Monday, March 30

BERKSHIREEAGLE.COM — Kim and James Taylor donate $350,000 to BMC in COVID-19 fight

By Clarence Fanto

ITTSFIELD — A $350,000 donation by Kim and James Taylor launches the COVID-19 Relief Fund for Berkshire Health Systems, bolstering efforts by Berkshire Medical Center to confront the intensifying pandemic as the number of cases expands in the county.

A joint announcement Monday by the hospital and the Taylors stated that the new relief fund will support the 307-bed hospital’s emergency operations during the public health crisis.

Citing their global travels because of their careers, the Taylors explained that “while we also spend a good deal of time in Boston, our favorite place to live our lives is Berkshire County. We are so lucky and grateful to have found a home here. In this time of great uncertainty and dire threat due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are all called upon to support our heroic health care providers. Their contribution and sacrifice cannot be overstated.”

In a phone interview from Montana, where the family is winding up their annual spring break vacation with twin sons Rufus and Henry, the singer-songwriter explained that “we are lucky enough to have a giving agenda every year. When it comes to something like this, when you see so many people really hurt and making major sacrifices, this falls on the shoulders of our health care providers and first responders, and we must help them.”

“The generosity of Kim and James Taylor during this time of crisis is just one more example of their tremendous kindness and their love for the Berkshires,” said David Phelps, president and CEO of Berkshire Health Systems, in a prepared statement. “Their support of BMC is truly a gift to our community, which depends on the hospital to rise to the occasion and provide the health care we need, especially at this critical moment.”

Last week, the Taylors donated $1 million to Massachusetts General Hospital’s Emergency Preparedness Fund to fight the coronavirus pandemic. James Taylor was born at the Boston hospital in 1948, where his father, Isaac, was chief resident.

“Hospital personnel are asked to walk the talk,” Taylor told The Eagle. “This crisis brings out that there are altruistic people and self-centered people. Thank God for the ones who answered the call to altruism.”

“We have been frequent flyers at BMC,” said Kim Taylor. “With twin athletic boys, the odds are one of them is injuring himself. James and I have also availed ourselves of the ER for tick bites to broken ankles.”

Taylor said she and the family “have found everyone at BMC to be extraordinarily professional, highly competent and compassionate. We’re very lucky to have this resource in Pittsfield. We’re pulling for all the health care workers there throughout this unprecedented health crisis.”

“We share the Taylors’ admiration for our doctors, nurses and all our staff who are on the front lines of this fight.” Phelps added in a prepared statement. “The COVID-19 Relief Fund will help us to continue our efforts to provide health care workers with the resources they need to treat and contain the novel coronavirus.”

James Taylor pointed out that “Kim is the main mover and shaker on these particular donations. We moved here in 2000. Our first time at BMC was when Rufus was 6 and struck his head on the molding in our living room while roughhousing. We took him in for stitches, and that was the beginning of the typical accidents childhood and family life bring. We’ve always thought of it as the community hospital that was there for us.”

Recalling other visits to the hospital, Taylor noted that “when Henry broke his wrist and collarbone on the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail, we always knew immediately where to go. I’ve gone there for physical therapy after a joint replacement and shoulder injury, for various emergencies, it’s part of our lives.”

The Taylors’ homestead is in the town of Washington, and they also have a home in Brookline, near Milton Academy, where their twin sons, 18, are seniors. Taylor has been a regular at Tanglewood since 1974 and recorded his three most recent albums, “October Road,” “Before This World” and the new “American Standard” at their studio, The Barn, where he recorded “Break Shot,” his recent Audible Original retrospective detailing his first 21 years. His “One Man Band” album and a PBS special were recorded and filmed at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield in 2007.

Kim Taylor joined the Boston Symphony press office in 1979 and served for two decades as director of public relations and marketing for the BSO and as a close adviser to Seiji Ozawa and John Williams. She married James on Nov. 18, 2001, having been introduced a few years earlier by Williams. She is now a trustee of the BSO.

