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Martin Taylor, MBE (born 20 October 1956) is a British jazz guitarist who has performed in groups, guitar ensembles and as an accompanist to many of the world's most famous musicians. However, it is for his solo fingerstyle performances, in which he provides bass and chordal accompaniment in addition to a melody, that he is most renowned.

"

Martin Taylor is one of the most awesome solo guitar players in the history of the instrument. He's unbelievable -- Pat Metheny

"

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Biography

Early life:

Taylor was born in Harlow, Essex, in 1956 into a family with a musical heritage and a gypsy/traveller tradition, although he did not strictly lead the traditional gypsy lifestyle. At the age of four he received his first guitar from his father, bassist William 'Buck' Taylor. His father frequently played the music of the Quintette du Hot Club de France and Taylor became inspired by their legendary guitarist Django Reinhardt. At age 8 he was playing regularly in his father's band and at 15 he quit school intent on becoming a professional musician.

Over the next few years Taylor played in numerous bands, in holiday camps, various radio dates and on cruise ships (one cruise lead to the personal highlight of jamming with the Count Basie orchestra). Performing dates in and around London soon brought him into contact with fellow jazz guitarist Ike Isaacs who took the younger man under his wing. In addition to performing with Taylor as a duet, Isaacs helped develop his sense of jazz harmony and started him on the road to developing his unique fingerstyle technique.

Taylor puts his musical talent down to beginning to learn guitar at an early age, playing frequently and also having many musicians on his father's side of the family.

The Grappelli years:

It was through Isaacs that Taylor was introduced to Stephane Grappelli, erstwhile violinist in Quintette du Hot Club de France with Django Reinhardt. When one of Grappelli's regular band members sustained an injury, Taylor was invited to deputise for a few European dates. Suitably impressed, Grappelli invited him to join his band 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 in his career. He reduced some of his commitments and relocated to Scotland where he still lives (this explains why he is sometimes referred to as Scottish). Another benefit of his Grappelli association was that he began to tour North America regularly, allowing him to reach a new audience and to build new relations. He came to know musicians such as Chet Atkins and David Grisman, with whom he would both record, while another contact financed the production of an album, Sarabanda. The album received substantial airplay but financial difficulties at the record label prevented any major success.

This success was tempered by a difficult period in the mid 80s stemming from Grappelli suffering a heart attack. Although the Frenchman would go on to make a full recovery, it was some time before he would be able to tour again. Taylor found it difficult to replace the Grappelli gig with other work and fell into a period of financial hardship, being forced to sell his guitars to survive. He became disenchanted with music and his guitars went virtually untouched for almost a year. He finally agreed a price for his one remaining guitar, a gift from mentor Isaacs, but, on the way to close the deal he pulled his car over to allow himself a final play of the instrument and suddenly found his passion for playing re-ignited. The deal was called off and this incident proved to be the catalyst in the next stage of his career.

Going solo:

Keen to avoid having to rely on other musicians for income, Taylor took a gamble and started to perform as a solo act. His individual style and engaging stage personality paid off and the gigs proved successful. After a few years he stopped touring with Grappelli and, 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 unique tone would ably demonstrate the quality of their equipment. Some of these Linn recordings are solo (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 as his peers became interested in his unique style.

Spirit of Django and other Associations:

Around the mid-90s Taylor started a band inspired by the music of Django Reinhardt and the Hot Club which he named Spirit of Django. He recorded and toured successfully with this band while continuing his solo commitments. At the end of the decade he signed for Sony, releasing two albums Kiss and Tell and Nitelife. After Sony he was signed to record company P3 music with whom he has released the acclaimed 'Solo', and 'The Valley' which features guest appearances by Bryn Terfel, Sacha Distel and Simon Dinnigan. Recently he has appeared with a few ensemble groups including the 4 Martins (with Martin Simpson, Martin Carthy and Juan Martin), Guitars 3 (with Neil Stacey and Martin Simpson) and Le Nouveau Trio Gitan (with Christian Escoude and David Reinhardt, grandson of Django). He has also worked with Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings and composer Karl Jenkins. His most recent project, Freternity, is a group including trumpeter Guy Barker, pianist David Newton and singer Alison Burns, who is also a regular guest at some of his solo gigs.

In 2010 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Django Reinhardt's birth Spirit of Django reformed and released the Last Train To Hauteville album.

Other notable artists that he has collaborated with include George Harrison, Elkie Brooks, Dionne Warwick, Didier Lockwood, Sacha Distel, Steve Howe, Jeff Beck, Yehudi Menuhin, Jamie Cullum and Claire Martin.

