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Rusty Taylor: Jazz + Country = Southern Comfort

Guy Zinger By

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When I sing, I can almost see where the space lies and when some of the other notes can go, and I can hear it in my inner ear.
Rusty Allen Taylor is an engaging example of a new a new country-jazz, male vocalist. With his touch of country zing, he creates a mix of sweetness and mellowness, on the one hand, and speckles it with dirt, on the other. This bittersweet mix is a parallel to his life and generates a truly unique sound.

After 16 years of what Rusty describes as "incarceration in the corporate world," he has made his hobbies into his full-time occupation: singing and writing. Rusty has a special gift: a unique ability to express himself through music and the written word. Rusty sees his life since the life-changing experience he had 25 years ago as an exciting journey, at times musical and at times poetical.

All About Jazz: Could you tell us a bit about where you come from? Are you self taught? How did you get into singing?

Rusty Taylor: I'll start from the beginning. I was born in Germany in 1964. My dad was in the U.S. Air Force, spending the Vietnam War time stationed in Europe. He had music from every kind of genre imaginable. So we used to hear music all the time. I guess from a young age, I was introduced to a lot of types of music, and dug music ever since. Then opportunities became available and led me down the road of recording in a studio a couple of years ago, finding my way around music in this way.

I sang all of my life. At a certain point, I became employed as a computer programmer, and through that I met a guy named Jeff Smith, who is a wonderful bassist. In fact, he plays bass on my album. He got me into jazz music even more; I've been listening to jazz all my life, but I didn't understand the structure. He [Jeff Smith] taught me.

AAJ: And that was in 1992, right?

RT: Yes sir. That's also when I joined the Columbus Jazz Society, promoting jazz music. I began taking part in their jam sessions, singing with them, beginning to develop my repertoire, singing when I can, working when I have to—until I left my job in 2008 and moved more quickly forward in my musical endeavors.

AAJ: So up until that time, it was more of a hobby to you? Did you have any kind of formal training?

RT: That's correct. When I worked, I waited to come home to have fun with music, and when I stopped programming, I had all the time in the world to do music. I never had any formal musical training, but I listened actively to music all of my life. Now I can say I understand music, but I don't know how I understand it, if that makes any sense.

AAJ: Some of the best vocalists just sang from their heart and didn't seem to apply any conscious cognitive function—it just flew out of them. Let's try to dig deeper; do you have a certain vision when you sing or certain singers that influence you or inspire you?

RT: I grew up listening to everything from Otis Redding to Petula Clark, The Four Seasons, Dean Martin—all that kind of stuff. I remember seeing a movie with Dean Martin and Bing Crosby, and he sang "Moonlight Becomes You," and I thought to myself, "Man, I'm going to do that." I'm a really big fan of Ella Fitzgerald, although my voice is a little bit deeper. She's the bomb, for me. The way she scats really turns me on. I like pop music too. I am a big fan of Neil Diamond.

AAJ: Let's narrow it down to the last five years, to your jazz influences: male vocalists that really inspire you.

RT: I really went back into the traditional classic jazz. I'm a big fan of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie and those cats from the bebop era. I really dig that stuff. I'm trying to scat in that kind of manner at this point in my life. But I think my best genre is ballads. I'm trying to incorporate all that stuff in my singing. And I am having fun with it all, and the folks that hear it kind of dig it. I really love Johnny Hartman; I could listen to the ballads album by him and Coltrane [John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman (Impulse!, 1963)] every day for the rest of my life.

AAJ: Do you have a certain kind of vision when you're singing? What are you trying to accomplish? Are you a stylist or an improviser?

RT: When I am singing, I'm just listening to what's going on around me. It's mostly listening, with me. I'd like to say that I am progressing towards being both a stylist and an improviser. I am working very hard on my scatting, and my examples for that are Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Torme and Al Jarreau. So, I begin [the head] with my own style, then when repeating, I'd try to make some of the crazy stuff while scatting, and then come back to my own voice at the end. I like both.

AAJ: You are self taught. It would be interesting to hear how you go about improvising and phrasing. Do you have a certain technique or do you just follow whatever comes to mind? Do you think about phrasing before you sing?

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