Musicnotes Musical Career Recognition Recipient
Hanah Jon Taylor
A Lifetime of Achievement
|Hanah Jon Taylor at his jazz and culture presentation
venue Cafe CODA on Williamson Street.
Taylor received the Musicnotes Musical Career
Recognition Award at the 2019 MAMA Awards.
Part 1 of 2
By Jonathan Gramling
Since the mid-1990s, international jazz performer Hanah Jon Taylor has made his mark on the
Madison music scene as a teacher, performer and promoter of the performance and visual arts.
Taylor first started out at the old Ward Brodt Music Store on the Beltline Hwy and then opened his
own studio, The House of Sounds, on Williamson Street. Two to three decades later, Taylor is still
producing fine jazz sounds at Café CODA on Williamson Street.
On June 9, Taylor received the Musicnotes Musical Career Recognition Award at the MAMA Awards
held at the Overture Center’s Capitol Theater.
While receiving the award was important to Taylor, creating music for recognition has never been
“It’s always good to be recognized by your colleagues and your community,” Taylor said as we sat
outside at the Willy Street Coop. “In that sense, it’s humbling. However, my reasons for becoming a
musician never had anything to do with receiving an award. Frankly receiving an award for
expressing what’s inside of me has always seemed a little awkward.”
As an avant-garde improv jazz artist, Taylor has an artistic independence streak that cries out for freedom. In many ways, Taylor’s jazz is an expression of
freedom from the segregation and post-Jim Crow experiences during the infancy of his career.
When Taylor was a grad student at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Taylor got a well-paying gig in a near-by town that almost cost him his soul.
“There was a little town that actually still had sundown laws that were unenforced, of course,” Taylor recalled. “But I was hired as the saxophone, flutist,
and singer for the band, which was all-white. And I did my entertainment thing for $125 per night, which back in 1975, was a great deal of money for a
graduate student. However, I found myself so frustrated at the end of the night, I wound up wasting the money on nonsense. The straw that broke that camel’
s back happened when the owners of the club mustered enough courage to ask me to take my breaks in the kitchen. At that moment, I decided that I had to
walk away. The money was not worth the descent of my integrity.”
Throughout the years, Taylor has performed with bands from many different musical traditions and has proven very capable of performing commercial
music. In some ways, Taylor is like the visual artist who has to master realism to show he/she has the skill before moving into abstract art that fulfills the
expression they are looking for.
“I think there is a binary difference between entertainment and art,” Taylor said. “I imagine I have been more inclined to the latter than the former. But as an
artist, I must not be concerned about the immediate opinion of my work from others. As an entertainer, I imagine that must be the first thing that I must be
concerned about. And so the opportunities for me to entertain may be plentiful while the opportunities for me to express myself as an artist may be few. I
imagine I made that decision at an early stage in my career when I could have gone one way or the other. It’s not that I have not moved in the posture of an
entertainer in the past.”
As an improv jazz artist, Taylor has neared the apex of musical genius.
“I did have a chance to audition for the Miles Davis band,” Taylor said. “Although I didn’t get the gig, it was a high point for me because it showed me at
least how close I could be to the apex of what was then modern jazz energy. As I said, I didn’t get the gig. At a certain point in any business or artistic
endeavor, you kind of realize where you are. And that was a milestone for me.
Next issue: Music in Europe and Madison