To support Berkshire Health Systems in its fight against the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), visit


Wednesday, March 25

VARIETY.COM — James Taylor Helps Boston Hospital Take On Coronavirus With $1 Million Donation

By Chris Willman

Sending some relief close to home, Boston native James Taylor and his wife, Kim Taylor, have made a $1 million donation to Massachusetts General Hospital to help with the institution’s efforts to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

“There is no question that it’s a point of pride for New Englanders to claim the MGH as their hospital — our hospital — and this is especially true today with the threat coming from a new and insidious virus,” Taylor said in a statement. “Kim and I want to be part of this fight. We have been so inspired by the courage and sacrifice of the health care heroes in the trenches who are working so hard to protect us all.”

James Taylor’s biographical details make it clearer why this might be personal for the singer-songwriter, beyond just widely shared local pride. The singer was born at the hospital, and hIs father, Isaac, was a doctor who completed his residency, served as chief resident and conducted research at the MGH.

The gift to Mass General allows the hospital to determine where to best direct the donation, be it purchasing supplies and equipment or going toward research into treatments and prevention for COVID-19. The money will go into the MGH President’s Emergency Response Fund, set up after the Boston Marathon bombing for sudden needs like these.

“The generosity of James and Kim Taylor will not only help Mass General respond to this outbreak but will also provide a meaningful morale boost to our caregivers, the many staff who support them, and the scientists who are working to defeat this scourge,” said the president of Mass General, Peter L. Slavin. “The Taylors have long provided comfort and hope through music, and this latest gift embodies that same sense of humanity and sends a heartening message to our staff that their efforts are appreciated, and they are not in this fight alone.”

Kim Taylor has her own strong ties to the institution, having served on the board of the MassGeneral Hospital for Children for the past five years. Four years ago, the Taylors helped raise $2.6 million when he performed at a benefit event for the MGH Cancer Center.


Wednesday, March 25

ROLLINGSTONE.COM — James Taylor Donates $1 Million to Boston Hospital for Coronavirus Relief

By Claire Shaffer

Boston native James Taylor and his wife, Kim Taylor, have donated $1 million to Massachusetts General Hospital to aid in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There is no question that it’s a point of pride for New Englanders to claim the MGH as their hospital — our hospital — and this is especially true today with the threat coming from a new and insidious virus,” Taylor said in a statement. “Kim and I want to be part of this fight. We have been so inspired by the courage and sacrifice of the health care heroes in the trenches who are working so hard to protect us all.”

Kim Taylor called the coronavirus pandemic an “unprecedented time of deep concern,” adding, “The MGH is a place that is looked to for leadership — clinical, scientific and ethical — in humanity’s fight against the danger that is around us. We are proud to support a medical center that is leading the way on so many fronts.”

James Taylor has deep personal ties to MGH: he was born at the hospital, and his father, Isaac, was a doctor who completed his residency there, serving as chief resident and conducting research on the premises.

The $1 million donation will go directly toward the MGH President’s Emergency Response Fund, established after the Boston Marathon bombing to deploy emergency resources and aid. In fighting the novel coronavirus, these funds are being used for in-house testing, establishing a patient hotline, emergency accommodations at the hospital, expanded telemedicine capabilities, and new personal protective equipment such as gloves and face masks.


Wednesday, March 11

BILLBOARD.COM – James Taylor Could Match a Grammy Feat Achieved Only by Lady Gaga & Joni Mitchell

By Paul Grein

His “American Standard” album is a likely nominee for best traditional pop vocal album.
The nominations for the 63rd annual Grammy Awards won’t be announced until November, but we have a front-runner in at least one category: best traditional pop vocal album. James Taylor’s American Standard, which enters the Billboard 200 at No. 4 this week, features the veteran balladeer singing such prized songs as “Moon River” and “It’s Only a Paper Moon.”

Taylor has won five Grammys over the years: three for best male pop vocal performance (2001’s “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight”), one for best pop album (1997’s Hourglass) and one for best country collaboration with vocals (2003’s “How’s the World Treating You,” a collab with Alison Krauss).

If American Standard wins a Grammy, Taylor would be just the third artist to win for both best pop vocal album and best traditional pop vocal album. The first two were Joni Mitchell and Lady Gaga. Mitchell won best pop album for Turbulent Indigo (1995) and the trad pop award for Both Sides Now (2000). Gaga won best pop vocal album for The Fame Monster (2010) and the trad pop award for Cheek to Cheek (2014), a collab with Tony Bennett.

