Pop Song’, released in 1989. He comes up with some fascinating tonal ‘events’ that push pop about as far towards the avant-garde as it can possibly go.
Of course, John also performed regularly as part of Kenny Wheeler’s band, a memorable Pizza Express show in 2011 a particular personal highlight. I love his playing on the classic Wheeler composition ‘Foxy Trot’, originally from the Double, Double You album which also featured Michael Brecker on sax.
Perhaps a lesser-known collaboration was with legendary Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek on the 1977 masterpiece Places. John predominantly plays organ on this recording, but also frequently raises the temperature with some thrilling piano work too. His injection of energy at around the 11-minute mark on the superb ‘Going Places’ kicks the tune into high gear:
John Taylor (25 September 1942 – 18 July 2015)