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Martin Taylor: Embodying the Spirit of Django

By Published: June 9, 2010
AAJ: Going back to something you said earlier, about how you recorded a Pat Metheny piece because you thought that Django would have been a fan of his music—one of the things that stands out on Last Train to Hautville (The Guitar Label, 2010) is the diversity of musical genres that come together within the context of the gypsy jazz aura that surrounds the album. Did you bring these other genres into the fold consciously, or is that just how things worked out when the light went on in the studio?

MT: It just felt very natural to do it that way. When I was writing the music, I came up with the melodies first, and then I found that some of them worked better with different grooves, like a bossa nova, as opposed to the four-to- the-bar, Django-style rhythms. I think that these newer kind of grooves are something that Django would have embraced, had he lived in our era. Even though I bring in those Gypsy-Django inflections to my music, I don't actually play in that strict, Gypsy-Jazz style of improvisation.

I'm coming from more of a Bebop background, which is the style that Django was moving towards near the end of his life. So my improvisations are more Bebop- oriented than that arpeggio-based playing that most of the Django-style players use. I try and bring those Django-based inflections into my playing, but I'm never really trying to imitate his lines or note choices in my solos.

AAJ: Since you've got a busy schedule of solo concerts and have recently launched an online teaching website, do you have any plans to take the Spirit of Django out on the road, or is that even possible with your current schedule?

MT: We're not touring, as such. What we're doing is playing summer festivals, mostly in the U.K. and around continental Europe. Everyone in the band is really busy as well, so it's hard to get our schedules all lined up so we can go out on the road. We usually do about four or five days at the most in a row, but it'll probably be mostly one-off dates, that sort of thing.

As well, Jack Emblow the accordion player is 80 years old. He's retired, and I kind of dragged him out of retirement for these gigs, but he's really into gardening and doesn't like to be away from his garden very much, so it's hard to get him on the road. [Laughs] We're just being very selective with the gigs that we do— mostly festival dates. The music is very festive in nature, very summery music. It's music that seems to lift people's spirits and I think it goes well with an outdoor, summer festival atmosphere, so those are the gigs we're focusing on right now.

AAJ: In 2010, you launched the Martin Taylor Guitar Academy, which is an online subscription based teaching website. The site has been going strong since its launch, including signing up players from 15 countries in the site's first week on the web. With all that you're doing with your publications, touring, recording and teaching clinics, why did you feel that 2010 was the right time to get into the online teaching world with the new site?

MT: Well, I think really it was the technology—the fact that it's now possible to do this and to have a high level of interaction with the students. It's not a DVD or online video that the students just watch; it's much more interactive than that. There is a curriculum that the students work through, and the students can submit videos of themselves playing that are posted on the site for everyone to see. Then I reply to those videos, which also go up on the site alongside the students' videos.

Even though there's an underlying curriculum, when the students submit video responses we go into more depth on certain topics, which means that the site is always growing, it's not static. People can also ask questions, and I can address specific details like that—something that I couldn't do with a DVD or book or other static mediums.

AAJ: Besides doing one-off clinics, have you ever taught on a regular basis like this before?

MT: I've never really taught before, but a couple of years ago I started doing some mentoring sessions with more advanced students that found themselves in a rut and needed a bit of a push with their playing. It ended up being more psychology than teaching. I ended up fixing their heads more than their playing. [Laughs.]

When I started teaching, I had to go back and really break down what it is I do as a player, which is something I'd never really thought about. After dissecting my playing, I came up with a method of how I play, and am now trying to convey that method to the students on the site.

AAJ: How did coming up with that method affect your teaching approach?

MT: Well, I found that a lot of students learn the guitar based around chords shapes and grips—that sort of thing. But when they try to expand their playing beyond that sort of beginner level, they find that they're stuck in these shapes and don't know where to go from there. What I've found is that if I can get them to stop thinking like a guitarist, and start thinking like a musician, then I can help guide them to the next level in their playing.

Don't think of the shapes as being related to the chord, and dictating their note choices on that chord, let's look at how the chord is built instead. Why is it called a C7? If they can play a C7 in one position, can they do it in another? What inversions do they know for that chord or for any chord? I really try and break things down to their basic elements in these lessons.

If we can break things down and start to understand how harmony works, how notes relate to each other, then we can really make progress. So far, I've had quite a few successful patients, so it seems to be working. [Laughs.] I've even had guitarists come to me that were thinking about giving up, about stopping playing, and I would give them something very simple—just a different view on the material they already knew, and it's amazing how much something so small can help a player get out of a rut sometimes.

I feel that I've gotten to a point in my life that I really want to give back, and this method is the perfect way to do it. I've had students come to me in person for an hour-long lesson, but with the website they can get so much more out of it— definitely more then we can cram into one hour.

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