Many other recipients of the traditional pop award had enjoyed success in other genres before they won for trad pop. It’s certainly not a prerequisite, but it often seems to be a plus factor. Elvis Costello, who won in the traditional pop category on Jan. 26 for Look Now, which he recorded with his band The Imposters, had previously been nominated for album awards in four distinct fields: contemporary folk, pop, rock and alternative music.

Willie Nelson, who won the 2016 trad pop award for Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin, and the 2018 prize for My Way, a salute to Frank Sinatra, had won seven Grammys in the country field before he won for trad pop.

Paul McCartney, who won the 2012 trad pop award for Kisses on the Bottom, had won multiple Grammys in both pop and rock.

Rod Stewart, who won the 2004 award for Stardust…The Great American Songbook Volume III, had never previously won a Grammy, but he had amassed a dozen nominations spanning pop, rock and even disco.

k.d. lang, who shared an award with Bennett for A Wonderful World (2003), had won two Grammys in country and one in pop before winning in trad pop.

Natalie Cole, who first won in the trad pop category with “Unforgettable,” her silky 1991 collab with her father, Nat “King” Cole, had won back-to-back awards for best R&B vocal performance, female for 1975-76. She later won a second award in trad pop for Still Unforgettable (2008).

While voters in this category often seem attracted to artists who have had success in other genres, the top two winners in the category, Bennett (13 wins) and Michael Bublé (four wins) are known primarily for traditional pop. So are Sinatra, the 1995 winner; Patti Page, the 1998 winner; and Harry Connick, Jr., the 2001 winner.

If American Standard wins a Grammy, Taylor will become the fifth artist who has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to win a traditional pop Grammy. The first four were Stewart (who was inducted into the Rock Hall in 1994), Mitchell (1997), McCartney (1999, as a solo artist) and Costello (2003).

American Standard, which is Taylor’s 20th studio album, includes two Rodgers & Hammerstein songs (“You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” from South Pacific and “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top” from Oklahoma!) and two by Lerner & Loewe (“Almost Like Being in Love” from Brigadoon and “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” from My Fair Lady—the latter is available only on the Target-exclusive edition.)

Taylor was nominated in the trad pop category 13 years ago for James Taylor at Christmas.


Monday, February 10

NPR.ORG — James Taylor Narrates Life Before Fame And Sings American Standards On New Album

By Luca Garcia-Navarro & Ned Wharton

James Taylor has been a household name for a long time now. Taylor was just 20-years-old when he released his self-titled debut in 1968; in the half century since then, he has sold over 100 million albums and cemented his status as one of the most successful American singer-songwriters.

But in Break Shot: My First 21 Years, his audio memoir on Audible, Taylor narrates his life before fame — including details of his struggle with drugs, alcohol addiction and time in psychiatric institutions. Taylor is also looking back with American Standard, a new album that revives the American Songbook tunes of his childhood.

NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro spoke with Taylor about revisiting his fraught early memories, dealing with fame at an early age and his connection to The Beatles. Listen to their conversation in the player above and read on for highlights from the interview — including a few audio excerpts from Break Shot.

Interview Highlights

On songwriting and dealing with fame at an early age

I developed my craft in isolation, so it’s a remarkable sea change to take that public. It can be sort of a shock. Of course, it’s exactly what I wanted: I wanted to be successful and I wanted to get people to hear my music. I wanted my music to make a difference to people. But at the same time, making yourself the product — it’s very distracting. I sort of dealt with that a couple of times by writing songs like “Hey Mister [That’s Me Up on the Jukebox],” a song called “Company Man,” another one called “Fading Away.” These are songs that talk about being in the [music] business.

On becoming the first non-British artist released on The Beatles’ Apple Records

The person who introduced me to The Beatles and got me signed to Apple Records was my producer and manager and lifelong friend, Peter Asher. Peter Asher had just taken a position with Apple Records, finding people to sign at the very moment that I was looking for a record deal. It was just an impossibly fortuitous big break. Peter had said, “Let’s go over to Apple Records and see if we can find a Beatle to play some music to.” And it turned out that Paul McCartney was in the building and so was George Harrison, and they took a listen. They gave Peter the green light to sign me and to record me.

