A lot is happening for Joani Taylor right now. Vibrant and in high spirits, the Vancouver-based vocalist will hold a CD release party with her band on September 20 at The Cellar Jazz Club and between sets, if all goes well, will screen her new video with the young emcee Jay Kin in a rap version of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five.”
“I’ve been singing all my life,” she notes. “I was born in Vancouver. My dad was a singer and my brother is a singer and a drummer and I’ve been singing everything from jazz to funk to R&B – I even teach a little hip-hop and country – so I’m just all over the map. But my love has always been with jazz and I think that’s because of the depth of emotion I use when I sing and it allows me to really express myself in the fullest way. I’ve been working with my dear old friend Bob Murphy and my other friends.” Joani is joined on her new album by Ross Taggart on tenor, co-producer Miles Foxx Hill, Buff Allen, Bernie Arai, Doug Stephenson, Brad Turner and Jack Duncan. Murphy, who serves as musical director, plays piano and organ. “There’re so many great players here. That’s the thing. I’d like to work with everybody. I really would!”
From the age of 16 to 21, Taylor sang at Isy’s Supper Club, where she opened for Stevie Wonder, Little Richard and Jimmy Smith. “I didn’t get to open for Sarah Vaughan because they didn’t have a female singer open for a female singer, but I sat with her every night. All the people I’ve met through years, like Cannonball Adderley and Joe Zawinul and all those people, they were friends. They weren’t people that I thought of as building a career, of using in any way. Not that that’s a bad thing, to use and take advantage of your friends,” she laughs. “That’s what friends are for. I mean we like to help each other. I do. But I never thought of asking anybody to help me. The thrill of opening for certain people or being around – all the people I’ve worked with have taught me so much. It doesn’t matter if they’re big names or not. Sometimes it’s even better when they’re your friends or they become your friends, especially in jazz because it’s all about trust.”
Confronting the do-or-die experience of performing before a live audience helped to develop Taylor’s free and improvisatory style. “My school of jazz was the terrifying school of jazz. It was the hard knocks. It was onstage school. There was no lovely Cap College, where I could go and be coached and groomed and all that stuff. You get out there with the greatest players and you take these huge risks and you have a great night or you have a horrible night or a horrible moment or a big crash but you had to take those risks.” In Taylor’s case, the risks have paid off as she continues to sing, teach and record – all in a philosophy of living based on sincerity, enthusiasm and humour. And the lady can sing. Her album The Art of the Jazz Ballad, a duo with Murphy, was nominated for a Juno in 2003.
It helped that Joani got off to a good start. “My introduction to jazz was Thelonious Monk. My dad took me to the old, old, old Cellar – one of the original Cellars – and I was just taken with everything. The music was so crazy and fun to me. The Thelonious Monk intervals and melodies really shouted out to me – and I think it was Ray Sikora’s big band that was playing – and so I was just so happy to hear this music. But when I met Cannonball Adderley … he is the centre of what I try to go for in jazz but, you know, I’ll never reach his knowledge or his mastery in his instrument. He was such a giant. He entertained; he was funny; he was a great educator, as well. He was such a gentle man, and so giving, that that really came through in his playing. And that’s what I relate to: the heart. You know, when you pick up your horn and your heart starts to pour into it. And that’s what he did. He made me feel like he was my uncle or a dear old friend. … And I didn’t really know very many people who were like that. … It’s more than music; it’s about life. The music is not what we do but what we are. Especially, when we talk about jazz, we’re talking about something deeper.”
Joani Taylor’s two shows at the Cellar on September 20 to launch her new album will feature trumpeter Brad Turner, Bob Murphy on organ, Doug Stephenson on guitar and bass, and Buff Allen, drums. “It’s called In My Own Voice because I co-wrote three-quarters of the tunes. I’m really excited about this new project and it’s a place where I’ve never been before. It’s in my own voice. And that’s right where I am.”
Article originally appeared in VLM: Vancouver's Lifestyle Magazine, September 2008.
Gary Barclay is a Vancouver-based jazz writer and broadcaster. His On The Town column appears monthly in VLM: Vancouver's Lifestyle Magazine. For a free print subscription to VLM log on to vlmag.ca.