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This article, (c) 1990 by Douglas Yeo and David Taylor, appeared in The International Trombone Society Journal, Volume 19, No. 4 (Fall 1991) and Volume 20, No. 1 (Winter 1992). The print version of the article included numerous photographs which do not appear on this online version. To order back issues of the ITA Journal, contact: Randy Kohenberg, School of Music, University of North Carolina-Greensboro, Greensboro, NC 27412 USA.
Taylor: I have four "Suites" now and I've just recorded three of them.
Yeo: Are these all with piano, or do they have varied instrumentation?
Taylor: They are with varied instrumentation. Appealation Sprung has violin, piano, harp and bass trombone. Five (5) Songs Avec Bénédiction et Divertissement has string quartet, piano, harpsichord, harp and bass trombone - the Divertissement varies in instrumentation from performance to performance, sometimes with tape, sometimes with percussion. Omens and Oracles, a suite based on original composition, improvisation and transcription, has bass, cello, violin and bass trombone, and French Suite has piano, harp and bass trombone. Except for the French grouping, all of the suites use extensive mute changes and colors. Even though these are set instrumentations, sometimes they vary with the situation I am performing in. When I went to Paris for the Third Wind Symposium, I played my French Suite with only piano. I used the piano player the group provided, and this pianist played for many trombonists at the symposium, so time necessitated that I stay simple. There are times when you may run into an economical problem or you might be better off not getting too complicated with accompanying instruments for the sake of the interpretation of the piece. I was actually very flattered at this symposium. They submitted the program notes that I made for my recital to the French Cultural Ministry to show how good their symposium was. The reason that I'm so proud of this is that of the 35-40 classical musicians who were there - mostly all the performers were Europeans, including many French artists - I was the only person to play French music on a recital. I went to France with program notes explaining why I played French music and people were touched. I played my French transcriptions for a trombone master class there and one of the compositions I played was Piece Breve by Bozza.
After I played it, the room stayed really quiet. It struck me as being odd; you know it's a pretty difficult piece to play and I thought I did it fairly well . . . and it's different. Later a professor from the Paris Conservatory came over and told me why everyone was so quiet. He said it was because they couldn't believe what they were hearing. Not necessarily only in terms of how I was playing this or that, but the fact that here I was, an American, and I was telling them that they should be playing French music - and that furthermore I was playing a saxophone piece on the bass trombone.
Yeo: With all that tradition of great French music, nobody else played anything French?
Taylor: To my knowledge, no one on the recitals played French music. It was weird. But I'm happy that I did it because I'm having a problem with the skyscrapers looking the same in every city. French music students and their teachers came to this symposium, and there were about 15 bass trombone players who played at my master class. They were all going after this big, fat, American bass trombone sound. It was gorgeous. But my question to them was, "With all the tradition in France, why give up what you have?" I'm not saying that it's necessarily right or wrong to try to sound like this or that, but I really wondered why they weren't playing French music and why they seemed to be throwing out some very strong qualities of their tradition. I was surprised that some still thought it almost unheard of to play saxophone transcriptions. After my trombone master class and recital, I was asked to give a master class open to everyone. I named the master class "How to Speak French in One Easy Lesson!"
Yeo: Now this concept of your "Suites," which you're creating and performing more and more, tends to take the listener by surprise. People are used to doing or hearing a collection of Brahms songs all together, or the Mahler Wunderhorn Songs or something like that. But the idea of putting together a "Suite" of five very different things by different composers that may have a common thread is very unusual.
Taylor: There are several factors that made these "Suites" logical to me. The fact is that in clubs or jazz concerts, sets are made up of different kinds of music; many tunes may be by different writers. Again, I live in a country where jazz and popular music have an amazing worldwide impact and these forms feel natural to me. I utilize some basic structural concepts without copying a specific style or cliché. Larger forms of classical music have diversity in tempi, style, key, movements, etc. The symphonic form is a strong example of this. Sometimes, the "Suites" came about because I just wanted to put philosophically similar music together, sometimes out of some intuitive thing and and sometimes it needs no reason - it just feels right. The common thread in my "Suite" called Five (5) Songs Avec Bénédiction et Divertissement (Five Songs with a Benediction and Divertessement) is tolerance.