On his eerie experience tangential to John Lennon’s assassination

I had an apartment in the building just to the north of the Dakota, where John and Yoko had their flat, and I heard the shots fired. When I saw who the assassin was, I realized that I had met him the day previous. I’d been coming out of the subway at 72nd Street, which is right by the Dakota, and this guy attached himself to me and was running his mouth a mile a minute talking about himself and John Lennon, talking about his music, talking about his plans and his dreams. But he clearly seemed to be in some altered state; he was sort of glistening with perspiration. I was alarmed by this guy, and I sort of scraped him off and sprinted up the steps to my building. I realized after I saw it on the news that that was Mark Chapman [the man who killed Lennon].

On the process of revisiting his youth through both his memoir and music

It did sort of bring things to a close for me and it’s a very interesting process to go through — to take your early days and basically distill them down to a 90-minute monologue. It really brought things into focus.

[American Standard] has been sort of like a soundtrack for Break Shot. These songs were in the family record collection; they were what we heard as kids growing up in North Carolina. When I finally picked up the guitar and started to learn, I was just hungry for things to play; I started making little arrangements of all the songs that I’d always known. And basically, that was what the album became: my guitar arrangements of these American Songbook classics.


Monday, February 10

ROLLINGSTONE.COM — 5 Highlights From James Taylor’s New Audio Memoir


At the beginning of James Taylor’s new audio memoir, Break Shot, the singer-songwriter summarizes his catalogue in relation to the tumultuous events within his family. “You could make a case that most of the songs I’ve written have been a way of trying to work out just what happened to us,” he says. “It’s like that movie Groundhog Day: I am assigned to keep going through it over and over until I figure it out.”

Taylor continues his quest to figure it out in Break Shot, a billiard term used to describe the opening shot in a game of pool, when the cue stick sends the 15 balls flying in every direction across the cloth. Stemming from interviews conducted by long-time music journalist and former MTV executive Bill Flanagan, Taylor recalls his early life leading up to his own personal “break shot,” when he gained worldwide success from 1970’s Sweet Baby James — which turned 50 this month.

He recounts his early life, when his parents — Isaac “Ike” Taylor and Gertrude “Trudy” Woodward — relocated Taylor and his four siblings from their home in Boston, Massachusetts (“Our lost Eden”) to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, after his father accepted a prestigious position at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. “It felt like a Faulkner novel,” he says of the move.

He describes how this change affected his family, providing providing intimate details while delving into his depression and growing interest in music.

Though the story of his early life has been told again and again, it doesn’t make it less fascinating, especially now that the musician is telling it in his own words. Here are 5 highlights from Break Shot.

1. He Traces His Fractured Family Life to One Moment in 1955
Taylor notes that he feels comfortable talking about his late parents and brother, Alex, who died in 1993 from alcoholism. But he prefers to leave his surviving siblings, Livingston, Hugh and Kate, out of the memoir. “They have their own versions of what happened to us and their own stories to tell,” he explains. “I have made a living of putting my business in the street. That may be good or bad.”

So he delves into his mother’s and father’s fractured marriage, which boils down to one decision his father made in 1955, when he volunteered to be a medical officer for 100 Navy Seabees, who were building a scientific base at McMurdo Sound in Antarctica. He spent two years there, while Trudy was left raising the five children on her own, inside the house she had designed. “Our family falls to either side of that decision,” he says.

Ike returned from the South Pole an alcoholic, and his marriage with Trudy was strained — as well as his relationship with his children. “You can construct a usable father out of relatively little material,” he says. “But a mother has to be there.” Taylor and two of his siblings would wind up institutionalized, and his father was unable to help. “You would think that if you’re a physician, and three of your children ended up in a psychiatric hospital, you would step up with some advice,” Taylor says.

2. Carly Simon is Literally Mentioned Once
Taylor notes that he grew up white and privileged, and that he and his siblings were immersed in culture, attending museums and the theater in New York City. They’d go on frequent trips up to Massachusetts, spending time with other families on Martha’s Vineyard. It was there he met Carly Simon, whom he’d marry in 1972. His only mention of her in the memoir is that he met the Simon sisters at the Vineyard, who he described as out of his league. “It’s hard to talk about, to tell half of a story like that,” he told the Los Angeles Times of the exclusion.

