In 1998 about 30 of jazz’s premier guitarists gathered together to pay tribute to jazz legend Herb Ellis. Throughout the evening guitarists stepped out accompanied by either another guitarist, or as part of a trio to play one or two tunes. Everyone playing that night was an excellent player, not a clunker in the bunch, but only one person chose to play alone and that was Martin Taylor.
Throughout the audience as people were looking at the schedule of players, many were saying “Who’s this guy, Martin Taylor, did you ever hear of him?” Martin a Scottish guitarist that had grown up in England was not as well known as many of the guitarists there that night. So, for many in attendance, this was going to be a first impression.
Martin was ready to walk out and one guitarist behind the curtain said to him “I really liked how you played ‘I’ve Got Rhythm’ on your album.” Martin turned and said, “well maybe I’ll just play that now!” and he walked on to the stage and the spotlight hit him and then the sound of a whole band seemed to appear; Martin’s fingers were playing lead, rhythm and bass and the audience was electrified! As good as everyone else was this night, Martin received the only standing ovation.
Becoming a household name in the United States, may still take some time for Martin Taylor, but in Europe Martin is revered as one of the finest guitarists in jazz history. Born on October 20, 1956, Taylor grew up among musical surroundings. Young Martin’s father was a bass player that loved the music of gypsy jazz and so he often played his bass to songs made famous by Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli .
Martin started out learning from his father and other family members by playing along with them. It wasn’t formal training, but it was extremely valuable towards his musical growth. Martin took a few lessons, but back then Martin wasn’t ready to buckle down and study a book. He jokes that he was able to play well enough that he asked his teacher to please just sign the back of his lesson book as if he had gone through the lessons, because he was able to play all of them by ear.
While in his teens, Martin was playing on cruise ships and playing gigs all around London. During those teen years Ike Isaacs became a mentor. It was through this talented teacher that Martin honed his skills and became a well rounded guitarist and particularly an excellent finger style guitarist.
Ike Isaacs could see how well Martin had developed as a musician and so he introduced him to Stephane Grappelli and Stephane appreciated his playing so much that he hired this young 19 year old and kept him employed for the next 10 years, playing the jazz Martin’s own father had primed his son’s ears for.
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