Spirit of Django
Martin Taylor's Spirit of Django
Jazz guitarist Martin Taylor, who will perform at benefit concerts in Hong Kong this week, is best known for his dazzling unaccompanied solo performances but some of his best playing has been inspired by interaction with other musicians.
He formed Spirit of Django in 1994 after working on a television commercial for the Renault Clio which aired in Britain. The advertising agency asked him to play Robert Palmer's Johnny and Mary in the style of Django Reinhardt, and Taylor replied that he would rather play it 'in the spirit of Django'.
The resulting interpretation certainly recalled Django's sound but Taylor had already worked out his own way of integrating elements of his great predecessor's style with his own.
The advertisement brought Taylor's music to the attention of a wider public, and he formed an all acoustic band to develop the style further, recruiting bassist Alec Dankworth, saxophonist Dave O'Higgins, accordionist Jack Emblow, second guitarist John Goldie, and his son James on snare drum.
Spirit of Django's debut album comprised a highly effective mixture of tunes which Reinhardt composed or was strongly associated with, Taylor originals, and contemporary material given a Djangoesque twist.
Not surprisingly Taylor chose to include the interpretation of Johnny and Mary which had by then become hugely popular, but less predictably he also picked a Pat Metheny composition, James from 1982's Offramp, and reworked it as a gypsy jazz number.
From Reinhardt's Quintette Du Hot Club de France repertoire he selected Minor Swing, Night and Day, Swing 42, Lady Be Good, Honeysuckle Rose, Django's Dream and the guitarist's best known composition, Nuages, which receives a particularly effective slow interpretation.
The two Taylor originals both have strong Django associations. Chez Fernand is named after a caf? in Samois Sur Seine where Reinhardt lived for the last couple of years of his life, and was one of his favourite haunts. Taylor says he was sitting in Chez Fernand one day while staying in the town for the annual Django Reinhardt festival, and the tune came to him.
Double Top derives its title from an incident Taylor knew about during the late 1940s when Grappelli was living in Devon and he and Django, who was visiting him, dropped into the local pub.
'Django had a natural aptitude for games but hadn't seen darts before. He watched some locals playing and when one of the players drew his darts from the board, Django took a knife from his pocket and threw it straight into the double twenty,' Taylor recalls.
'The locals were terrified by this wild gypsy character throwing knives around, but Django had simply worked out what was needed to win the match.
'I'm hopeless at naming tunes and I was telling somebody this story when I suddenly thought, 'that'll do.''
Taylor is not the only soloist who excels on the album. Emblow's accordion gives the music much of its Gallic gypsy character, and O'Higgins plays some fine solos on both soprano and tenor saxophone.
Spirit of Django went on to make the albums Years Apart in 1996, and Gypsy, recorded live in Britain in 1997, before Taylor put the group on hold to concentrate on other projects. He and Emblow recently reformed a version of the ensemble which now features Alan Barnes on clarinet and saxophones and his daughter-in-law, Alison Burns, as a vocalist. A new album, Last Train to Hauteville, is to be released in May and preview tracks can be heard on Taylor's website (martintaylor.com).