Taylor makes note of other relationships, including his stint with Joni Mitchell, whom he met at the 1969 Newport Folk Festival. “Our romance did not last that long, but our friendship has sustained for almost 50 years,” he says. He also praises his current wife, Kim, who “gave him a second chance at having a family.” But Simon isn’t mentioned anywhere else.

3. He Got Deferred from Vietnam Within Seconds
Taylor was famously institutionalized at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts (other well known patients include Sylvia Plath and David Foster Wallace). He was living there when he turned 18 in 1966, and was quickly summoned to the Selective Service in Cambridge to register for the Vietnam War.

“This was one time I was happy to be living in a locked ward of a psychiatric hospital,” he said. He organized a ruse to evade the draft, in which an attendant named Carl and another nurse donned white coats while escorting Taylor inside. “James here is a mental patient,” they told the board. “He’s a good kid, but really fucked up.” He was deferred within seconds.

4. He Nearly Overdosed John Lennon on Methadone
Through his bandmate and longtime friend Danny Kortchmar, Taylor met Peter Asher, who signed him to the Beatles’ Apple Records in 1968. He became immersed in Beatle Land, recording his self-titled debut as the band was recording the White Album. John Lennon asked him to score hash, and later asked to try Taylor’s methadone. “I gave him a dose too big to be taken by a civilian,” he admits. “I’m sure glad I didn’t kill John Lennon that day.”

Taylor also mentions one of the most frightening and morbid tales in classic rock history: that he had run into Mark David Chapman on the street in Manhattan the day before he murdered John Lennon in 1980. “A creepy, sweaty guy recognized me and got in my face,” Taylor recalls quietly. “He was talking fast, telling me about himself — that he was working on a project with John Lennon. I had spent nine months in a psychiatric hospital, and it seemed to me that he was mentally ill.” He says he lived one block north of Lennon’s home at the Dakota on the Upper West Side, and heard the gunshots from his apartment the next evening.

“50 years later, I can’t get over what the Beatles did for me,” Taylor says. “Their approval validated my music and introduced me to the world I have lived in ever since.”

5. He Wrote “Fire and Rain” After Tragedy Struck
After Taylor finished recording his debut in London, he went out drinking with his friend Joel O’Brien. He revealed a secret he and Taylor’s friends had been keeping from him for months: their friend, Suzanne Schnerr, had committed suicide. Taylor had known her while living in New York while playing in his band the Flying Machine. “I was stronger than they thought, but of course it shook me up,” Taylor says. “I reacted to the news by starting a song. ‘Just yesterday morning they let me know you were gone/Suzanne, the plans they made put an end to you.”

“I would carry that song with me for the next year or so,” he says of “Fire and Rain.” “Then that song would carry me for the rest of my life.” The memoir concludes with a live recording of the track.


Monday, February 3

AMERICANSONGWRITER.COM – James Taylor’s ‘American Standard’ Song by Song

By Paul Zollo

A Journey Back to the Age of Melody
American Standard, the newest album by James Taylor (and subject of the cover story of our next print issue) is a love-letter to song and the songwriters who write them. Like his dear friend and fellow songwriting genius Carole King, JT went to songwriting school – aka as “the college of musical knowledge” – by learning these songs. They were the soundtrack of his parents’ lives, and so a big part of his upbringing, same as with Carole, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Paul Simon and so many of that generation raised on these songs as we were raised on their’s. The sophistication baked into them – the ingenuity of lyrical linguistics, both poignant and clever, merged with gloriously remarkable timless melodicism of the heart – represents to JT a “highwater mark for this art of songwriting.”

“These are songs I have always known,” JT writes in the liner notes to this album. “Most of them were part of my family’s record collection, the first music I heard as a kid growing up in North Carolina. We listened to the cast recordings of the great American musicals: Guys and Dolls, Oklahoma!, My Fair Lady, Brigadoon, Peter Pan, Show Boat, South Pacific…

“Before I started writing my own stuff, I learned to play these tunes, working out chord changes for my favorite melodies. And those guitar arrangements became the basis for this album. My collaborator, John Pizzarelli, is a living encyclopedia of the best popular music that the West has ever produced. Like his father, Bucky, he is a master guitarist and a casual, matter-of-fact genius.

