Possibly you haven’t yet heard of the tenor saxophonist Sam Taylor. But I guarantee you will. He has a rare gift.
When I was opening the plastic wrapping enclosing Sam’s debut CD, I confess I was expecting more-of-the-same: in this century, many young musicians are technically gifted in ways that would astonish the Ancestors. There isn’t anything they can’t play. Complex harmonies at top speed, chorus after chorus, are their basic vocabulary. They often make Bird sound like Honore Dutrey. They have spent their youth practicing, and it shows. And that in itself is a wonderful accomplishment — if technique is your primary goal. But often it is cold — music that doesn’t ring in the listeners’ hearts.
I come back to what I think of as the basic ideal of instrumental music: to communicate something, without words, that makes us feel and reflect. To “tell a story.” To “sing on your horn.”
I knew Sam Taylor had a good chance of being different — of reaching our hearts — when I saw the song he had chosen as the title of his CD, a beautiful obscure 1930 song. Not an original, although full of original sentiment.
Here are two versions of MY FUTURE JUST PASSED. The first, by Annette Hanshaw, is hopeful rather than morose:
I know that the lyrics of the verse (George Marion, Jr.) suggest a certain light-heartedness (rhyming “not less” and “spotless” but the melody is haunting, especially the bridge — thanks to Richard Whiting.
Here is the 1963 version by Shirley Horn (gorgeous arrangements by Jimmy Jones) at a heartfelt tempo:
Beautiful — and I admire her willingness to take her time, to let the song unfold.
Now, listen to this — and understand why I think so highly of Sam Taylor:
If your first reaction is, “Oh, he’s only playing the melody,” I offer two options. The more polite one is, “Please listen again,” and the less is, “Please go away.”
I think of a comment (reported by Nat Hentoff, I believe) of Bobby Hackett listening to Louis Armstrong, “Do you know how hard it is to make melody come that alive?”
In Sam’s playing I hear the great melodists — Louis of course, but also Bing and Sinatra, Ben, Hawk, and Pres — but he sounds like himself as he patiently and lovingly devotes himself to the song. No self-referential playing (those quotes that show us “ingenuity” and no ostentatious “virtuosities”) — nothing but rapt attention to the song, to melody, to the way a great artist can make us feel. I admire his ease but also his patience, as if he is saying to us through his horn, “I have something to tell you, but it is at once both very simple and too deep for words. It is a story of hope, but hope tinged with melancholy and risks that might not come off. Please sit down, shut off your phone, join with me in the great ritual of music-making and truth-exploring.”
You can find out more about Sam Taylor here, and you can also download the CD. Of course you should search out Sam at a gig and buy a copy directly, but it can also be ordered from CellarLive.com. It will soon be available on Amazon as well.
I like my CDs physically tangible, especially in this case where Sam has written the notes himself — simple, full of feeling. Here are his opening lines:
Sometimes, a song enters our life at the perfect moment. It gives clarity and meaning to seemingly random events. It speaks and gives voice to our feelings of love, heartache, joy and jubilation. It taps into our memories, both personal and collective, taking root in our hearts, stirring our imagination.
And the music on this CD exemplifies this philosophy, both simple and deep. Sam is wonderfully assisted by bassist Aidan O’Donnell and drummer Taro Okamoto — who do not fade into the background nor do they overpower. This trio has the balanced lightness and weight of the trio sessions Lucky Thompson did with Oscar Pettiford and Skeeter Best, yet it sounds entirely fresh, not a “recreation.”
The songs reflect Sam’s love for lasting melodies: LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME / MY FUTURE JUST PASSED / DO SOMETHING (based on a Cole Porter melody) / SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY / WHY DON’T I / MEAN TO ME / ERONEL / YOU ARE TOO BEAUTIFUL / T.O.’S BLUES.
I am certain you will welcome him as someone not afraid to create beauty.
May your happiness increase!