Incidentally, I tried to use tolerance as a theme at the ITW a few years ago. I did a short "Suite" called Pax Romana. A Pax Romana is not only historically known as a period of 200 years of peace, but it's also defined as a tenuous yet workable peace. I took a composition called Dagon II (Dagon is an agricultural god of the Philistines) and two Ravel songs, Kaddish and Eternal Enigma. Kaddish is the prayer for the dead, Eternal Enigma is kind of a general song questioning why is the world as it is. I played Duke Ellington's Come Sunday ("Lord, dear Lord above: God almighty; God of love, please look down and see my people through.") I started out with Song of the Watcher of the Night by Darius Milhaud, "Ho, who goes there?" The concept was to put together these clashing things and make a beautiful musical and philosophical statement. The last song in Five (5) Songs Avec Bénédiction et Divertissement is called Tolerance, by Ives. It says, "How can I turn from any fire, or any man's hearthstone? I know the longing and desire that went to build my own!" One of the funny things for me about putting Ives and Ravel in this "Suite" is that Ives couldn't tolerate Ravel! Ives had this strong New England, Ruggles' type thing and he couldn't deal with Ravel who he thought had this sweet, song thing happening. Anyway, the Ravel song I chose was Meyrke my Son, and it's about a boy and his father talking, "Why is it so, what's going on?" Then I put in Duke Ellington's Come Sunday. I can't go into a concert to perform for the general music public and just play "trombone" music. I have given some recitals of my own when mostly musicians come, but I like to play on other people's concerts with mostly non-musicians, non-trombonists in the audience. Although I love playing and studying a Bach cello suite or some kind of trio sonata, and find that playing it on the trombone is beautiful, educational and admirable, it doesn't bring in the public or fully satisfy the need I have to communicate something personal.
So for me, the concept of "Suites" really worked out quite well. Here was something I was doing from my heart, from my spirit, and people believed in it enough to program it on concerts of "music." I received a New York Times review for a performance of my Benediction Suite on another group's concert (the name of the group was "For The Love of Music") and they gave me the headline. The leader was ticked off at me! For my Kauffman Hall concert at the 92nd St. Y, I sent out a professional, glossy flier to every ITA member. But I didn't just send it to teachers - I sent it to regular ITA members. I did it, at worst, for my own self-aggrandizement, but at best, I did it because I wanted to show people that yes, there are bass trombonists out there trying to communicate in front of the general music-going public - not just trombone players - and on a professional level. I sent it to students - internationally.
Yeo: Let's get back to the different songs in the "Suites."
Taylor: Well, I arrived at this "Suite" of Bach, Ives, Ellington and Ravel during a period when I was reading about abstract impressionistic painting and its relationship to jazz. Look at Ives in his piece Tolerance; he writes about tolerance, yet he couldn't deal with Ravel - a man from a different culture and a different musical scene - but it fit. I put Dagon II in the Suite as the divertissement which was rather a joke, because that's a wild, hairy piece, not a divertissement at all. And the confidence for that joke and the title of the suite was influenced somewhat by my love of the music, heroism and humor of Charlie Parker, in this case the jazz tune Quasimodo. He based the tune for Quasimodo, who of course was the hunchback of Notre Dame, on the changes of the song Embraceable You. Also, most importantly of all, the music deals with a spiritual cause or a calling for spiritual strength. For example, the Benediction, the Bach aria, Awake all my Powers within me.
Yeo: But even in these suites that you put together, you sometimes change the pieces around.
Taylor: Yes, I take something out, put something in. For recording I have a set idea of what is to be done, but for particular concerts, I change things just to have fun, to test things out to see how malleable my "Suites" are, or to adjust lengths for duration. The thing about the "Suites," too, is that when you perform a 20-minute work of music, you're putting a focus on the concert. You're not running off the stage every three minutes. It helps you program pieces on either end or in the middle, and it makes those other pieces have more meaning.
Yeo: I remember on your 1984 Carnegie Hall recital that you did some of these pieces, but you didn't list them as a "Suite."
