It has been announced that the pianist John Taylor, a towering figure in European jazz, died onFriday 17th July, He had a sudden heart attack while performing in Stephane Kerecki’s band at the French Saveurs Jazz Festival. He was resuscitated on the spot but died later in hospital. He has been a respected, loved, hugely influential figure over half a century, both as player and teacher. He has recently been playing as well as ever, and had a busy schedule planned for the autumn.
John Taylor was born in Manchester (25th September 1942) and first came to the attention of the jazz audience in 1969 when he partnered saxophonists Alan Skidmore and John Surman. He was later reunited with Surman in the short-lived group Morning Glory and in the 1980’s with Miroslav Vitous’s quartet.
In the early 1970s he was accompanist to the singer Cleo Laine and started to compose for his own sextet. John also worked with many visiting artists at Ronnie Scott’s club and later became a member of Ronnie’s quintet.
In 1977 John formed the trio Azimuth, with Norma Winstone and Kenny Wheeler. The group was described by Richard Williams as “…one of the most imaginatively conceived and delicately balanced contemporary chamber-jazz groups’. The trio made several recordings for ECM Records and performed in Europe, the USA and Canada.
The 1980s saw John working with groups led by Jan Garbarek, Enrico Rava, Gil Evans, Lee Konitz and Charlie Mariano as well as performing in duo contexts with Tony Coe and Steve Arguelles. Composing projects included a commission for the English choir Cantamus with Lee Konitz and Steve Arguelles and pieces for the Hannover Radio Orchestra with Stan Sulzmann.
John is currently a member of Kenny Wheeler’s quartet and large ensemble and performs in duo and quartet settings with John Surman – their recording of ‘Ambleside Days’ on ahum won critical acclaim. In 1996 John played organ on John Surman’s choral work ‘Proverbs and Songs’ from Salisbury Cathedral, later released on ECM Records. During the 1990s he made several recordings also for ECM with Peter Erskine’s trio with Palle Danielsson on bass.
In 2000 John made a new collaboration with Azimuth and the Smith Quartet for the Weimer Festival. Also in that year he recorded ‘Verso’ with Maria Pia De Vito and Ralph Towner.
John celebrated his 60th birthday year in 2002 with a Contemporary Music Network Tour in which he presented his new trio with the drummer Joey Baron and Marc Johnson on bass. The tour also featured the Creative Jazz Orchestra playing John’s composition ‘The Green Man Suite’. In July 2002 John received the BBC Jazz Award for ‘Best New Work’ for this suite.
His trio recording with Marc Johnson and Joey Baron was released early in 2003 and September 2003 saw the release of his solo CD ‘Insight’ on Sketch. In 2004 John recorded ‘Where do we go from Here?’ in duo with Kenny Wheeler and ‘Nightfall’ with bassist Charlie Haden. They subsequently performed at the Montreal Jazz Festival. Also that year John formed a new trio with Palle Danielsson and Martin France. They performed at the Vancouver Festival and recorded ‘Angel of the Presence’ for CAM Jazz. This recording was released in January 2006 to coincide with their UK tour and has received critical acclaim.
John had been professor of Jazz Piano at the Cologne College of Music since 1993 and became a Lecturer in jazz at York University in 2005.
John Taylor was amongst the group of jazz musicians who came to the fore in the late 60s and early 70s in the UK and were instrumental in developing my fascination with jazz. In many ways an understated pianist but one who could paint a pallet of sound with such delicacy, either playing solo or within a small or large group setting, he will be sorely missed.