By Bruce Collier
Trumpeter Dr. Brian Taylor has a day job unlike that of most jazzmen. The New York native has a bachelors in aerospace and masters and doctorate degrees in mechanical engineering from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. He currently works as a government researcher concentrating on “bio-inspired engineering,” developing engineering concepts and robotic applications based on observation of insects and animals. He speaks on the subject with enthusiasm, but it’s not his only field of endeavor.
Taylor started playing the trumpet in fourth grade. He says he really wanted to play saxophone, but so did everyone else, so he accepted the trumpet. He later took up the sax, but trumpet has remained his primary instrument. Studying the instrument introduced him to jazz. He played in the school band, jazz ensemble and with the choir—“every band the school had.”
Even while pursuing his engineering studies, Taylor says he kept his hand in with trumpet. In college, he played in bands and jazz combos, and was able to get experience (and cash) playing at school functions in the Cleveland area. Some of his fellow musicians were also fellow engineering students. He adds that not being a music major, he was free to concentrate on what he liked—jazz. His interests also included arranging and composition.
Aside from being an artistic outlet, Taylor says his music is both a challenge, and a stress reliever—”it keeps me from barking at work.” His only frustration lies in finding time to practice.
Taylor came to this area in 2012 (for his day job), and began playing first in his apartment. He ventured forth and started exploring local venues. In 2013, Taylor jammed at an open mic night at Beal Street Bottle Club. The owner asked him to come back and sit in. “I kept coming back—no one told me to go home.”
A watershed moment came when Taylor met Curacao-born classical and jazz pianist Gino Rosaria, a phenomenal musician, he says. He attended a CD release party for Rosaria, who later asked Taylor to play with him at a gig in Atlanta. On stage in Atlanta, Taylor realized, “This is why I do this.”
Rosaria played one of Taylor’s compositions. Audience members asked when Taylor would be releasing his own album, an idea Taylor admits he’d been kicking around for a while. He worked on it in 2014 and 2015, and in January 2016, he released Spirito Sereno. The album features three original compositions, and three of Taylor’s arrangements of tunes from the musical Les Miserables.
Taylor’s compositional and performance inspirations on the album come from a number of directions. The first track, “Allarme Vicino Piazza San Pietro,” has its source in a police alarm he heard on a trip to Venice. Though Taylor found the sound jarring at the time, he says it stayed in his head and eventually made its way into his instrument. Another track, the well-known “Master of the House” from Les Miserables, rolls out like a second-line strut from a New Orleans brass band. The arrangement is strangely fitting to the dark, off-kilter humor of the original. Other tracks showcase different styles and genres.
The album’s variety is intentional, says Taylor. “I wanted it to represent all I can do.”
Taylor counts a multitude of other influences for his music. Among his jazz inspirations are Clifford Brown, Lee Morgan, Tom Harrell, and Sean Jones. The latter (at one time artistic director of the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra) once sat in and played one of Taylor’s compositions. Taylor’s reaction was, “I thought, ‘Oh, so that’s how it’s supposed to sound.’”
Spirito Sereno has been getting favorable response. Taylor has also been expanding his circle of friends and gathering inspiration through his travels.
Brian Taylor can be heard not only on his album, but also at area venues. Last spring he was a guest artist with Northwest Florida State College’s Jazz Ensemble. He recently played with the New Orleans-inflected Village Brass Band at the Destin Seafood Festival and also at Pier Park for the Pirates of the High Seas Festival.
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