Friday, January 29, 2010

Taylor Mesple

Taylor Mesple

Taylor Mesple is a true idealist when it comes to music. He has always resisted the boundaries and categories that keep music safe and predictable, and has always endeavored to bring something magical to life through music. Taylor is a believer in the crucial difference between art and entertainment, and has always resonated with the former, not the latter. Taylor's musical journey continues to take him alongside some of the greatest of greats in the musical world... through changes and evolutions... but never outside the purpose of moving people on an intangible level.

It's almost as if gravity itself has compelled Taylor toward meeting groundbreaking musicians like Michael Hedges, Bruce Hornsby, Eric Johnson, Russell Ferrante, James Taylor, Peter Mayer, Howard Levy, Abe Laboriel Jr., Tim Pierce, Patrick Leonard, Don Grusin, Mel Brown, Nelson Rangell, The Indigo Girls, Keb Mo, Take 6, Steve Amedee, Ray Charles and Shawn Colvin. Through performing, recording, and simply bumping into fellow musicians, Taylor has found himself rubbing shoulders with nearly every musical hero he's ever had. He's performed or recorded with many of them... and has had the pleasure of being mentored by several. Russell Ferrante called Taylor "one of my favorite artists" and Bruce Hornsby invited Taylor onstage the day they met for "the best seat in the house", during his show in which Taylor's band opened. For Taylor, this is the ultimate "completion of the circle", to be able to interact and collaborate with the very people that inspired him to make music his craft and trade at such an early age.

Taylor became a full time studio musician and performer at age 13, so he's had nearly 20 years to make these connections and collaborations happen. By now, Taylor has recorded on over 120 CD's for other artists, but has only released 2 full length CD's and 2 EP's of his own music. This is because his own music takes a long, thoughtful baking in the oven of his creative mind, sometimes 4 or more years for a single recording. "Songs For Autumn" was a collection of unrecorded songs from over a decade prior.

Though never reaching a vast audience thus far, Taylor's thoughtful music has made a big impact on niche markets and has developed small "cult" followings in the US and abroad. Taylor has stuck true to his guns as an artist, and has resisted tempting offers to mold his music into easy categories and copycat fad formulas.

Taylor has long experimented with blurring the fine line between vocal and instrumental music. Many of his early instrumental compositions, especially those for the band Wind Machine, featured "wordless vocal melodies" along the lines of the Pat Metheny Group or Bobby McFerrin, that he sang. He was asked to do similar melodic singing for jazz artists such as Fahrenheit Records artist Mark Sloniker as a result. The title track to Wind Machine's "Timeline" CD was Taylor's instrumental composition that featured Nelson Rangell playing the melody on soprano saxophone. Many years later, that song would become a vocal song with lyrics on the Victory Land CD called "Glory". Taylor still performs both versions as called for.

Overall, Taylor's artistry combines the melodic accessibility of great sophisticated Pop music with the all out "blowing" of heavy instrumental "chops" from every instrument in his band. He is usually working with players like Mel Brown, Darren Rahn, Peter Mayer, Howard Levy, Joe Gamble and others... players that not only can play a soulful, catchy melody with passion, but can also blow the doors down with virtuosity when called for. That unexpected shift into high gear can explode at any time, and it keeps the listener on the tips of their toes. Don't look for predictable endings and short, tidy radio songs most of the time... Taylor's music is generally long, epic songs that develop in a captivating and dramatic way.

Taylor has played high prestige live events such as the Conference on World Affairs with luminaries like Nelson Rangell and Don Grusin, and performed thousands of shows across the country, mostly jazz festivals. He recently played piano and sang backup vocals for James Taylor at a live radio show, which was a career highlight. But these days, Taylor is busy enough recording, producing, being a session player as a sideman and writing songs for others that he doesn't perform much. The pendulum could of course swing back the other direction in the future.

Taylor doesn't consider his vocal music "jazz"- though he considers his instrumental music to have a strong influence of contemporary jazz. His vocals are commonly classified as "Album Oriented Rock" or AOR, or in Europe it's usually called "Westcoast Pop". Taylor likes to blur the lines. He draws from the whole tapestry of his influences without boundaries.

His latest artistic venture in progress is a band called "3Moods", which is a vehicle for epic collages of such music, featuring (you guessed it) memorable vocal melodies, sophisticated chord changes and all out instrumental virtuosity. Taylor is available for a small number of performances each year... and he is selective about these artistically and logistically.

Among his list of milestone moments as a music listener, he lists (and recommends you listen too!):

1. Seeing the late Michael Hedges perform "All Along the Watchtower" and "Aerial Boundaries" live at the Boulder Folk and Bluegrass Festival. Taylor was only 9 years old. He still remembers his whole body lighting up like a Christmas Tree with goose bumps, and he couldn't explain why- the sheer power of the music overcame him. No other single event had a more profound effect on Taylor's lasting belief about the power of music. Taylor met Michael after the show and Michael signed the program for him. Synchronicity: Taylor would open a show for Michael many years later and ask Michael to sign the same piece of paper again. Click Here to Listen

2. Hearing "Owner of a Lonely Heart" on the radio. Taylor persuaded his dad and his uncle David to drive literally ALL OVER TOWN, going to every record store, to find one that had a 45rpm single of this song he could buy. Taylor was 9 years old. This probably fueled his lifelong desire to make sophisticated pop music. Synchronicity: Yes producer Trevor Horn would later be "sharing" the same guitar player while Taylor made his Victory Land CD with guitarist Tim Pierce out in Los Angeles. Tim would record with Taylor during the day, and Trevor at night, for the Coyote Ugly movie soundtrack, apparently. Click Here to Listen

