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James Taylor Quartet

James Taylor Quartet

Article from Phaze 1, November 1988

"this isn't really musicians' music, it's for an audience who want to dance and dancing being the main thing. That's the ultimate sign of respect from an audience. If you get an audience dancing then you know that they like you and they're enjoying themselves. Every band I've ever been in, there's always been that."

Ladies and gentlemen, meet James Taylor. A man at the centre of a new cult - "Acid Jazz". A man with a passion for re-recording music from him and television. And a man with the nerve to base almost his entire "sound" around an ancient instrument that most people have long since forgotten - the Hammond organ.

Alter two successful independently released albums, the James Taylor Quartet have just completed their first album for Polydor's Urban label. Their single - a jazz reworking of the 'Starsky & Hutch' theme - is one of the year's great records. It was produced by Working Week's Simon Booth and features legendary brass section Fred Wesley and Pee Wee Ellis of James Brown's backing band. And Style Council drummer Steve White has been recruited for the live Quartet.

First, though, what is Acid Jazz? "Just a name for what's happening really", chips in Bertie, the JTQ's new guitarist. "All it means is it's jazz aimed at a younger audience."

Taylor: "What's good about it is that there are quite a few bands involved, it's not just a DJ thing."

Bertie: "It's just making jazz exciting, putting it back onto a better level so that people can understand. Most jazz is in the Ronnie Scott's league and it goes above people's heads. But when you bring it back down to a street level, where it's rhythmic and it's got a very strong tune, more people can understand it... And it's danceable as well, which makes it more acceptable as club music."

It hasn't always been this way. After the first two JTQ albums, Taylor wasn't certain how far he could take the idea of an instrumental band. Inevitably, he reasoned, there would come a point where his Booker T/Jimmy Smith direction would start to sound regressive. Bold steps needed to be taken in the never-ceasing battle for progression. He toyed with the idea of employing singers and a brass section, but then jazz DJ Giles Peterson coined the term Acid Jazz and gave the Quartet a jazzier, funkier direction.

"It gave the band a new lease of life, and it gave the idea of using the Hammond organ a new lease of life. It was a new thing to do with it and it was exciting for me!"

Success has come suddenly. Eighteen months ago saw the release of the first JTQ single, 'Blow Up' - an inspired instrumental enlargement of the 15-second Herbie Hancock theme tune to Antonioni's '60s film masterpiece. It had only been recorded as a way of using some spare studio time, long before the band had formed as a full-time unit, and shortly before Taylor moved to Sweden.


"I taught 'em it in the morning and recorded it in the afternoon... and then forgot about it", he recalls. "And then when I'd been living in Sweden for a couple of months, I got really skint and couldn't afford to pay the bills, so I sold the tapes and that paid off my debts."

Released as a single in Taylor's absence, 'Blow Up' found unexpected champions in Radio 1's John Peel and Janice Long, and was vaulted high into the independent charts. Taylor returned home immediately to put together the suddenly much-in-demand Quartet. "We really completely skipped all the struggling side of it", he says. "We immediately went into a situation where we were headlining in London."

The success of the band still surprises Taylor, and he attributes a good part of it to the fact that 'Blow Up' was such an exciting record. "It had a good atmosphere to it and it's a good little number. And I suppose the Hammond organ was due for a renaissance. If you look at it now, half the mega bands make sure they've got a Hammond C3 onstage - it's the trendy instrument to have, whether you can hear it or not."

But did it ever occur to Taylor that he could build a full-time career in mainstream pop around the Hammond organ?

"No, not at all. It didn't even cross my mind. I thought there was no way you could gig Hammond organ instrumentals and people were going to like it. They want a singer or they want a show, not four blokes sitting down and concentrating on their instruments. But for some reason it came across alright, people were prepared to accept it. It still shocks me, actually."

Taylor's Hammond crusade is far from over, however. In a world still dominated by synthesizers and samplers, there are still an awful lot of keyboard players out there, ripe for conversion to the true faith.

"The problem with the Hammond is that a lot of people say that it's an old dinosaur instrument, that you can get a DX7 to do it... But that's absolute rubbish! People look at the Hammond as a period instrument: 'Oh that's that '60s Hammond organ sound'. But in 50 years time they'll be saying: 'Oh, do you play piano?' 'No, I play Hammond!' It's an instrument in its own right rather than some development that has been surpassed. It hasn't been surpassed. It hasn't ever been made better by the Japs and it won't be. It's going to be recognised like a violin or a piano or a guitar."

Funny. You get the feeling that not too long from now, James Taylor will be recognised, too. Everywhere he goes.

More from related artists

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Kee Marcello

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Select A Schecter

Publisher: Phaze 1 - Phaze 1 Publishing

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Phaze 1 - Nov 1988



James Taylor Quartet



Related Artists:

Steve White

Interview by Chris Hunt

Previous article in this issue:

> Kee Marcello

Next article in this issue:

> Select A Schecter

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