“I asked John to come out to Western Massachusetts, where I live and do my recording in a big barn in the middle of the forest, to help me put down some tracks. I’d show him what changes I had found for a handful of songs and we’d work up the arrangements. Several of them begin with what used to be called verses: a few bars, often out of time, to ramp into the tune. These introductions are often left out when people cover the standards but we kept as many as we could for the novelty of it. We had way too much fun but managed to record a couple of basic keepers each day for two weeks in the Fall of 2017.

“My usual MO is to show my changes to a piano player, who takes the arrangement to the band. But there was something extraordinary in the sound of just the two guitars and I was determined to keep that sound at the center of the whole project.”

Several of these songs camre from the Broadway era of shows which were essentially revues. A second cousin of vaudeville and also variety TV, it presented a vast rainbow of entertainers and singers, and always new songs by the greatest songwriters which often became hits.

As Rodgers & Hammerstein and others began writing songs for musicals such as Oklahoma, that had a single narrative arc, the nature of Broadway musical songs, written in character, shifted. The opening song “My Blue Heaven” represents that world before the musicals we know now took over.

But although the structure of the shows shifted radically, the one element that remained constant was song. Always Broadway shows depended on great songs written by the greatest songwriters, both composers and lyricists. Because these songs were written usually not for any one singer, but to exist in a show forever (hopefully), they were conceived as universal songs, with human themes we all share, and always illuminated with timelessly sumptuous melodies – the kind that make the human heart swoon and sway. From this era and tradition, what was created was a singular, unprecedented artistic triumph of timeless art and craft combined, and native to America: the Great American Songbook.

Hearing JT’s resonant, amiable vocals on these classics is pure joy. His vocal presence, as his fans have known for decades, remains one of the most shining elements in our own musical era. His voice always resounds with compassion and focus, like that of a real friend. It’s the reason Carole King knew he should sing her song “You’ve Got A Friend” better than anyone. Because when you hear him sing it, you believe it.

Here is a song by song journey into James Taylor’s American Standard:

1. My Blue Heaven (Walter Donaldson-George A. Whiting)

Written by Walter Donaldson with lyrics by George Whiting, it was created for the popular Ziegfeld Follies revue of 1927. It became a big hit in 1928 for the singer Gene Austin with the Victor Orchestra. Selling over five million copies of sheet music – then the measure of a hit – it was then one of the most popular songs of all time. Donaldson wrote the tune at the New York Friar’s club between games of billiard. Whiting wrote the lyrics separately. A true standard, there are hundreds of recordings of it, from Paul Whiteman’s orchestra to Doris Day to a rock & roll Fats Domino version and beyond.

2. Moon River (Henry Mancini-Johnny Mercer)

It was written in 1961 for the movie version of Truman Capote’s novel Breakfast at Tiffany’s, starring Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly. It became one of America’s most beloved songs, second only perhaps to “Over The Rainbow” as both a modern hit and American cultural standard. It won the Academy Award for Best Original Song as well as two Grammys, for Record of the Year and Song of the Year.

Evidence that a popular hit has become a genuine standard has to do with how many recordings of it are done. More than 700 different artists have officially recorded this one, including a wide range of musicians including Mancini himself, as well as Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Aretha Franklin, Barbra Streisand, Lena Horne, Sarah Vaughan, Jay & The Americans, Willie Nelson, Ben E. King, Stevie Wonder, Elton John, Dr. John, R.E.M., Morrisey, Tommy Emmanuel, and countless others.

Mercer, born in 1909, was considered one of the greatest wordsmiths ever to write popular songs. Some 21 years older than Mancini, they wrote other songs together, including “Days of Wine & Roses” as well as “Charade” for the 1963 movie of the same name, and also Tony Bennett’s “I Wanne Be Around,” and Sinatra’s 1965 hit, “Summer Wind.”

Like “Over The Rainbow,” which MGM execs felt should be cut from Wizard of Oz, the first impression of using “Moon River” in the movie was negative. Paramount head Martin Rackin, after screening the film, said, “I love the picture, fellas, but the f—ng song has to go.”