Taylor: At that time it was all up in the air; that whole recital was like an incredible experiment. It was a scary thing. That was my first recital and I was 40 years old. I told myself that it was time to **** or get off the pot. That was a rough evening!
Yeo: How did you get through Juilliard without doing recitals?
Taylor: Davis Shuman died and the trombone scene at school was in flux for awhile. But at that time, I was playing with Stokowski's orchestra and recitals didn't seem so important. Looking back, it would have been good to do recitals but I waited until I was 40. I really wasn't ready before then. I had been playing solo pieces here and there. So when I finally decided to do a recital, I threw in the kitchen sink. I mean I did some wild stuff, the Rimsky-Korsakov Clarinet Concerto, some monster Bach transcriptions . . . I want to get some of these things recorded - I worked hard to do them first. Let me take this opportunity to sidetrack for a moment. I'm all for the college spirit of Xeroxing and copying someone else's stuff. I'm all for sharing things. But I'm trying to be a professional soloist. ThatÍs one of my priorities. So if I come up with a special kind of a piece or arrangement, I like to be the one to do it. Hopefully, it will first of all be identified with me. When people commission a certain piece of music, they often have the rights for performing and recording for so many years.
Yeo: But that must be balanced with letting the music out.
Taylor: Yes. There has to be a balance somewhere. For instance, a lot of the music a guy like Christian Lindberg commissions, a trombonist in some orchestra will end up playing, and Christian won't get the next gig. He did something, helped make and form the piece, and then it gets out and he ends up cutting his own throat. After Christian does it, the first trombone player in the orchestra will want to do it. And that's good on a certain level, too. But there needs to be respect for the people who work to get the pieces commissioned and promoted in the first place.
Yeo: I'm intrigued by the concept of "unified diversity" in the "Suites." I'm going to use it sometime because I like the idea.
Taylor: I want you to, I'm glad you like it.
Yeo: It's a good idea to pull things together. I never thought of grouping very diverse things under a single theme.
Taylor: Well, you have to take a chance. Look, Debussy broke ranks with the romantic style. The varying degrees of conscious and unconscious motivation in his quest are something to think about. I think that in order to make some kind of statement, a conscious move is required. And that's what everyone's scared of - making a conscious move. As you get older, hopefully the conscious/unconscious thing gets melded more together.
Yeo: And you are getting older!
Taylor: Yes, and it's getting better. The Appealation Sprung Suite is made up of pieces by Bartók, Kodály, Elias Tannenbaum, Poulenc and a three-to-five minute improvisation. I wanted to bring improvisation to the concert stage during my recitals. I've improvised in lots of jazz bands, and the way I improvise can be considered rather unusual. Although it's based on blues, classical and contemporary music, I wouldn't call myself a chordal, II-V blues player or changes player in that sense. My improvisation is kind of eclectic. Bartók and Kodály, as we all know, besides being great composers, were Hungarian ethno-musicologists; they catalogued folk songs. Folk music was an aural tradition. Improvising! It changed.
Yeo: Handed down from ear to mouth and it keeps going.
Taylor: Exactly. Bartók and Kodály took this material and sometimes put it flat out in settings, sometimes turned it into art songs and of course at times larger structures. Having the improvisational nature of the folk song and art song from that tradition in a "Suite" of my own design gave me subjective and philosophical credence to thrust my own improvisation into the overall structure. Over the years, I have had to find a way to create "sound fields" for myself, to enhance my communicative strength. The 12-bar blues structure isn't precisely my structure although when I hear myself back, I definitely have certain elements of blues in my playing. I guess we have been so exposed to this form all our lives that it's become part of us. The sonata allegro form, especially the way it's being done now, oftentimes is a tired structure. It isn't me. So that's why all of this came about. I had to find a way to let people know what I do.
