Looking back at July: Plenty of listening and RIP John Taylor

Early in the month my ears were wrapped around an intriguing Danish quartet led by Mads La Cour called Almuji. My review of their CD for London Jazz is here. They steer the line between free unstructured pieces and more arranged works. Without a chord based instrument and striking an unambiguously jazzy note whilst drawing on their own musical traditions, they create a distinct identity. It’s a similar path trodden by Avashai Cohen’s band who I saw on their trip  to London (another review for London Jazz News here ) albeit on a bigger stage. He brought his regular trio, doubled in size by trumpet, trombone and guitar, the latter wielded by one Kurt Rosenwinkel. The bigger group gave his already compelling music rocket boosters and a very jazzy vibe. They brought the house down.

And then some sad news.

The shock waves of pianist John Taylor’s sudden death just ten days ago are still rippling through the jazz world. Much has been written  of  the admiration and awe with which he was regarded, frequently by people  of whom I am similarly in awe. There are also plenty of anecdotes about his humanity and humility.  So it’s with a certain humility that I’m adding just a few more words .

All I knew of John Taylor was his music: the sounds he created through composition; through what he chose to play; through the way he played in ensembles and, above all, his touch and the sound that he conjured from a piano.   I have been entranced by his playing for much longer than I realised, until I looked back at recordings purchased and recalled gigs attended.  My reaction to that music is what I wanted to record. Simon Purcell, in the middle of his heartfelt and thoughtful piece written from a deep understanding and immersion in the man’s music refers to ‘the grace of recognition’.  That captures beautifully for me what it was like so often when hearing a few caressed chords or an obliquely stated theme. Surprise initially: ‘What is that? … I’ve never heard anything quite like that’ and then, a feeling more than an expressed thought, ‘of course – that’s what it (music? jazz?) is supposed to sound like’. A kind of recognition in other words – I knew it when I heard it, the sound of beauty or an exquisitely expressed emotion.  Strangely, it seems to work even when its the 100th time I’ve played something.   John Taylor is gone. The man will be missed and those who knew him and were touched by him directly (and they were many) will grieve.  There’s also a tug of loss even for those like me who didn’t know him. An extraordinary thing about music of course is that it establishes a connection even across space and time.  And because of that mystery, the connection will remain for as long as we keep listening.  So thank you John Taylor.


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