Sandy Taylor, who has died at the age of 92, was a popular and elegant Scottish jazz pianist and the music director for singer Carol Kidd’s first three albums. A familiar face to anyone who attended jazz concerts at the Glasgow Society of Musicians in the 1980s, and the resident pianist in various west of Scotland hotels over the decades, he was also something of a mentor to such younger musicians as the saxophonist Laura Macdonald and the singer/pianist and BBC radio presenter Stephen Duffy.
Born at the family home, Dumfin Sawmill, Glenfruin in 1922, Alexander Wilson Taylor attended the Vale of Leven Academy in Alexandria before serving in the RAF as a radio operator on a Halifax bomber during the war. His family operated Dumfin Sawmill, and Taylor followed in his father’s footsteps by taking over the mill, while also working as a self—employed joiner and playing piano gigs. He married Marjorie in 1958, and they had two children, Sanders and Joyce.
In 1968, after two storms in quick succession both devastated the dam, lade and waterwheel on the Fruin which powered the machinery in the Taylor premises, the mill stopped operating as a sawmill but Taylor continued to live at Dumfin until he went into sheltered housing in 2012, two years after Marjorie’s death.
In the mid-1970s, Taylor joined the band led by saxophonist/vibraphonist Jimmy Feighan which had a long-standing Saturday afternoon gig at Glasgow’s Lorne Hotel. The band’s singer was Carol Kidd, newly returned to singing after a decade-long absence. She and Taylor hit it off immediately, and their musical rapport soon began to inspire enquiries from promoters who wanted to book Kidd plus Taylor, and the rest of the rhythm section – Alex Moore on bass guitar and Murray Smith on drums. Before long they were regulars at the Edinburgh Jazz Festival and playing three fortnights a year at Ronnie Scott’s in London.
For Kidd, working with Taylor was the closest musical relationship she had had. “He knew exactly the kind of songs that would suit my voice and he knew how to accompany a singer – which is an art form in itself.” David Newton, the then up-and-coming pianist who succeeded Taylor as Kidd’s accompanist, credits the older player with providing him with a Eureka moment about the art of accompaniment.
“In the late 1970s I played piano in a club called Aphrodite in London. The singer Karen Kay, who had been on a talent show like Opportunity Knocks, came and I was her accompanist for six weeks. At the end of it she said: ‘Thanks very much, but you’re the worst accompanist a singer could have.’
“So, bearing this in mind, when I came up to Scotland and started working with singers I watched Sandy Taylor in action. He knew when to play and when not to play – when to leave space for the singer to do what she or he does. None of this footling about.”
Kidd describes Taylor’s style as minimalist, adding: “Another thing I loved about him was that his sense of humour came through in his playing – and that’s not often the case with musicians. He had a lovely way of making things light and quite funny and then very serious –
and that’s what his personality was all about too. He had a wonderful personality.”
Indeed, Taylor was known in the Scottish jazz scene as a raconteur par excellence, who would tell long-winded tales and reel his listener in before walloping them in the face with a devastating punchline. Drummer and bandleader Ken Mathieson, who played regularly with Taylor at the Duck Bay Marina, recalls: “Sandy was a genuine one-off: he could be a prickly character who wouldn’t tolerate fools at all, but if he decided you were a friend, you were a friend for life with no reprieves or paroles. He was fantastically entertaining company.”
For Laura Macdonald, the renowned alto saxophonist who, in her late teens and early twenties, played a weekly duo gig with Taylor at the Inn on the Green in Glasgow for a few years before she went to study in the USA, the age difference between her and the then septuagenarian pianist didn’t get in the way of their instant friendship.
She says: “He had the spirit of a young man and we just clicked. He was always totally mischievous and would crack me up on the bandstand and off. Musically, he was a soulmate – we couldn’t believe how often we both played the same thing at the same moment in an improvisation. We’d come off the bandstand and sit and stare at each other and and say ‘How did that happen?!’. He gave me confidence, and freed me up musically.”
Sandy Taylor is survived by his younger twin brothers Bill and Joe, his son Sanders, his daughter Joyce as well as two grand-daughters and a great-grandson.
Sandy Taylor, pianist, born November 28 1922; died April 21 2015
* First published in The Herald, Saturday May 11