What I do is play in a jazz group one moment, play the Lincoln Center Chamber Society in another. The Lincoln Center Chamber Society gives me a chance to play real classical exactitude with personalised interpretation and with high calibre musicians. I don't necessarily play blues/gospel/jazz because the language is not basically in my tradition. The bands I play in are fairly modern, avant- garde, progressive bands, like Gil Evans'. In these groups I can improvise in a language with a more personalized vocabulary. I had to figure out a way to say to a person, "Look, I'm making music," but I couldn't just come out and say "Look, I'm a trombone player and I can really play music." Trombone players have been saying that on campuses for years and years; it makes no sense to me. I had to figure out a way to find a structure to support who I am. The "Suites" became that thing. They enabled me to speak to the people. Incidentally, these "Suites" are just one short period of my career and I'm moving on to other things now.
Yeo: Why do you use the word "Appealation" - when you say it, it sounds like "Appalachian."
Taylor: Well, I started researching Hungarian music and as I said, that "Suite" is around because I had to find a way to improvise during a classical type of concert. I started researching folk material, and I found out that a great deal of this folk material had to do with war, women's struggles and hardships, romance and Eastern European conflict. So I wanted to make an appeal; three of my suites are based on social appeals. I wanted to say I was springing an appeal. But who am I to say that I am springing forth an appeal? This appeal, for peace, tolerance and love, has been going on for eternity. So the appeal had already been sprung. There's a lot of double entendre. I was asked to put the "Suite"together for a groupÍs springtime concert, so the title Appealation Sprung has a number of meanings depending on how you look at it.
Yeo: You have mentioned in previous interviews that you have changed your practice routine over the years. You got frustrated with a single-minded emphasis on long tones. Not that they're not important, but you got tired of that single focus.
Taylor: For years I used to play long tones including the first 10 exercises of the Schlossberg book every day. But I couldn't deal with that any more. I practice scales all the time now. By running from genre to genre, style to style, I find the extreme diversity tears down some of the "correctness" of embouchure and breathing. For me the scales help keep some focus on everything. I began doing a Robert Mueller routine, eighth, two sixteenths, I call that my "bop-ba-ba-bops," but all of that has changed over the years, too. It's important to do things that make you feel warmed up psychologically as well as physically. When I'm not in the heavy music practicing cycle, like for a recital or solo, I try to play at least two hours of scales. Fundamentals are very important.
Yeo: Let's talk a little about your involvement at the Manhattan School of Music.
Taylor: I'm really happy with what's going on. It seems that students are coming to me for my musicality. And I'm proud of that. I'm accessible, I'm a good entertainer, and we get the job done. There are times that because of my schedule, I have to run my class at 7 a.m. That means the students get up at 5:30 in the morning. They do it for me, and they do it because they know I'm committed. Part of my job as a teacher is to show a student by living experience the level of commitment required to make it. I'm in it every day. I'm trying to teach commitment.
Yeo: What would you do if a student came up and said he wants to audition for Tanglewood and work on an audition list?
Taylor: I would work on his audition list. But I think we have a problem here with the system and the way we are looking at things. I would like us to view excerpts in a slightly different way. Do you know the name Wilhelm Furtwängler?
Yeo: Yes (Furtwängler was a well-known German conductor [1886-1954] who served as music director of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Berlin Philharmonic, Vienna Philharmonic and Berlin Opera).
Taylor: He left New York after a distinguished but disappointingly short American career and went back to Europe to work. He was a musician of very high regard and many of his interpretations are being reissued on CDs even now. He had a very personalized and subjective approach to his art. His conducting style actually follows in a direct line from Richard Wagner. His approach encouraged musicians to participate in the orchestral situation much the same way as highly creative chamber musicians do, with inspired chance-taking interpretations of their parts. This, for me, means that he recognized where his music came from and called upon musicians to use their more universal emotions and abilities to express it. Here again is an opportunity to have ITA Journal articles discussing how mass communication has opened up various communities' music for our enjoyment and education - and how these newly digested cultural experiences affect our present music and our interpretation of old music. In the United States, we play so much "old" European music. I guess this is partly because we are heavily populated with European descendants. But why the overemphasis on trying to remember what might have been natural for our forefathers? Certainly at this point in our individual and global development we have gone into other areas of tradition. Hasn't it struck us at this point that in the States we import the heavy controllers of our orchestral music scene and that Europe imports Americans as an almost exclusive mainstay of their jazz festivals? If we are all importing these big "mucky-mucks," shouldn't we be concentrating on learning what it is they're doing that makes their music more natural for them and universal for all of us ? To me, that is what real communication is about.
