Martin Taylor at INNtöne Jazzfestival, 2017
20 October 1956|
|Labels||Linn, Acoustic Disc, Sony, Columbia, P3|
|Stéphane Grappelli, David Grisman, Tommy Emmanuel|
Taylor was born in Harlow, Essex, into a family with a musical heritage and a gypsy tradition. At the age of four he received his first guitar from his father, jazz bassist William 'Buck' Taylor. His father, though only taking up music at 30, frequently played the music of the Quintette du Hot Club de France and Taylor became inspired by guitarist Django Reinhardt. At age eight he was playing in his father's band and at 15 he quit school to become a professional musician.
At the age of 15 Martin joined the band of Lennie Hastings, jazz drummer who spent many years with the Alex Welsh band. The band included Nick Stevenson (trumpet), Peter Skivington (bass guitar), Ron Brown (trombone), and Jamie Evans (piano). Hastings was able to attract George Chisholm and Beryl Bryden.
Over the next few years Taylor played in numerous bands, holiday camps, radio dates, and cruise ships. One cruise led to playing with the Count Basie orchestra. Performing dates in and around London brought him into contact with jazz guitarist Ike Isaacs, who became a mentor. In addition to performing with Taylor as a duet, Isaacs helped develop his sense of jazz harmony and fingerstyle technique.
Through Isaacs, Taylor was introduced to Stéphane Grappelli, former violinist in Quintette du Hot Club de France with Django Reinhardt. When one of Grappelli's band members was injured, Taylor was invited to play a few European dates. Grappelli invited him to join full-time. He accepted and performed and recorded with the Frenchman for the next eleven years, occupying the position once held by his idol, Reinhardt.
His success with Grappelli allowed him more freedom. He reduced some of his commitments and moved to Scotland. He is sometimes incorrectly referred to as Scottish. Another benefit of his association with Grappelli was that he began to tour North America regularly, helping him reach a larger audience and build new relationships. He met Chet Atkins and David Grisman and recorded with them in later years. Another contact financed the production of the album Sarabanda.
This success was tempered by a difficult period in the 1980s after Grappelli suffered a heart attack. Although he made a full recovery, it was some time before he could tour again. Taylor found it difficult to find other work, and he fell into a period of financial hardship, selling his guitars to survive. He became disenchanted with music and didn't touch a guitar for almost a year. He agreed on a price for his one remaining guitar, a gift from mentor Isaacs. On the way to close the deal he pulled his car over to play the guitar one last time, and he found his passion for playing re-ignited. He called off the deal. This was a catalyst for the next stage of his career.
To avoid relying on other musicians for income, Taylor started to perform as a solo act. His style and engaging stage personality paid off, and the gigs proved successful. After a few years he stopped touring with Grappelli. Aided by a recording contract with Scottish label Linn Records, he concentrated on his solo career. Primarily a manufacturer of high-end audio equipment, Linn felt that Taylor's intimate and intricate style and tone ably demonstrated the quality of their equipment. These Linn recordings include solo work (Artistry and Portraits, which featured Chet Atkins) and some recorded as a modern jazz quartet (Don't Fret). The relative success of these albums and his concert dates raised his profile in the guitar community.
In 1991 Taylor performed in Australia, giving a solo performance on the Hey Hey It's Saturday show. Guitarist Tommy Emmanuel saw him on the show and contacted him, and the two became close friends and frequent collaborators. Taylor has stated that although their backgrounds were different, they shared many similarities and found that they had been living parallel lives on opposite sides of the world.
During the 1990s Taylor started the band Spirit of Django, which was inspired by Django Reinhardt and the Hot Club. He recorded and toured successfully with this band while continuing his solo commitments. At the end of the decade he signed with Sony Music, releasing two albums, Kiss and Tell and Nitelife. After leaving Sony, he signed with P3 Music, which released Solo and The Valley with guest appearances by Bryn Terfel and Sacha Distel.
At a celebration for the film Stéphane Grappelli: A Life in the Jazz Century, Taylor performed with associates of Grappelli, including John Etheridge, Jack Emblow, and Coleridge Goode. Since 2010, Taylor has been teaching guitar on his online school.
His earliest influence was gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt from the Hot Club of Paris. Other influences include mentor Ike Isaacs, Ted Greene, Kenny Burrell, Wes Montgomery, and Joe Pass. Although Taylor is inspired by many guitarists, musically he relates more to pianists, particularly Art Tatum.
Taylor's set lists include songs from the Great American Songbook and his own compositions. His arrangements and compositions are often influenced by composers like Nelson Riddle and Duke Ellington and therefore include moving lines to fill in the spaces, e.g., walking basslines, syncopated chordal 'stabs' (to emulate horn sections), and complex jazz harmony. He considers melody the most important part of an arrangement.
Martin Taylor often uses guitars built by Scottish-based luthier Mike Vanden. They produced the Martin Taylor Artistry archtop with another, nylon-stringed, archtop used for Spirit of Django. Throughout the 1990s he played a Yamaha AEX1500, which he helped develop. In 2012, Peerless guitars announced the release of two guitars endorsed by Martin.