A Conversation with Martin Taylor
This interview is part two of our conversation with Martin Taylor and is available exclusively online. Part one of this feature is available in the Summer 2019 issue of the Fingerstyle Guitar Journal. To receive fingerstyle guitar interviews, workshops, reviews, and more automatically each quarter subscribe to the Fingerstyle Guitar Journal
A Conversation with Martin Taylor
Martin Taylor is a multi award winning guitarist and composer who has established a unique musical career as an internationally acclaimed musician. His inimitable style has seen him recognized as the world’s foremost exponent of solo jazz guitar playing.
Although completely self taught, he has enjoyed a remarkable musical career spanning across five decades. During that time he has invented and developed a way of playing the guitar that is admired and often imitated, by guitarists all over the world. As well as being a true guitar innovator, he is also a master concert performer. He dazzles audiences with his solo shows, which combine virtuosity, emotion and humor.
He spends much of the year traveling the world, playing in concert halls in Europe, North America, Japan, Asia, and Australasia as well as presiding over the uniquely innovative Martin Taylor Guitar Academy Online.
As well as his solo concerts and recordings, he has also collaborated with musicians from many different musical genres including, Stéphane Grappelli, Jeff Beck, Chet Atkins, Bill Wyman, George Harrison, Dionne Warwick, Diane Schuur and Jamie Cullum.
From 1979 to 1990 he toured the world and recorded over twenty albums with the French jazz violin legend Stéphane Grappelli. Their album with Vassar Clements Together At Last won a Grammy Nomination in 1987.
Monsieur Grappelli described him as “A great artist, rich in talent and elegance.”
How long does it take you to get back into shape after taking some time off from playing?
Actually I get back into it pretty quick. I don’t play everyday anyway and I don’t even play every week. I think I’ve mentioned that. I play a little bit more now because for the past nine years I’ve been doing my online guitar school. I have to get the guitar out once a week and film video responses. Sometimes a lot of that is talking and I don’t play that much. You can’t beat just being on stage and playing. That’s the truth of it. Nothing compares with that. It doesn’t matter how much you play at home you just have to get out there and do it. Normally by the second gig I’m back into it. My fingers do get a bit sore if I’ve not played in awhile. Also the coordination and articulation isn’t one hundred percent there but it doesn’t take long to get it back. I’m getting older now so maybe it will get harder.
You may be getting older and the coordination may not be what it was at twenty-five but you’re also a wiser musician.
Well, I can play some fast lines but I tend not to do that much of it. It’s more the fact that what I do is more than one line. It’s coordinating that all together. It’s not a thinking process; it’s something underneath, something a bit deeper than that. It becomes instinctual. When you first pick the guitar up you have to use the thinking process to give yourself a kick-start but then you have to abandon the thinking and go for the instinct.
I have one of your early LP’s that is of a live recording with Buddy DeFranco. I recently did a search to find a CD of it and was surprised to find that you also did a studio album with him titled Buddy DeFranco Meets Martin Taylor.
The live one wasn’t very good because it wasn’t a good night. There were all kinds of problems that night. I can’t bear listening to it (laughter). I was over-playing like mad because the bass player and drummer had a falling out. It was just an awful night! (laughter). Let’s move swiftly on.
I’m impressed that you recorded and toured with Buddy DeFranco. He’s such a legend.
He was an amazing guy. One of the things that I learned about him was his sheer dedication to playing. Some of the older greats that I was fortunate enough to work with like Stéphane Grappelli didn’t really work at it. Stéphane kind of had it under his fingers and had what he did down. He would warm up and that was it. Buddy however was absolutely dedicated to practicing. You’d hear him in the next hotel room practicing for hours. It made me feel a bit guilty (laughter).
Remember that the next time you don’t pick the guitar up.
I do think of him sometimes when it comes to practicing.
But I never really practice like that. I just play repertoire. I’ve never seen the point in practicing something that I’m not going to play. That’s what works for me but everyone is different.
I know that many things transfer from one tune to another but would you agree that sometimes there are physical things that can be unique to a given piece?
Yes. At times there can be. What you said there is the key - it’s all transferable. Maybe not in the exact same form but all of these things are transferred to everything we play.
As a kid I’d hear Django play a phrase that I liked and I would learn it. Then as I got older I realized that I could play the same phrase in other tunes. I’d see things like a turnaround he played that could also work in other songs.
For me learning the guitar was like a jigsaw puzzle. It wasn’t like I was given a jigsaw puzzle or went and bought one but as I was going along I just kept finding pieces (laughter).
