Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Taylor, Art (Arthur S., Junior)

Arthur Taylor's strong sense of swing, expert control of dynamics and deep melodic sensibility placed him in the elite of hard bop drummers, alongside Max Roach and Elvin Jones. After relocating to Europe in the 1960s, Taylor authored Notes and Tones, a frank and influential book of interviews with fellow African-American jazz musicians.

Arthur S. Taylor Jr. was born on April 6, 1929 at 145th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue in New York City. Taylor’s parents were of Jamaican descent and his sister later became a classical pianist. As a child, his father took him to see drummers Chick Webb, Jo Jones and J.C. Heard. Around the age of seventeen, he went to a jam session at a ballroom, and was so excited by what he heard that he resolved to become a drummer himself.

The following Christmas, Taylor’s mother gave him his first drum set, and within a month he began working as a drummer. He performed with a group in Harlem which included tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins, alto saxophonist Jackie McLean, pianist Kenny Drew and saxophonist Andy Kirk Jr. The group performed around town at such places as Barron’s Club, Bowman’s, Connie’s Inn and Small’s Paradise. During this time, Taylor also worked with trumpeter Howard McGhee in the New York City area.

In 1950, Art joined bassist Oscar Pettiford’s trio alongside pianist Wynton Kelly. With Pettiford, he made his first recording, then drove with Pettiford to Chicago to open for bandleader Duke Ellington at that city's Blue Note club.

After a year with Pettiford, Taylor became a member of tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins band alongside Kenny Drew, trumpeter Harry “Sweets” Edison and bassist Tommy Potter.

Max Roach then recommended Taylor for a position in pianist Bud Powell’s band With Powell, he received opportunities to perform with Ellington, singer Dinah Washington and pianist Count Basie.

On August 14, 1953, Taylor recorded the song “Collard Green and Black Eyed Peas” with Bud Powell and bassist George Duvivier. The song begins with Duvivier and Taylor vamping over the groove of the song before Powell enters. During the verse, Art performs with brushes, creating an insouciant and breezy feel. Taylor makes careful use of the small-group instrumentation by creating a strong rhythmic foundation with Duvivier, and interacting with Powell's awesome powers of melodic invention.

Taylor’s association with Powell increased his visibility amongst musicians, and by the mid-1950s, he had perfromed and recorded with pianist George Wallington and trumpeter Miles Davis. During this time, he formed and led his own ensemble, Taylor’s Wailers, at The Pad, a club in New York's Greenwich Village until 1956. The same year, Taylor released Taylor’s Wailers, his debut album as a leader. In the following year, Art performed with arranger Gil Evans’s orchestra and on Davis’ album Miles Ahead.

By the late 1950s, Taylor had become the house drummer for Prestige Records, and graced nearly three hundred records with, amongst others, pianists Mal Waldron and Red Garland and several others. In 1958, Art made his first trip to Europe with trumpeter Donald Byrd and saxophonist Bobby Jaspar. In 1959, he joined tenor saxophonist John Coltrane on his monumental album Giant Steps. Joining pianist Tommy Flanagan and bassist Paul Chambers, his contributions to the ensemble are best heard on the song “Countdown.”

The song begins with a lengthy unaccompanied introduction from Taylor where he provides a lot of emphasis on the snare drum, utilizing quick rolls and rim shots. Throughout the song, Art keeps a steady pace on the ride cymbal while providing accents on the drum to further liven Coltrane’s lightning-fast performance. He continues this fast rhythmic pace until the end of the song where the ensemble effortlessly segues into a half time feel that slowly decrescendos. The sudden change in tempo adds a dramatic effect with Taylor’s cymbals enhancing the feel of the outro.

The same year, Taylor performed with pianist Thelonious Monk on his records 5 by Monk by 5 and Monk’s groundbreaking album The Thelonious Monk Orchestra at Town Hall. On the album, Art was featured alongside Donald Byrd, baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams, trombonist Eddie Bert, bassist Sam Jones, tubist Jay McAllister, French horn player Bob Northern, tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse and alto saxophonist Phil Woods.

1959 also saw the release of Taylor’s Tenors, his second album as a leader. Released on the New Jazz label, the album features the Monk compositions “Rhythm-A-Ning” and “Straight, No Chaser” as well as the Taylor original “Dacor.”