I guess my feeling is that I believe in the power and beauty of local traditions, but when these local traditions are used as "bastions of exclusivity" rather than overlapping extensions of the human experience, I get a little fidgety. We are entering the 21st century, and we have to remember that mass communication has been worldwide for truly a lifetime. Anyway, Furtwängler felt that conductors who rehearsed everything to its smallest detail ended up putting the piece "in alcohol." Those conductors pushed inspiration into the background out of their own insecurity. This attitude, he felt, wouldn't do justice to "living masterpieces." Furtwängler felt masterpieces were subject to a "law of improvisation" to a far higher degree than is commonly realized. He felt that when people lost the feeling for true form, and when they had forgotten that its origin was improvisation, they began to search for other things to save the "tottering edifice."
He spoke about Beethoven's revisions of the Leonore Overture. He felt that Beethoven revised the recapitulation of the overture because of his direct contact with the sonata allegro form and its origins being based on improvisation. Furtwängler felt that Beethoven didn't see one version as being better - or best - he saw it as just another way of doing it. Furtwängler's is a beautiful concept and it gives us freedom. After my graduation from the conservatory, I had a problem with some of the orchestral concepts I came into contact with. My phrasing changed to what was going on around me, and I felt many of the groups I played in in New York were playing pieces as if they were written in stone. Someone in an ITA Journal article or interview asked a famous orchestral trombonist, now retired, what would he have done differently if he could do it all over again. He said he would have taken things less seriously. I know what he means. You've got to be loose about things. Serious about your playing, yes, but also more playful, perhaps with phrasing or attitude.
Yeo: But we're talking about a system. You've got a guy who comes to your studio and says he wants to work on an orchestral excerpt for such and such an audition. He knows that he's going to be judged against the standard of the judges. So he'll say, "Mr. Taylor, teach me the mainstream approach," and you're going to say...
Taylor: I'm not sure I know it....whatever mainstream means....
Yeo: Then you might say to him, "Okay, you tell me the mainstream approach." What I'm saying is that all things being equal, if all guys in the audition have great time, intonation and sound, how are they going to pick one person over another?
Taylor: I don't think that at this point they can anymore. Eighty to 120 players show up to an audition.
Yeo: But I talk to students about this "X" factor. How is anyone going to pick you, how will you distinguish yourself assuming everyone else is going to be great?
Taylor: You have to bring personality to it. Something. You can't just play everything like it's written in stone. I would teach a player that when you make something your own, based on an educated and practically experienced viewpoint, it becomes truly special and noticed. Through the teacher-friend/student relationship I would show this person that if the excerpt interpretation really "is" what he or she is, it is felt by the hardened professional and the general public alike. For years you and I went to schools that had an orchestral repertoire class and every member of the faculty was an orchestral player. Now it's changing. There are repertoire classes, but also brass quintets, ensembles, jazz groups - it's wonderful. It's getting so you can't just be the best in the orchestral repertoire class, get into the orchestra, and go back and teach excerpts. You can't do it. It's not right. One of the things these varied activities can help us learn is that there has to be more freedom of phrasing in sections.
You have to follow a lead player, there's no question about it, but there's room within that. We must all listen to the constant changes in phrasing going on all around us. These different chamber and improvisatory groups can teach us that there is life after excerpts. I think we tend to put too much importance on new and newer instruments, bigger sounds and rating technique. Our openness in schooling is helping to break down these barriers. The bottom line to me is the phrase. Many music teachers should have their students reading books outside of music. Students should get out of being trapped into doing only "musical" things, and ignoring the rest of the world. When I was in school, the most depressing thing was to see how many students were ruined by teachers. Teachers tried to change them to make them carbon copies of themselves. This just isn't nice. When you try to duplicate something that's been done in the past without adding to it or realizing that no matter what you do there's going to be something new put on it, you're holding yourself back.