It was a different time really. Now you can find everything on the internet.
Well the good news is that you can find good information but the bad news is you also find a lot of bad information.
On the playing side there are a lot of players who put things on the internet just because they know it will get lot of hits. I’ve had people even say; “Well you won’t get many hits with that.” But that’s not the point for me. I do have things on the internet that aren’t necessarily what I’m the most proud of but they’re crowd pleasers. Playing for the balcony is a trap you can fall into. I’ve tried not to do that. I can do it, but I’d soon not.
There also seems to be many who want to play everything as fast as possible even if it’s not complimentary to the music.
You know, one of my online students was playing a tune and asked, “How can I get it to swing more?” I told him, “Well slow down.” I gave him a tempo and he said, “You know, that really swings.” He did it the first time and it was fantastic! It’s just what you would call getting into the pocket.
Many years ago I had a teacher tell me that everyone plays eighth notes differently. At the time it was above my head but I later understood.
I actually did a video response today with a student on that subject. He became fascinated with how I played eighth notes in a very lazy fashion on a track I recorded with David Grisman. He said he was trying it with a rhythm section and it was all going horribly wrong. I told him, that’s because they were following you. They have to stay solid and then you can hold back. That’s kind of a characteristic of how I play eighth notes. I don’t play on top of them. I lean towards the last moment.
If you listen to Ringo Starr on the Beatles records he always played slightly behind the beat. Let’s put it this way, he never pushed it and that’s one of the major things that gave that band such a good feel. I heard him talking about it once. He said, I hold back on it. He couldn’t quite explain it because it’s so natural to him.
While listening to your Love Songs collection I was reminded of what I call human time as opposed to strict time. What I mean is it has breath.
Well the tracks are all duets and when I laid down the first guitar part I didn’t play to a click. So that’s why it’s that human time. It has that floating time.
I’ve never been a studio player but I’ve worked with players who play on movies and have to play to a click. In talking with studio drummers and playing on a couple of things I’ve noticed they don’t play exactly to the click, they do float. Once the click is taken away you would never know they ever played to a click. It doesn’t feel regimented. It has that spacious feel.
When I played in Bill Wyman’s band, The Rhythm Kings, the drummer was Graham Broad. He’s okay now but he had a problem with his heart racing. It was beating more than twice the normally rate. When he was taken to the hospital Graham told the doctor that his heart was beating about 192 beats per minute. After the tests were finished the doctor came back and said, that’s spot on! How did you know that? Graham replied, “Well, I’m a drummer.” (laughter).
I just listened today to your tribute to Doris Day, the recording of “Secret Love.” That’s just beautiful playing.
Oh thanks! I just recorded that this morning.
Yeah! I thought I’d have a go at it. I put it in the key of E, pressed record and just played it. And that’s what I did with the love songs.
I’ve done recordings in the past such as my Double Standards record where I was very meticulous with everything. I later realized it was only me that was bothered by it! (laughter). Now when I record things I just say, oh yeah, that’s fine. I rarely record things a second time unless something horrendous happens.
Your ability to let go of something must take a lot of pressure off.
Yeah. I just hit the record button and think, what’s the worst that can happen? It puts me in a good frame of mind.
When Pro Tools first came along it was a great thing because I knew I could fix anything that went wrong but what ended up happening is that I just went for it and things didn’t go wrong.
So you’ve never put that boat in the water?
I’ve only used it a couple times. You can get a bit obsessive with being perfect. If you were to record something that was perfect there isn’t a person out there that will ever notice that it’s perfect.
A little humanity in a recording can be a good thing.
Yeah. Buddy DeFranco told me a great story about playing in the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. He said that when recording, Tommy Dorsey would purposely put in a little mistake. Apparently he became superstitious because his first big hit had a howler of a mistake yet it sold millions. The following more flawless recording was not as successful. So he put a little blooper in everything. Just a little cracked note or something.
Miles Davis cracked notes all the time but it’s not something that ever bothered me. I don’t point that out as a criticism at all. It’s just a characteristic of his playing. I actually think it adds a little edge to his playing.
There are times when I’ll do a solo concert and I’ll think, “That was spot on. I’m so happy, I really enjoyed my playing.” Then there are other times when I struggle and people who I know and respect their opinion will come up and say, “That’s the best I’ve ever heard you play” (laughter). I really don’t understand it. I’ll just say, thank you very much.
I try to keep the standard up so that when I have a bad night it’s really not noticeable to most people. Keeping that standard up is really important. I want to enjoy my playing and there’s a responsibility to the audience.