OBITUARY: Art Taylor
Thursday 09 February 1995
It seemed that, from the moment of his first recording with Coleman Hawkins in 1950, the drummer Art Taylor spent his life in the recording studio.
From the beginning of his career Taylor had moved in the most elevated surroundings - the three drummers who had also recorded with Hawkins that year were Buddy Rich, Art Blakey and Jimmie Crawford. As early as 1948 Taylor had worked with Sonny Rollins and Jackie McLean in a church in Harlem and, after a tour with the clarinettist Buddy De Franco, he settled into the trio of the pianist Bud Powell in 1952. There was much to be learnt from Powell, who, like Gillespie and Parker, had been a prime mover inthe new music of the Forties. Powell knocked some of the rough edges off his young drummer, for Taylor was from the first an aggressive and sometimes over-enthusiastic player.
Listening to his records chronologically one hears the discipline arrive in his playing until, by the end of the Fifties, he was one of the great masters of accompaniment. In terms of name-dropping, that was his best decade. After Powell he worked with the groups of the trumpeters Art Farmer and Miles Davis, appearing on the Davis/Gil Evans Miles Ahead album, one of the most influential of the time. He was also the drummer on another significant recording, John Coltrane's Giant Steps in 1959.
He also led his own band, Taylor's Wailers, which played regularly at The Pad in Greenwich Village. Already popular with his young contemporaries, Taylor appeared on many of the famous Blue Note albums of the period and recordings under his own name, forPrestige employed musical giants such as the saxophonists John Coltrane, Charlie Rouse and Jackie McLean, the pianists Ray Bryant and Red Garland and the trumpeter Donald Byrd.
It was with Byrd that Taylor made his first European tour in 1958. On his return to the States he joined the iconoclast Thelonious Monk, becoming one of the few drummers who could negotiate Monk's singular compositions successfully. His love of Europe drew him back to Paris, where he lived from 1963 before moving to Belgium in 1970. During this decade he conducted a series of interviews with American jazz musicians which were published in book-form in 1977 as Notes and Tones.
Taylor returned to New York in 1984 and had his own interview programme on radio there. He organised a concert tribute to Bud Powell, which was expanded for the 1985 Kool (Newport) Jazz Festival.
More recently he reformed Taylor's Wailers, a band which included the potent young saxophonist Willie Williams. Taylor recorded with the group in 1991 and 1992, again adding to the more than 300 recording sessions at which he had been the drummer.
His style had been shaped by the persuasive playing of Art Blakey, Max Roach and Philly Joe Jones, but appropriately Taylor himself in turn became a predominant influence on drummers of the Nineties.
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