Yeo: So now we have seen a part of David Taylor. You've made these two records (DAVID TAYLOR-BASS TROMBONE, THE PUGH-TAYLOR PROJECT), a few more are awaiting release, you've been a sideman on countless other records, you've given several important New York recitals in Carnegie Hall and other venues, performed solos with orchestras and chamber music groups, you've commissioned many significant pieces for the bass trombone and you teach at the Manhattan School of Music. What's next? Where do you go from here?
Taylor: I'm starting to compose my own music. One piece I wrote was played in Europe. I did that with Ray Anderson and Annie Whitehead; Albert Mangelsdorff became ill, he was supposed to perform with us in a group called "The New World Trombone Quartet." When he couldnÍt play with us and we had to consolidate the music for trio, Ray renamed the group The "Small" World Trombone Quartet. Jim Pugh and I are thinking of recording and making another album and I will have a composition of mine on that.
Yeo: What do you want to do that you haven't done?
Taylor: I have this fantasy, probably just a daydream, that I'd like to go back for my doctorate in aesthetics and philosophy. I would like to study how and why Louis Armstrong redefined the art of being a soloist. I would like to explore how Debussy developed his compositional style and helped the romantic style move on. There's a writer of letters, Maeterlinck, who wrote Pelléas and Melisande. He had a great effect on Debussy and a great effect on Schoenberg. Schoenberg and Debussy were totally different mentalities, trying to forge new ground at the same time. They were both heavily influenced by Maeterlinck. What was it that Schoenberg was thinking that made him avoid going the path of Debussy and the impressionists? How did Duke Ellington develop into a great composer with the ability to let his personnel direct the colors of his palette? How did Miles Davis make the transition from his "bop" period to his "cool" period of playing? What were the difficulties he faced in leaving behind his success to take the chance? What was it in Ives that enabled him to develop his "American Primitive" style? What was it in a guy like [Jackson] Pollock who didn't necessarily draw well but developed great painting? Or the poet John Milton who was blind, and perhaps because of this problem, changed the style of English literature?
How do the pop culture artists take clichés and make them their own and sound fresh to their public? Schoenberg did not study composition in a school environment. He was uneducated in that way. He started out as a painter. What enables these people to do what they do? And how does that effect us? That's the area that I'm beginning to get interested in. It's that spark, that adjustment, that drive, that "provocation" - uh oh, there's that word again - that makes people think. I tend to be going in that direction and I'm tending to want to teach more. I'm totally knocked out being involved at the Manhattan School of Music. I'm finding out that the students really get something out of it and I love it. I'm going to finish the record of three of my "Suites," I'll just call the record Suites. Then I'm going to move on to some other stuff, some trios, also a composition that Charles Wuorinen did for me with bass trombone, tuba and string bass. I've already recorded an album with Hovhaness' Symphony No. 34, Opus 310 for Bass Trombone and Strings with Gerard Schwarz and the New York Chamber Symphony, but I won't release it until my next two records have had a chance to sink in.
So that's where I'm going now. What's next? I'm always looking for the "what's next." It doesn't matter what area it is, I love playing the trombone, and I do that every morning and afternoon and night, so whatever other area of "what's next" there is, it will come out and in some way utilize the trombone. But next week, you could ask me the same question and you might get a different answer.
Yeo: When is the next Pugh-Taylor project coming out?
Taylor: Soon, we hope. The first record keeps getting critical acclaim. For several years now, Natural Sound has named it one of the 10-15 best CDs on the market sonically. We've sold more than 15,000 copies of it.
Yeo: Tell me about the mute you use on Passion Flower.
Taylor: It's just a harmon mute without the pin in it. I also made a buzzer mute on Creature Memory with all sorts of things in it.
Yeo: Let's go back for a minute because we haven't talked about Davis Shuman, your teacher at Juilliard. I'd like to have you, one of his pupils, fill in some of the gaps of misunderstanding about his influence not just on you, but on the whole trombone and musical scene.
Taylor: When I was at Juilliard, he had only a handful of students. If he was misunderstood, it was because he wanted to choose his own path, and because of his sense of freedom. This man would be playing recitals in New York and everybody would come. He realized the importance of commissioning music, not only for the future of the instrument, but because playing music being written during oneÍs lifetime is what the natural, living, cultural, real-life mentality is all about - unless you want to be a safe, museum-like sofa covered with plastic personality. This is not a quote, it's my interpretation of a reason he might have done this commissioning. I know that's why I do it. He would speak with me about his relationship with Bloch, Milhaud and meeting Hindemith after his ground-breaking recital in New York. He also did a lot of transcribing, and transcribing hasnÍt always been as accepted as it is today. There have always been periods when it was looked upon as not really being the thing to do.
