James Taylor is, without question, among the most gifted and influential composers of the past 40 years. Indeed, he almost singlehandedly launched the singer-songwriter movement in ‘70s pop and has since been inducted into both the Songwriters and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Hard to believe he turns 66 today.
More than four decades after “Fire and Rain,” Taylor also remains among the nation’s most popular live acts. He returns to the region for a June performance with his band at Concord Pavilion. A new album, his first with original material in more than a decade, is due this summer.
It’s worth noting that, for all his talent and popularity, Taylor has written few standards; you’re unlikely to hear anything as inky and personal as “Rainy Day Man” at a wedding reception or in a Vegas lounge.
The closest Taylor has come to writing a “Yesterday” or “September Song” is the distinctly jazzy “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight.” The standout track on the otherwise pallid and fragmented “One Man Dog” (1972), the song was released as a single but barely cracked the pop top 20. Fortunately, it was included on JT’s “Greatest Hits” (1977), which has gone on to sell somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 million copies, thus ensuring the song’s legacy.
And it is primarily that exposure that has led generations of jazz artists to the Taylor composition. Simply put, dozens of vocalists and instrumentalists have issued versions of “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight” that tap the jazz rhythms the original recording barely began to explore. We’re talking talents as diverse as George Benson, David Benoit, Michael Brecker (who played sax on the Taylor original), Boney James, Euge Groove, Hiroshima, Chuck Loeb, James Moody, John Pizzarelli, Pat Metheny, David Sanborn, Diana Schurr, Nancy Wilson and Cal Tjader, to name but a few.
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