John Taylor, British Pianist, Dead at 72

Suffered heart attack while performing in France

John Taylor
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John Taylor, a British pianist who was a major figure on the European jazz scene for more than four decades, died July 17. He suffered a heart attack while performing at the Saveurs Jazz Festival in Segré, France. Although he was resuscitated at the venue, Taylor succumbed after being taken to a hospital. He was 72.

Best known for his long association with trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, who died last year, Taylor brought classical music sensibilities to his piano playing. He was often compared to Bill Evans in his precise choice of notes and his harmonic sophistication but employed unusual jagged rhythms that gave Taylor his own signature style. In a 2007 JazzTimes review, Thomas Conrad called him “probably the best pianist in England” and an “improviser with a highly developed sense of form and narrative.”

John Taylor was born Sept. 25, 1942, in Manchester, England. He didn’t begin to find recognition until the late ’60s when he worked with saxophonists Alan Skidmore and John Surman (with whom he later collaborated in the group Morning Glory). In 1971, Taylor recorded his first of more than a dozen albums as a leader, Pause, and Think Again. He recorded for ECM, Sketch, Justin Time, Ah Um, Jazz House, Phillips, Storyville and other labels during the course of his career.

In the early ’70s, Taylor accompanied singer Cleo Laine and also became a member of saxophonist Ronnie Scott’s quartet, but it wasn’t until the late ’70s that Taylor emerged as a true force, when he formed the chamber jazz group Azimuth with Wheeler and vocalist Norma Winstone. (She and Taylor married but later divorced.) The group, with which Taylor played synthesizer and organ as well as piano, recorded five albums for ECM Records between 1977 and 1994 and toured widely (they briefly reunited in 2000.). Taylor also appeared on approximately 10 of Wheeler’s albums between 1973 and 2005, most on ECM. They ranged from duo to large ensemble in configuration.

In the ’80s, Taylor partnered with Jan Garbarek, Enrico Rava, Gil Evans, Lee Konitz, Charlie Mariano and others. Composing projects, according to his bio on his website, included a commission for the English choir Cantamus with Lee Konitz and Steve Arguelles and pieces for the Hannover Radio Orchestra with Stan Sulzmann. During the ’90s Taylor made several recordings for ECM with Peter Erskine’s trio with Palle Danielsson on bass. In 1996 Taylor played organ on Surman’s choral work Proverbs and Songs, later released on ECM. He also recorded that year with vocalist Maria Pia De Vito and guitarist Ralph Towner.

In 2002 Taylor introduced a new trio with drummer Joey Baron and bassist Marc Johnson; a recording by the trio was released the following year. Their tour also featured the Creative Jazz Orchestra playing Taylor’s composition “The Green Man Suite.” In July 2002 John received the BBC Jazz Award for Best New Work for the suite. Taylor also teamed with Dutch trumpeter Erik Vloiemans during this time.

In 2004 Taylor recorded Where Do We Go From Here? with Wheeler and Nightfall with bassist Charlie Haden. That year Taylor also formed a new trio with bassist Palle Danielsson and drummer Martin France; they released Angel of the Presence for CAM Jazz in 2006 to coincide with a U.K. tour.

Taylor also served as a professor of Jazz Piano at Germany’s Cologne College of Music since 1993 and as a lecturer in jazz at York University, beginning in 2005.