Musician finds creativity improves with longevity
By LOGAN NEILL
Published February 15, 2007
Livingston Taylor believes that when it comes to creativity it's best to take your time. Which is why, after 38 years in the music business, he believes he feels his best work may well be ahead of him.
Sure, Taylor's longevity as a singer-songwriter makes him something of a sage. He's written hundreds of songs and has more than a dozen albums to his credit. But, as Taylor notes, being a musician commands one to always dig deeper within himself, a process that is likely to unearth a wealth of buried treasure.
"I think the songs I write today are of a higher quality than those of three or four decades ago," said Taylor, 56, who performs Saturday at Pasco-Hernando Community College in New Port Richey. "I'm willing now to spend the time necessary to weed out what I don't like, rather than having to regret leaving it in later."
Not that Taylor has many clinkers to be embarrassed about. His 13 albums, which date back to his 1970 debut effort, Livingston Taylor, always found favor with critics, if not mass audience appeal. Though his fan base may be a fraction of his older pop icon brother James, Livingston Taylor is content in knowing that admirers have been exceedingly loyal through the years.
"I'm extremely grateful when I meet someone who tells me they've been coming to see me for years," Taylor said. "The truth is, I need the audience a lot more than they need me. I'd probably starve without them. But if I wasn't here they would just move on and listen to someone else."
That isn't likely to happen to the affable, good-humored fellow who is known to hit the stage wearing an old-fashioned tweed vest and bow tie. Taylor's infectious personality is capable of bringing laughter one moment and tears the next.
From the soft rock of I Will Be in Love With You a minor hit for him in the late 1970s, to the jaunty kids fantasy Pajamas to the flowing breeziness of My Baby Don't Mind from his latest CD, There You Are Again, Taylor considers himself an old-school songwriter.
"I put a lot of faith in a good melody," said the singer who grew up worshiping the Beatles and the Beach Boys, as well as the music of Burt Bacharach. "I always hoped that one day, when time and opportunity would allow, that I could explore music beyond my rudimentary knowledge of it."
In 2001, Taylor accepted an offer to become an artist-in-residence at Harvard University. Living in one of the college dorms, he rose early each morning for a regimen that included hours of practicing the piano, studying voice and writing music.
While Taylor robustly accepted his role as student, he also turned his energies to teaching. He is currently a professor at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he teaches stage performance. Though Taylor says he relishes the job, he jokes that he's not quite certain what qualifies him to teach the course.
Said Taylor: "All I know is that I've been doing this for a long time, a lot longer than the kids who take the class."
All kidding aside, Taylor says he tries to instill in his students a sense of mission in bringing their talents before the public. He coaches them on how to build a strong relationship with the audience, from proper body language and eye contact to the value of signing an autograph.
Taylor laments that many young musicians seem to expect instant gratitude for their talents. He likens American Idol to a lottery, where great rewards are bestowed in return for a minor investment.
"It brings nothing new or original, nothing special to the audience, except they get to vote for the next 'Queen for a Day,' " he said.
It seems unlikely that any American Idol winner will enjoy Taylor's longevity, especially considering he has no retirement plans on the horizon.
"I plan to be doing this for quite a while," he said. "I enjoy it too much to ever willingly give it up."
Logan Neill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1435.
If you go
Livingston Taylor will perform at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Pasco-Hernando Community College Performing Arts Center, 10230 Ridge Road, New Port Richey. Tickets are $18-$25. (727) 847-2727.