When I would be at his house (we both lived in Brooklyn), I'd see letters from all over the world from musicians and students telling him how much they loved what he was doing, thanking him, asking questions, etc. What I also remember is riding to some gigs with him, driving around, just talking and grooving. He was always excited about music. I was accepted to both Manhattan and Juilliard, but I went to Juilliard because Davis was there. Think how lucky I was - I would go see my teacher playing in the "private sector" - making music. Is it too obvious to remind our young readers that in art, perhaps more than in any other field, one should choose one's school based on who one wants to study with, and not by the name of the institution?
Yeo: What do you see when you look back on that time?
Taylor: Here's the most obvious thing. A lot of the mainstream trombone scene couldn't see it when it happened. Davis Shuman did all of this stuff - the recitals, the records, the commissions - because he loved to do it, and he did it because it made his life more happy and fulfilled. He was doing his thing - orchestral work, solo appearances, making records - he was teaching. I think people were having a hard time with him because he was such an individual. I don't think his activities meant to provoke; he made his music naturally and folks reacted. But I think that the most basic thing we should see is, "Wow!," he was there doing it because he loved it. He was living a musical life and not as a hermit. He has a wonderful family - wife, Shirley, a daughter, Nina, who conducts on the West Coast and a son, Mark, who is a very active cellist in New York.
Yeo: So there seems to be a little of him in you in that way.
Taylor: Well, I hope so. We took very different approaches because we lived in different times. One major similarity between us is my need for family life. I have a wonderful wife, Ronnie, who always encouraged me to play my music and practice. At one major slow period, she insisted that I stay home and practice while she went to work. I also have a son and daughter, Scott and Jessica, who are great kids. Davis began playing trombone much earlier than I did. I remember his relaying a story to me that for his first job, he had to borrow a pair of long pants from someone - he wore knickers or shorts at the time. So you know he started playing at quite a young age.
I'm not sure, but I think his background was basically a classical one, whereas mine was coming from the radio and TV, you know, jazz, classical, R & B, movie music and rock and roll. He was a great admirer of Tommy Dorsey. I can only imagine that besides his love of Tommy Dorsey's playing, there must also have been the admiration of the fact that he was able to reach the public. Davis must have been listening to everything because he was really open. Davis Shuman's greatest thing is that he was living a cultural life. He loved to play. He'd invent things. That angular trombone, I mean it's really a practical horn. But it's not like people think it was. Your arm didn't go sideways with it. When we play our regular trombones, our arm actually crosses our chest to the left to go slightly in front of our body at an angle of 10 to 15 degrees. The angular trombone is designed so that the arm goes out straight. So the angular trombone is really a non-angular trombone. The trombones we play are really the angular trombones. It's really a fantastic idea. I owned one and played it before I switched to bass trombone.
I remember that when I was in the process of making the switch from tenor to bass, I came flying into his studio once with both instruments in their cases. I tripped over them somehow. Davis looked at the student who was still having his lesson at the time when I literally barreled into the room and said to him, "That's why I like him - he does things the hard way." I always remember that statement with pride, because I know Davis did things the hard way. And when things aren't going quite the way I want them to, I think of Davis' admiration of not taking the easy way out. I'm sorry, though, that I couldn't have afforded to hold on to that angular trombone at the time and still have it now.
Yeo: Shuman's angular trombone makes perfect sense. In fact when I play, I compensate for the typically "unnatural" trombone posture by sitting slightly sideways to the left, and turning my head slightly to the right away from my body. But I never thought about it in terms of Shuman's trombone. It just made sense to sit that way. But I've been using his idea all along without even knowing it. Too bad we just didn't get it at the time.
Taylor: We need to remember Davis Shuman; he was living life for the moment with everyday problems like our own. He was a real person.
