A look inside The Jazz Gallery

Photo by Hilary McHone

The cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum has been heralded as “one of his generation’s top avant-garde figures” (The New York Times). Described by The Boston Phoenix as “a young brass master and compelling composer,” Time Out Chicago proclaims him to be “one of the most exciting figures in jazz’s new power generation.”

Taylor was born in Baltimore, MD, and raised in Boston, MA. He studied with Bill Lowe at Northeastern University while auditing classes there during high school, and attended Weslyan University, where he began his lengthy and ongoing association with Anthony Braxton. His collaboration with Braxton has resulted in countless performances and over twenty recordings ranging from a duo setting to a full orchestra. Taylor currently leads his own sextet and the chamber ensemble SpiderMonkey Strings, co-leads Positive Catastrophe (with Abraham Gomez-Delgado), and is a collaborator in several collectively-led groups. His performance and recording credits include the likes of  Cecil Taylor, Bill Dixon, Anthony Braxton, Wadada Leo Smith, Tomas Fujiwara, and Tyshawn Sorey, among numerous others.

Taylor will bring his sextet to our stage on Saturday as a part of our collaboration with the Festival of New Trumpet Music (FONT) this week. The group includes the alto saxophonist Jim Hobbs, the guitarist Mary Halvorson, the bassist Ken Filiano, the drummers Chad Taylor and Tomas Fujiwara, and his old teacher, the bass trombonist/tubist Bill Lowe.

Each of our featured FONT performers took the time to answer a set of questions from our House Manager and resident trumpeter, Russell Moore. Taylor speaks:



How does your relationship to the trumpet inform your approach to composition?
Actually, I mainly play the cornet, the trumpet’s forgotten sibling in the brass family. It’s a subtle difference in timbre and articulation, but a real one. Nonetheless, it has the same basic technique, register, and role in the ensemble as the trumpet, and they look pretty similar (though the cornet is a little smaller and more graceful, in my biased opinion), so obviously they usually get lumped together.
Anyway, whether trumpet or cornet, the instrument is a notoriously unreliable ally, as a player you’ve got to embrace the uncertainty. All you’ve got is your air, your lips, and three valves to try and make an infinity of notes and tones and sounds. The trumpet players that move me the most (whether heroes like Lee Morgan, Miles Davis, and Don Cherry, or contemporaries like Nate Wooley, Cuong Vu, and Amir ElSaffar) let it all hang out, they take risks and inevitably sometimes they miss or crack a note, but that sense of adventure is always in their playing. I try to capture that aesthetic as a player, but also as a composer. I want to create work where my musicians can take similar risks in navigating the structure of the music. As a cornet player, as a composer, and as a listener, I much prefer an adventurous failure that reveals real artistic ambition and human vulnerability, over a safe, competent, but boring success.
How do the physical demands of your instrument affect your daily life?
When he was in his 80s, Bill Dixon once told me “I learn something new about the trumpet every day.” Any musical instrument is a lifelong commitment, but brass instruments (as mentioned above) demand a special kind of dedication. Just to maintain one’s chops takes an hour or two of rudiments and exercises each day, and one can always improve on the instrument, there are always new technical hurdles to jump and concepts to explore. Of course, there are times I wish I could run away from it and hide. But when I’m at my most positive, the daily relationship to the cornet takes on a kind of meditative quality; the time becomes a chance to let go all the other troubles of life and business, and reconnect with my body and my horn.
Have you been mentored by trumpet players? If so, tell us about your relationship to them and what you learned.
My very first musical mentor wasn’t a trumpet or cornet player, but he dealt with weightier brass: bass trombonist and tubaist Bill Lowe. We’ve been working together for over twenty years now, and I’m still learning from him; these days he also does me the honor of playing in my sextet.
I got the chance to work closely with Bill Dixon on several projects before his death. He was a true philosopher of sound. His approach to the instrument, to composing, to bandleading, inform my musical decisions every day.
More recently, I’ve gotten the chance to spend some quality time with guys like Wadada Leo Smith, Bobby Bradford, and Baikida Carroll. They are some of my heroes on the instrument, and the fact that guys of their generations, after fifty years of music-making, are still so creative is deeply inspiring to me.
Name some “desert island” picks of recordings featuring the trumpet.
I’ll try to avoid the usual list of Armstrong, Dizzy, Miles, Brownie, etc (all of whom I love of course), and pick some less-heralded classics I’d want to spend some more time with. (Though I’d also want some Ellington featuring all his great trumpet and cornet players: Bubber Miley, Rex Stewart, Cootie Williams, Ray Nance, Clark Terry, et al.)
Rex Stewart’s 1939 small group recordings with Django Reinhart.
Henry ‘Red’ Allen – World on a String
Thad Jones – The Magnificent Thad Jones
Don Ellis – How Time Passes
Don Cherry – Complete Communion
Mongezi Feza – Music for Xaba
Lester Bowie – The 5th Power
Sonny Simmons – Manhattan Egos (featuring Barbara Donald on trumpet)
Julius Hemphill – Flat Out Jump Suite (featuring Olu Dara on cornet)
David Murray – Death of a Sideman (featuring Bobby Bradford on cornet and compositions)
If I’m alone on the island, my three favorite solo trumpet recordings for inspiration:
Bill Dixon – Odyssey
Wadada Leo Smith – Kabell Years
Baikida Carroll – The Spoken Word