In 2010 he launched the Martin Taylor Guitar Academy, a revolutionary online guitar school.

Solo technique

Influences:

His earliest influence was gypsy jazz legend 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. His philosophy is that the guitar should, like the piano, be a complete instrument able to provide bass, harmony and melody. Art Tatum and Bill Evans are major influences and this can clearly be heard in his playing. Guitarist Lenny Breau was also an important influence on adapting piano to guitar. He has often stated his admiration for the humour found in Tatum's playing and some of his arrangements, e.g. 'Old Man River', are deliberately written in the same 'tongue in cheek' style.

Taylor's set lists largely 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, as such, include many moving lines to fill in the spaces, e.g. walking basslines, syncopated chordal 'stabs' (to emulate horn sections), and complex jazz harmony. All this is achieved without compromising the melody which he considers the most important element in any arrangement.

Style:

From a technical standpoint Taylor's most distinguishing feature is his ability to syncopate rapid bass lines with the melody, often incorporating thumb upstrokes on the bass strings to give a distinct rhythmic quality to his playing, Combined with a unique tone and occasional use of harmonics, his playing is instantly recognisable. His arrangement of Gershwin's 'I Got Rhythm', with its lightning fast double-time walking bass line, is probably the best example of all these qualities on a single recording.

Awards and achievements

Some of his other achievements include a British Academy of Composers & Songwriters 'Gold Badge of Merit', eleven-time winner of Best guitarist at the British Jazz awards, Freeman of the City of London, honorary doctorate awarded by Paisley University, Scotland, and in 2002 he was appointed a Member of the British Empire (MBE) for services to jazz. In 2007 he was awarded the 'Heart of Jazz' award by BBC Radio for services to jazz.

In 1999 Martin founded an International Guitar festival which is held over three days in the village of Kirkmichael, near his home in Ayrshire. The festival includes concerts, recitals and tutorials from some of the world's best guitarists and emerging talents. The money raised is used to fund a Guitar for Schools program, a charity which provides equipment and tuition for local schools.

In 2010 Martin founded the Martin Taylor Guitar academy online. www.martintaylorguitar.com

In 2010 he was awarded a Doctorate of Music (Honoris Causus) of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music & Drama.

Equipment

Martin Taylor mostly plays guitars built by Scottish-based luthier Mike Vanden. His main guitar is the 'Martin Taylor Artistry' archtop with another, nylon-stringed, archtop used for Spirit of Django.

Whilst playing with Grappelli he used a WG Barker which was given to him by Ike Isaacs.

Throughout the '90s he played a Yamaha AEX1500 which he also helped to develop.

He uses AER amps and Elixir Strings, gauged 13-56 exclusively.

He uses "T-Rex Room Mate" reverb unit and "L.R. Baggs Para Acoustic D.I." equalization unit

Selected discography

1981 Skye Boat,

1985 Acoustic Guitar Duets (with Louis Stewart),

1987 Sarabanda,

1990 Don't Fret,

1991 Change of Heart,

1992 Artistry,

1993 Reunion (with special guest Stephane Grappelli),

1994 Spirit of Django (as Martin Taylor's Spirit of Django),

1995 Portraits (with Chet Atkins),

1996 Years Apart (as Martin Taylor's Spirit of Django),

1996 Masterpiece Guitars: The Guitars of The Chinery Collection. This collaboration with Steve Howe was commissioned by collector of vintage guitars Scott Chinery and featured 75 unique guitars, basses, mandolins, banjoes, and ukuleles, some dating back to the mid-19th century.,

1997 Two's Company (with various special guests),

1997 Gypsy live in UK in 1997 (as Martin Taylor's Spirit of Django),

1999 Kiss & Tell,

2000 In Concert live/solo from Pittsburgh, P.A. in 1997 (also available on DVD),

2000 Stepping Stones (sampler compilation by Linn Records),

2001 Nitelife,

2002 Solo,

2004 Sketches: A Tribute to Art Tatum (originally recorded in 1984/1978),

2004 The Valley,

2007 Freternity (also available on DVD),

2008 1 a.m. (duet album with Alison Burns on vocals),

2008 Double Standards,

2010 Last Train To Hauteville (as Martin Taylor's Spirit of Django),

Bibliography

Alexander, Charles. Masters Of Jazz Guitar (2007)

Balmer, Paul. Stephane Grappeli - With And Without Django (1978)

Mairants, Ivor. The Great Jazz Guitarists (2002)

Taylor, Martin. The Autobiography of a Travelling Musician (1995)

Taylor, Martin and Mead, David. The Martin Taylor Guitar Method (2003)

Vose, Ken. "Blue Guitar". Chronicle Books: (1998)