TCO Profile: Mark Taylor

There aren’t many French horn players who, to my knowledge at least, have attracted as much attention in the improvised music world as Mark Taylor  – Max Roach has called him “a virtuoso instrumentalist,” and Time Out New York has urged its readers to “add [his] name to the list of the chosen few.”  Mark just released a new album, “At What Age,” which was recorded in New York a few years ago but is only now being released thanks to the generosity of his fans.  About the new music, he writes, “This music is about stretching and breathing, overstepping boundaries and things not quite seen.”  I encourage you to check it out!

When did you start playing?
I started playing music at age 6, singing in a boys’ choir and learning the piano. I joined the school band on clarinet at about age 10, switched to bass clarinet shortly after that, and took up the French horn at 13.

Mark Taylor

How did improvisation become part of your musical experience?
During my teen years, I became a big fan of CTI Records. They had wonderful albums by Grover Washington, Jr.,  Ronnie and Hubert Laws and many other pioneers of what eventually became known as “smooth jazz.” Back then this music was new and interesting, at least to me. I’ve always been interested in composing and arranging and was quickly drawn to the work of Bob James, who wrote many of the arrangements on those CTI albums. It was quite common to have very large orchestras on those records (and on pop records, too) and Bob James would do “jazzed up” versions of familiar classical pieces for his own projects. However, I found myself asking why it was never one of the French horn players who stepped up to solo when the chart opened up?

The more questions I asked, the more people pointed me to players like John Clark, Tom Varner, Vincent Chancey and, finally, Julius Watkins. Now, Julius played with just about everybody at one point or another, so checking him out threw me right into the “jazz tradition” and I was lucky enough to have some jazz-obsessed friends who were my guides through a lot of that great music. I didn’t realize it until much later, but after years of playing only European orchestral and chamber music it was actually a huge event in my life to discover all of this amazing music created primarily by people who looked like me!

Which composers/musicians most influence your work?
Well, in addition to the horn players I mentioned before, I’d include Dennis Brain, Barry Tuckwell and Hermann Baumann. Outside of hornists, the biggest influences – players and composers – would be Clark Terry, Kenny Wheeler, Dave Holland, Miles Davis, Mozart (there’s a certain architectural elegance to his writing that I love), JJ Johnson — the list goes on and on. I do have to put Henry Threadgill and Max Roach in their own category as far as influences go because I learned SO much from the time I spent playing with them (and in Max’s case, just from knowing him for so long).

What current projects/ensembles are you involved in?

"At What Age" by Mark Taylor

I just released my third CD “At What Age” on ARC Records and am looking to take that project out on the road. I’ve also been co-leading a new quartet with tenor saxophonist/composer Jessica Jones. In fact, we just returned from a short West Coast tour that was centered around some workshops and a presentation I did at the International Horn Society’s Annual Horn Symposium in San Francisco, CA. We also performed in Los Angeles and in Berkeley. There’s a very new “chamber/jazz/improv” group tentatively called “Horns with Strings” that’s just starting to get off the ground, which includes Jessica Jones and Tony Jones on tenor saxes, Charlie Burnham on violin and myself on French horn. Then there’s also Positive Catastrophe with the Tri-Centric Orchestra’s own Taylor Ho Bynum (I love that band!).

What events do you have on the horizon?
I’ll be spending October at an artist colony in Florida – the Atlantic Center for the Arts. Roscoe Mitchell is the composing mentor and I’ll be developing some new works for solo horn and horn and computer using generative software and techniques. I’ve wanted to try some solo concerts for a while now. This is all very new to me and I’m looking forward to having some concentrated time to work on it.

What are you currently listening to?
I came home from the Symposium with a nice little stack of CDs to check out, including Tom Varner’s “Heaven and Hell,” James MacDonald’s “French Horn sans Frontieres” and “Unveil” from the Crepuscule Trio. I’m already pretty deep into Chris Dingman’s “Waking Dreams” and Ambrose Akinmusire’s “When The Heart Emerges Glistening.”

How has working with Anthony Braxton shaped your musical experience?
It has been truly eye-opening to integrate the skills necessary for orchestral/classical/new music AND jazz/improvised music in one project. My favorite aspect of working with Anthony Braxton, however, is the sense of joy and fun he brings to his music. These are all things that I want to incorporate in my work going forward.

What impact has the Trillium-Tri-Centric Orchestra had on your concept of the orchestra as an entity?
Well, I still think the orchestra is about as nimble as an ocean liner, but THIS orchestra shows how deep and multi-faceted such a beast can be!

What’s your favorite food?
Wow! That’s tough. I’d have to say hamburgers (ask anyone who knows me!). BUT my standards for the quality and origins of the meat (and bun… And everything else on it) have been rising steadily for the last couple of years. I’m good with junk, but less and less satisfied lately….


Watch Mark Taylor perform “At What Age” with Tomas Fujiwara, Keith Witty and Chris Dingman
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3 responses to “TCO Profile: Mark Taylor

  1. Pingback: Anthony Braxton’s Tri-Centric Festival Takes Place October in NY | Avant Music News

  2. Pingback: San Francisco Bay Area Scene | Avant Music News

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