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Communication Specialist : Saxophonist Louis Taylor Jr. says he aims to create a bond with the audience by imparting ideas.

November 11, 1994|ZAN STEWART | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Zan Stewart writes regularly about jazz for The Times

GLENDALE — The pianist Phil Wright, one of the members of the fine jazz group The Elders, made an observation re cently about the era of the 1950s, when so many great musicians--from John Coltrane to Stanley Turrentine--worked with blues and R&B bands.

"Trane, Stanley, Clifford Brown, Benny Golson, they all had backgrounds in the blues," said Wright. "A jazz musician has got to play some blues."

Saxophonist Louis Taylor Jr. definitely agrees with this point of view. Taylor, who leads a quartet at Jax on Wednesday, says that whether he's playing with Jeannie and Jimmy Cheatham's Sweet Baby Blues Band, Gerald Wilson's Orchestra of the '90s or his own band, the blues is the glue that connects his eclectic styles of improvisation.

"The blues is the most powerful aspect of my playing," says Taylor, 40, who lives in Sherman Oaks. "The blues has such a good feeling. I think my main inspiration has been Stanley Turrentine," one of jazz's strongest blues-oriented players. "Sometimes, when I play more abstractly, I try to escape the blues, but when I'm relaxed and I want to get the house to respond, it always gets back to the blues with me."

And, says the man with the welcoming, gruff sound and a splendid technique, that resonant, foot-tapping mood associated with the blues gets to his listeners.

"I'll hear ohs, ahs, I'll see smiles, I'll hear the applause," says Taylor, who also backs singer Sweet Baby Ja'i tonight at Le Cafe in Sherman Oaks. "That means I'm communicating, that a certain idea that I have chosen to play at that moment has worked, and for that moment, those audience members and I have a bond. Without communicating, music doesn't mean that much to me. I feel my purpose as a musician is to communicate, and that my contribution to my fellow man is through music. I gives me a good feeling that I can take listeners with me, that they trust where I'm taking them, and that, hopefully, they'll get a positive feeling. I feel, in a way, like I'm ministering a sense of positive energy for my listeners."

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Taylor isn't just about the rollicking music of the blues. He's also known for his riveting, leaning-toward-abstract solos, and for his compelling ballad work. Slow, lyrical tunes offer another kind of opportunity to reach listeners, he says, and a chance for a musician to give an audience "something they can relate to, opening a door where they can come out with some kind of understanding."

At Jax, Taylor will go in yet another direction, accenting such current sounds as hip-hop and funk. "I like commercial music," he says. "I like the vocal quality of it, and the dance aspect. It doesn't restrict me either. I can still play my jazz stuff on top." Taylor is currently playing street-oriented music as a soprano sax soloist on the TV show, "New York Undercover," where James Mtume, son of noted saxman Jimmy Heath, is musical director.

Taylor was born in Salt Lake City, moved to Southern California with his parents in the late 60s, and lived in both Los Angeles and Pasadena. He started musical studies while at Forshay Junior High in L.A. and played his first professional job with a rock band in Pasadena. On his resume, among the names of musicians and groups he's played with are Ray Charles, with whom he was a featured soloist from 1981 to 1985; Bobby Matos' Heritage Ensemble, a fine Latin band, and Wilson's orchestra. He talks about performing with the 76-year-old Wilson, a jazz master whose career goes back to the late '30s, when he played trumpet with Jimmy Lunceford.

"He's a great friend and very encouraging as a bandleader," says Taylor, who records with Wilson this week for an album due out on MaMa Foundation Records next spring. "He gives his soloists lots of room to develop, and that's inspiring."

Taylor, who also teaches jazz at USC, says he's in a bit of a renaissance, rediscovering the joys of melodic playing, as exemplified by such giants as Charlie Parker. "When you play melodically, and you play fewer notes, you're forced to be more lyrical," he says. "It's a challenge to communicate that way."

Where and When

Who: The Louis Taylor Jr. Quartet.

Location: Jax, 339 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale.

Hours: 9 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Price: No cover, no minimum.

Call: (818) 500-1604.

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