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Taylor Haskins: Raising His (Trumpet) Voice

R.J. DeLuke By

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I've been into the idea of writing music for movies since I saw Star Wars (1978). I was obsessed with that music. I was just starting trumpet around that time. I was aware of the trumpets in the music. That was huge for me.
Taylor Haskins is forging more of a career in the jazz world, and it's based on his solid musicianship and flair on the trumpet: a good strong tone, good chops, and a wide array of influences, translating into him being at ease and formidable in many styles, including being plugged-in. In addition to stepping out more on his own as a solo player, he can be found, in recent years, with the likes of Richard Bona, Guillermo Klein, Jamie Baum, and the Dave Holland Big Band.

He's also forging a career in commercial music—jingles for major advertising campaigns and other forms of masking digital music for commercial projects—still a major part of how Haskins makes a living. The New Hampshire native has been on the scene as a performing musician since the late 1990s,but that part of his career has grown in the last few years and is now a major focus. He's finding his own place. His own voice.

On American Dream (Sunnyside Records, 2010), his third as a leader, Haskins delivers a series of tunes, relatively short for a jazz record, with only one over eight minutes and some in the two-to-three-minute range; it's refreshing, in a sense. They deal with today's society through the concepts of breakdown, destruction, and abandonment. They also touch on what he views as the ideal—something not likely to take place—and the power of the mind to remember things. Through it all, Haskins' trumpet weaves intelligently through the varying moods, including some electrified trumpet. Not surprising, from someone who counts Miles Davis as his main influence, especially electric Miles.

Notably, Haskins' blowing isn't muscle-flexing from a guy who studied classical music at the University of New Hampshire, and then relocated to New York City to study at the Manhattan School of Music. "I'm really trying to use the trumpet like a voice," says Haskins, who can also play keyboards, and plays melodica on the record. "The only difference is my body is making the sound. Everybody that plays an instrument really is trying to sing, I feel. It's kind of a substitute for the voice. To me that's a goal. Not to make it about the instrument itself, but to transcend the instrument. [To] Try and be singing all the time. Joe Lovano is a perfect example. He's just singing all the time. Music, music, music. Any number of players. He just pops into my head as one of my favorites."

Also, expressing himself through typical jazz notions isn't all that important to him. Certainly, he can, and does, do that. But, "I still don't really know if I'm fully a jazz musician." Haskins says. "I know that's basically what I do. Through the commercial work I've done, I've had the opportunity to explore a lot of different styles. Eventually, that's all going to seep in. I feel like jazz is just a part of that.

"Because it's my third record, it felt like cycles of threes or something," Haskins continues. "It was cathartic in some ways. The thing is, this project arose after I had finished a project that's coming out in December [2010; Recombination, on 19/8 Records]. That project is a forward-thinking, positive kind of project. It's an electro- acoustic thing. After I did it, I realized it wasn't a reflection of how I was feeling, but more like how I wanted to feel. Before I moved on, musically, I felt like I needed to do something [American Dream] to expunge the darkness hovering in there. All my mixed up feelings about what's going on in the country. All the different problems we had.

"I needed to do something to show that aspect of what's going on in my life," Haskins concludes."It started there. It's a really specific personal viewpoint. So I started stepping further and further back from that. I tried to get an overview of what America is and what this dream that they've been hanging in front of everybody's face like a carrot for 50 years or more. What that really represented and how that worked on people's minds. All the other ramifications of that action of holding something in front of people as an ideal that might never be reached, but everybody agrees it's a dream. A dream implies it's never going to happen. When I started ruminating about it that was the most glaring thing for me. How it's so obvious. They call it the American Dream. Dreams are dreams. When you sleep, that's another world. That dream doesn't cross over into reality in any correlating way. There's a kind of deception behind it. I wanted to expose that in the best way I could."

As for the short duration of some tunes, it was deliberate. "I have a fairly short attention span lately. That's the nature of our culture too. I really wanted to make specific emotional points with each song. You don't really need a lot of time to do that. You need a lot of time if you're expounding on an idea. Most jazz records are doing variations on a theme. Over and over. Which is great, but on this project I wanted to be concise."

"Invocation: American Dream" is an ethereal opening, where Haskins plays over a soft, but persistent rhythm. His sound dominates via a calm melodic line, underscored by Ben Monder's guitar. Brief, but elegant. "Theme from 'Dead Man,'" a Neil Young tune, finds Monder and Haskins playing twisting unison lines over a cinematic theme. "That movie, for me, embodies the same feeling I'm trying to get across with the record," says the trumpeter.

"Mustangs (Steve McQueen)" also seems like it could be for a movie theme; and, in fact, it was inspired by just that. Haskins says "it was musically based on the chase scene from the 1968 movie, Bullitt [The scene had the main character, played by McQueen, in a 1968 Ford Mustang GT 390 CID fastback]. I'm a huge Lalo Schifrin fan [Schfrin composed the movie score]. I love his film writing. That's a big aspiration of mine, a secret aspiration if you will, to be a film composer one day. I was studying the scene and it stayed in my mind. The finality of it. I was trying to capture that in a really abstract way. As I was doing it, I realized the reason the scene was so successful in the movie is it encapsulated Steve McQueen's psyche at that moment. A moment of extreme tension and sustaining that tension for a certain period of time. I liked to explore that feeling."

"Black Boxes" contains influences of electric Davis. It starts out simply, with a plaintiff, muted trumpet, but as the music gets more spacey and intense, Monder's guitar comes in like a lion. Like a rock music lion, with some distortion and a hard edge. Haskins enters blaring, but with a tone that's different than most electrified trumpets; his lines piercing but almost orchestral. ("I'm playing through a distortion pedal and a phaser," he notes.)
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