By Brian Soergel
Saxophonist Paul Taylor thought there might be controversy when he agreed to sign on as a member of Gentlemen of the Night, a smooth jazz tour featuring fellow saxophonists Marion Meadows and Michael Lington. Not with the show itself, but with the name of the show. Sure enough, a minor brouhaha erupted at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, where the sax guys were banned from using the suggestive moniker. “It was cool,” said Taylor. “We told fans, you guys are in the right place right now. Our tour is so hot they made us change our name for this performance.”
They changed the name to MTH Express, using the first letters of the performers’ last name: Meadows, Taylor and Hill, the latter being saxophonist Warren Hill, who subbed for Lington because he was performing with Michael Bolton.
This name change appears to be a one-off, as Gentlemen of the Night are indeed scheduled to perform Oct. 16 at the 24th annual Catalina Island JazzTrax Festival. Taylor, Meadows and Hill (who once again fills in for Lington while he's out on tour with Bolton) will be performing their own songs and also joining in with the others. For Taylor, that almost certainly includes playing his recent No. 1 hit, “Burnin’,” the lead single and title track from his 2009 CD.
“It’s a really fun show with a sax vibe, of course,” Taylor said. “We mix it up and have a ball. On some songs, we’ll come in on the stage––it’s cool and unexpected. For example, when Marion’s playing, I might come in on the chorus or an auxiliary part, like background singers do.”
Like many smooth jazz artists, taking Catalina Express' high-speed catamaran to Avalon marks a homecoming for Taylor. It was 1993 that he made his debut there as a member of pianist Jeff Lorber’s band. It turned out to be a fortuitous gig, as another pianist, Keiko Matsui, in the audience watched as Taylor displayed his usual energy and enthusiasm on stage. Keiko and her then-husband, Kazu, had sailed to the island from their second home in Huntington Beach, and were so impressed with Taylor, that they asked him to join Keiko's band. Taylor accepted. Two years later, Kazu produced Taylor’s debut smooth jazz CD, On the Horn. Later that year, in 1995, Taylor made his solo debut on the island.
“I got my start there, so it means a lot to me to be playing at Catalina,” Taylor said. “The location helps a lot, of course, but the people there just love the music. It’s so unique––it’s an island, not polluted by cars, very people-friendly. (Festival creator) Art Good has built up a brand, and people know that there will be great music, either by people like me who have been around for a while, or by new talent coming up.”
Those who catch Taylor on tour or who have seen him in the past may know that Taylor usually performs on the soprano saxophone, which has a distinctive high pitch, and the deeper-sounding alto saxophone, which is the most common for smooth jazz performers. That remains true for his current touring schedule, even though on Burnin’ Taylor, for the first time, used the largest-size saxophone, the tenor, which is distinguished by the hook in its neck and is the instrument many great jazz stars past and present have preferred.
“I had a vision of playing the tenor live because I used it so much on Burnin’,” Taylor said. “But it’s been a challenge playing it live. Airlines have tightened things up, and the tenor is like another case to bring, another charge. But as long as I play the music and the fans are clapping and grooving, I’m happy.”
It was an airline that led to Taylor playing the tenor on nine of the 10 songs on Burnin’,” his eighth solo CD and co-produced by Barry Eastmond and Rex Rideout. Taylor’s decision to rely on the tenor was due, in part, to the result of a flight from his home in Las Vegas to New York to record with Eastmond.
“Fortunately I decided to bring my tenor along as well, but when I got to Barry’s I took out my soprano and all of a sudden, man, the soprano’s not playing right. It’s totally whack, you know, something happened to it. It must have got bumped in the plane, in the bin or something. So I was kind of bummed out, but I took out the tenor and we just kind of got in a little groove. And we did ‘Burnin’,’ the first song. So we decided to go along with the tenor for a while. And so what turned into like a disappointment turned into a really good blessing. It gave the CD an old-school sound.”**
** **The complete Paul Taylor story can be found in the October issue of Smooth Jazz News. Pick up your free copy at our radio station affiliates (see radio station page for listings), various concerts, festivals and select Southern California outlets. Or you can subscribe and receive 11 issues of Smooth Jazz News per year, mailed monthly (except January), for $35. Click here to subscribe online today.
For more information on Taylor, including his complete tour schedule, visit www.paultaylorsax.com.
Oct. 16, 2 p.m.
Catalina Island JazzTrax Festival (with Gentlemen of the Night)
Avalon Casino Ballroom
1 Casino Way
Avalon on Catalina Island, California
1995 On the Horn Countdown/Unity
1997 Pleasure Seeker Countdown/Unity
2000 Undercover N-Coded/Peak
2001 Hypnotic Peak
2002 Greatest Hits N-Coded
2003 Steppin’ Out Peak
2005 Nightlife Peak
2007 Ladies’ Choice Peak
2009 Burnin’ Peak