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Jasper Taylor

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  • Born: Texarkana, AR
  • Died: Chicago, IL
  • Years Active: 1910s, 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s


Biography All Music Guide

All Music Guide:

One has to love Jasper Taylor, if only because there are more wood blocks in his discography than can be found in the rumpus room of a kindergarten. A grand old man from the early days of percussion in jazz, Taylor was also known for writing two of the most unappetizing songs of all time, the cautionary "Don't Eat at Jasper's Barbecue" and the stinky "Stockyard Strut." Born in Texarkana on New Year's Day, 1894, this character started performing in Wild West and minstrel shows, including tours of Mexico. By 1913 he was working theaters in Memphis and had begun studying xylophone, upon which he would eventually become influential to the ears of Memphis blues maestro and publisher W.C. Handy. While gigging with Handy, Taylor introduced the idea of washboard accompaniment in a jazz group: to some players it was a solid move closer toward the concept of washing their clothes.

Taylor played with Jelly Roll Morton in Memphis, a collaboration that was fortunately documented on recording. In 1917 the percussionist relocated to Chicago and was largely connected with the classic jazz scene in the Windy City for the rest of his career. Taylor was in the 365th Infantry Band in France and following the end of the First World War went back to performing with Handy as well as Will Marion Cook, the brilliant Chicago Novelty Orchestra, and the pianist and arranger Clarence Williams. One of his longer musical relationships in the second half of the '20s was in a trio with Dave Peyton and Fess Williams.

This artist's career takes an unexpected turn in the '30s -- it could certainly be described as downward but not in the usual sense. Touring much less and settling into theater accompaniment jobs were not surprising developments. Then, Taylor stuffed his xylophones, washboards, woodblocks, and whatnot into a closet and became a cobbler. Perhaps he lacked cooperative elves: by the '40s he was back on the bandstands in Chicago backing pianist Freddie Shayne, among others. The Midnight Sun, a Chicago venue and not a Norwegian vista, was where Taylor held forth with bandleader Natty Dominique for an extended stint in 1952. Taylor ran out of neither steam nor mallets, leading his own Creole Jazz Band only a couple of years prior to his death.