Taylor began 1960 with the release of his third album A.T.’s Delight, which featured Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers, trumpeter Dave Burns and tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine. The same year, Art performed on trombonists and album The Great Kai & J.J. as well as performing on tenor saxophonist Arnett Cobb’s album More Party Time. Throughout the years of 1961 and 1962, he performed on records with saxophonists Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis amongst numerous others.

By 1963, Taylor decided to relocate to Paris, France. Art initially went to Paris to play with Kenny Drew and tenor saxophonists Johnny Griffin and Sonny Griffin, who had a three-month contract at that city's Blue Note club. Their contract kept getting renewed, and Taylor decided to stay in Europe, in part because of his growing disillusionment with the American jazz scene.

For his first three years in Paris, Taylor began to formally study the drums at a school that drummer Kenny Clarke had opened. Art enjoyed working with the younger students at the school, but turned down an offer from Clarke to become a formal teacher. By 1970, he was living in Belgium where he performed frequently with fellow African-American expatriates Johnny Griffin and tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon and occasionally toured the United States.

On June 2, 1964, Taylor recorded with Dexter Gordon on the album One Flight Up alongside Kenny Drew and bassist Niels-Henning Oersted Pedersen, who was eighteen years old at the time. Recorded in Paris for Blue Note Records, Art’s efforts on the album are encapsulated on the song “Kong Neptune.”

Taylor easily navigates the terrain of the ensemble by simultaneously anchoring the rhythmic portion of the ensemble as well as enhancing the melodic potency of Gordon by adding subtle ornamentations to bring out his melodic character. Late in the piece, Art and Dexter trade four-bar passages, and the two musicians push and pull each other’s performances to new and exciting levels. During his segments, Art incorporates short bursts on the snare drum as well as melodically potent cymbal work.

Over the next few years, Taylor performed with Dexter Gordon and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. In 1968, Art performed with pianist Hampton Hawes on his album Spanish Steps along with bassist Jimmy Woode. The following year, he appeared on tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp’s Yasmina, A Black Woman with trumpeter Lester Bowie, saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell and fellow drummers Philly Joe Jones and Sunny Murray.

Through the late 1970s, Taylor appeared on several albums by Johnny Griffin. In 1977, Art released his book Notes and Tones: Musician to Musician Interviews. The book features interviews with singer Nina Simone, drummer Tony Williams, trumpeter Kenny Dorham and other prominent African-American jazz musicians of the era. In 1982, he performed on Tommy Flanagan’s album Thelonica, eight of whose nine tracks were composed by Thelonious Monk.

After moving back and forth between Europe and the United States through the early 1980s, Art settled in New York by 1984 to be closer to his mother, who was ill.

Afterwards, Taylor became the host of an interview program on radio station WKCR. By the late 1980s, Art reorganized Taylor’s Wailers with bassist Tyler Mitchell, saxophonists Abraham Burton, Willie Williams and pianist Jacky Terrasson. Soon after, pianist Marc Cary replaced Terrason. In 1991, the group released the album Mr. A.T.

After his return ot the United States, Taylor made a point of nurturing the talents of younger musicians. In 1992, Art released the album Wailin’ at the Vanguard, a live set recorded at the Village Vanguard club in New York City. The album was met with acclaim and reached the number eleven position of Billboard magazine’s Top Jazz Albums chart.

Taylor’s last session was with organist Jimmy Smith on the record Damn! in 1995. The album also featured trumpeters Roy Hargrove and Nicholas Payton, bassist Christian McBride and guitarist Mark Whitfield amongst others. Art passed away on February 6, 1995 at Beth Israel Hospital in Manhattan at the age of sixty-five. He is survived by his daughter Sylvie Taylor.

Select Discography

As a leader

Taylor’s Wailers (1956)

Taylor’s Tenors (1959)

A.T.’s Delight (1960)

Mr. A.T. (1991)

Wailin’ at the Vanguard (1992)

With Arnett Cobb

More Party Time (1960)

With John Coltrane

Giant Steps (1959)

With Miles Davis

Miles Ahead (1957)

With Tommy Flanagan

Thelonica (1982)

With Dexter Gordon

One Flight Up (1964)

With Hampton Hawes

Spanish Steps (1968)

With Thelonious Monk

5 by Monk by 5 (1959)

The Thelonious Monk Orchestra at Town Hall (1959)

With Archie Shepp

Yasmina, A Black Woman (1969)

With Jimmy Smith

Damn! (1995)

With Kai Winding & J.J. Johnson

The Great Kai & J.J. (1960)

Contributor: Eric Wendell