3. Listening as his dad, guitarist Steve Mesple played Lyle Mays' solo to "James", on the Pat Metheny Group CD "Offramp" on a vinyl turntable, with the endorsement, "you have to hear this, Taylor!". Taylor was around 10 years old. This was the defining moment where he knew he would make piano his main instrument, instead of his current choices, alto saxophone and electric bass. Synchronicity: Taylor would later perform with the song's namesake, the songwriting legend James Taylor, and play this song for James during their soundcheck. Click Here to Listen

4. Hearing Kenny Kirkland's powerhouse piano solo to "when the world is running down, make the best of what's still around" from Sting's live CD "Bring on the Night" on the radio before it was released. Taylor was 12 at the time. He reportedly stalked record stores for months until it came out and he could buy a copy to learn the solo note for note. Click Here to Listen

5. Hearing Yellowjackets "Out of Town" on the radio while sitting in the cargo area (with groceries) of his parents' Jeep Cherokee. He was still 12. Synchronicity: Yellowjackets would eventually become arguably his biggest musical influence of any band, and Russell Ferrante would become his musical mentor. Click Here to Listen

6. Hearing Branford Marsalis play soprano saxophone on Sting's "Nothing Like the Sun" record. Taylor was 12. He was washing dishes at a Chinese restaurant, and HAD to have a soprano sax. He stuck with it for 6 years, and then lost the desire to continue (playing the saxophone, of course, he lost interest in washing dishes almost immediately). Taylor would spend literally hours every day, listening to Nothing Like The Sun over and over... mostly while sitting at his Apple IIE computer playing the text adventure game Wishbringer. Click Here to Listen

7. Hearing Bruce Hornsby's "Valley Road" from his "Scenes from the Southside" CD, and listening to it repetitiously while fishing and riding his bicycle with his brother Ethan. Taylor was 13 and beginning to get work as a piano player himself. Synchronicity: It would only be a couple of years before Bruce's influence would be heard profoundly in Taylor's own playing, and 5 years before sitting onstage with Bruce at a 5,000 seat sold out show. At this time in his life Taylor was practicing the piano about 8 hours per day, the same amount his younger brother was practicing various latin percussion instruments under the master tutoring of Gary Sosias. Click Here to Listen

8. Hearing Take 6 on a live TV show. It was like hearing piano chords being played by 6 people, working together. Taylor was 13. He would sit in his room and try to sing each and every part, especially the tricky inner harmonies. Synchronicity: Taylor got to play at the Birmingham City Stages Festival right before Take 6 years later, and even found their presentation of religious things to be appealing and thought provoking. Their rendition of the national anthem was literally bending the panes of glass on the skyscraper alongside the stage because of the bass notes... but no one was hurt. Click Here to Listen

9. Hearing "Greenhouse" by Yellowjackets. Something about this song cut Taylor to the core, opened up painful and soul searching questions about the purpose of life and music and love and existence- and also a deep desire to make a meaningful contribution to the world at large. Synchronicity: One thing that was born out of this awakening was a great "pen pal" friendship with Yellowjackets keyboard player Russell Ferrante, who is a great friend of Taylor's to this day. Taylor was 16 when Greenhouse was released. Click Here to Listen

10. Hearing "When The Sun Meets the Sky" by Eric Johnson. Having long been an "EJ" fan, Taylor was floored by the epic, panoramic beauty of this song, and the whole CD for that matter. Sonic perfection? Perhaps. Synchronicity: To his delight and shock, many years later, Eric would contact Taylor out of the blue and tell him he liked "Victory Land", Taylor's debut vocal CD. Taylor hopes to someday collaborate with Eric on a recording project in some capacity. Click Here to listen

11. Hearing Peter Mayer perform "Music Box" live in New Hampshire. "Music Box" is one of those stories that just pulls the scabs off and opens you up in ways that is beautiful and painful at the same time. It's a song of renewal, of coming back to life, of love. Hearing this song quickened Taylor to life in a fascinating way... making life a little more poignant ever since. Peter also brought back memories of seeing Michael Hedges when he approximated a Kalimba by perfect string muting technique, as an extended live intro to his song "The Last Island" during the same show. Synchronicity: Peter would later the same year play a fantastic guitar solo on Taylor's "Songs For Autumn" CD, reminiscent of the track Taylor first heard Peter play guitar on, drummer Dave Weckl's remake of Peter's song "In Common" from Dave's debut CD. Click Here to Listen

There are of course many other milestone moments that have become part of the soundtrack to Taylor's life, but these he hope you'll especially enjoy listening to and learning, whether you're a musician or simply a listener.

Taylor was born in California, grew up in Colorado, but now lives in the peace and quiet near Freeport, Maine, with his musician wife Rebecca and his young children Autumn, Jonah and Ivy. He has a recording studio nearby and a motorcycle in the garage. Taylor is on the board of directors for the Maine Songwriters Association, and is constantly working with artists he's producing CD's for. He enjoys poetry by Billy Collins and most other forms of art, cooking, frisbee, the ocean, being creative on his MacBook Pro, motorcycling along the Maine coast, target practice and other hobbies, but most of all being with his family.

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