Yeo: He was doing the recitals.
Taylor: He was doing the recitals at a time when a trombone recital was unheard of in the private sector.
Yeo: We talked about the glut of trombone players, and not just, as you said before, "Guys that don't take their muddy shoes off..." Good players. Some are working, most aren't. They want orchestral careers, or chamber music careers, or even solo careers. What do you say to a young player who reads this interview who likes to play the trombone and wants to do something with it? What do you tell him about what's out there based on your experience, your success? You came to your place in the music scene through a very unconventional method. You didn't run around and take all the bass trombone auditions for every orchestra.
Taylor: If you really want to be a musician, you already are one and you will do it. Here, I'll give you an example. I was recently a guest artist with the Saturday Brass Quintet - they just won the Naumberg Award in chamber music - they are really a fine up-and-coming group. We played the Dahl Music For Brass Instruments. The group was upset over their performance and I detected that perhaps they were doubting themselves. I got down on them for that. It doesn't matter if your colleagues perceive you as being great or bad. It doesn't matter if you make a thousand mistakes or your phrasing is backwards because if you are honest and you really want to be a musician and you persevere, then you are a musician. And if you love what you're doing, then it doesn't matter how you're perceived. Of course there's a practical side to that, but you can't let your enthusiasm and love for music be limited by the attitudes of others.
Yeo: If you don't want to be an orchestral player or you don't want to be a jazz musician, it may seem like there's no place for you. But there's a place for David Taylor.
Taylor: Well, you have to go to a place that will support you, or go to a place where you can develop variety. New York City was the perfect setting for me to do that. The opportunities were here. But here it is again - if you really want to be a musician, you already are one. It's a simple as that. When I went to Juilliard, I was low man on the totem pole. I couldn't get into the orchestra, I couldn't get into the second orchestra, the repertory orchestra. I couldn't even get into theory class - I was in a rudimentary theory class. When they auditioned me for my my piano entrance exam, they had to tell me that middle "c" was between the S and T in "Steinway." So what I did was play in four or five community orchestras. I didn't take no for an answer. I practiced like crazy and the next thing I knew, I was playing with Stokowski's orchestra. I went to all the big band rehearsal bands and played in several of them. Before I knew it I was playing in Chuck Israel's band, sitting next to Bill Watrous, Garnett Brown and Wayne Andre. If you really want to be a musician, you are a musician already.
If you can't draw like Rembrandt drew or don't even have the desire to, you can be like Jackson Pollock, find a way around it. Like with me, I don't necessarily play on blues changes, I don't necessarily play in the bebop style, but I improvise a lot and on a lot of recordings. I might not be - or may not want to be - the most versatile or fluent in the playing or the utilizing of the history of jazz and know every particular style, but when I started improvising, I was around 40 and it was do or die. So I did. If you really want to do it, you do it. But then you have to come to terms with people judging you. And you have to have the courage to go beyond that. You must always try to improve. There's a great quote of Edgard Varese hanging on my wall and it says, and I'm paraphrasing, that a work of art that's come out of your imagination is only an approximation of the work of art that you've envisioned. Progress is trying to get closer to that vision of the work of art you imagined so you will continue to improve. I really believe thatÍs the key. You have to do that. You have to continue to search and improve. You have to have the courage to look at yourself and remember, "To thine own self be true."
Yeo: You've gone through phases. And in all phases you've done all things. But there have been times when you've concentrated in particular on one thing. There was a big commissioning time for you, then a big recital time, now it's a teaching time, coming up is the beginning of your head/philosophy/aesthetics time.
Taylor: I never really thought of those periods per se, but that's right, there have been periods of specific activity. You know, though, through all of that, there has been a common thread. I always practiced my "bop-ba-ba-bops." So I always maintained the core of how I approach my instrument no matter what the particular focus may be because I love my instrument. That's why Shuman took me on as a student, you know. He said he would teach me how to play because in my sound, he heard that I loved the instrument. And I try to have that love show in everything that I do.
This interview was conducted on February 7, March 15 and October 19, 1990 and January 30, 1991 in New York City. ©1990 by Douglas Yeo and David Taylor. All rights reserved.
All rights reserved.