Audrey Hepburn, though, knew how much this song meant, and objected intensely to removing it. “Over my dead body,” she said. Though she wasn’t much of a singer, Mancini fine-tuned the melody to her limited vocal range, and she made it her own. She famously wrote Mancini these words of thanks for her theme song. “Your music has lifted us all up,” she wrote, “and sent us soaring… You are the hippest of cats, and the most sensitive of composers!”

3. Teach Me Tonight (Gene De Paul-Sammy Cahn)

Written in 1953 by Gene Paul with lyrics by Sammy Cahn, it became popular quickly. By 1954 four versions were already recorded, starting with one by Janet Brace, and followed with hits by Jo Stafford, Dinah Washington and The DeCastro Sisters. Quickly becoming a jazz standard, it was recorded and performed by Erroll Garner, Louie Armstrong, and many others.

Sammy Cahn, who said always he wasn’t the best songwriter in the world, but “the fastest,” proud of his ability to deliver a song when needed, wrote not one but several new verses for the song to be recorded by Sinatra for the 1984 Quincy Jones-produced album L.A. Is My Lady. Sammy told this writer that like others welcomed into Sinatra’s close circle, he lived vicariously through Frank, and wrote lyrics that matched his essence as only an insider could do. In his new verses, written more than three decades since the tame original, he added lyrics more racy than the original:

Of course, being Sammy, they are written in perfect rhyme, using the old Tin Pan Alley form of a song with no chorus, but a title which comes as a punchline to three rhymed lines. And those rhymes were singularly Sammy rhymes, playfully linking five syllables such as “the ABC of it” with “the mystery of it” and ending with the title.

“Teach Me Tonight,” the new 1984 Sammy Cahn verses for Sinatra:

I’ve played loves scenes in a flick or two
And I’ve also met a chick or two
But I still can learn a trick or two
Hey, teach me tonight

I who thought I knew the score of it
Kind of think I should know much more of it
Off the wall, the bed, the floor of it
Hey, teach me tonight

The midnight hours come slowly creeping
When there’s no one there but you
There must be more to life than sleeping
Single in a bed for two

What I need most is post graduate
What I feel is hard to articulate
If you want me to matriculate
You’d better teach me tonight

From “Teach Me Tonight”
by Gene DePaul and Sammy Cahn
New Verses by Sammy Cahn, 1984

4. As Easy As Rolling Off A Log (M.K. Jerome-Jack Scholl)
Written by M. K. Jerome and Jack Scholl, it was first used in the 1937 film Over The Goal, performed by Johnnie Davis and Mabel Todd. The following year it was featured, more famously, in Katnip Kollege, a 1938 Merrie Melodies cartoon. Sung by Johnny Cat, inspired by the rhythm of a cuckoo clock, he delivers an arch, jazzy version and also solos on trumpet, all directed towards his beloved, Kitty Bright. When he’s done, the two cats embrace, and then fall off the log stage.

The title actually originates in Willa Cather’s 1915 novel The Song of the Lark, in which a character tells a friend about a girl he could have kissed as “easy as rolling off a log.”

5. Almost Like Being In Love (Frederick Loewe-Alan Jay Lerner)
From the enchanting 1947 musical Brigadoon by lyricist Alan Jay Lerner and composer Frederick Loewe. First performed on Broadway by David Brooks, it was sung by Gene Kelly in the 1954 film version. Sinatra had a hit with it in 1947, as did Mary Martin. Nat King Cole recorded it twice, the second of which was used as the closing song in the 1993 Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day. Most recently it was performed on “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” by Darius de Haas.

6. Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ The Boat (Frank Loesser)
With words and music both by Frank Loesser, it was written for the 1950 Broadway musical “Guys and Dolls.” Based on the stories, style and characters in the work of writer Damon Runyon, it brought us a new kind of Broadway musical, peopled with characters not from some mythic kingdom, but from the real streets of New York. It was performed in the show by Stubby Kaye on Broadway and in the 1955 film version, and has since been covered often; the band Harpers Bizarre included it on their third album, and a version by Don Henley was recorded for the soundtrack of the 1992 film Leap of Faith. It was also performed twice on the TV show “Glee.”

7. The Nearness Of You (Hoagy Carmichael-Ned Washington)
Though Hoagy Carmichael was a genius with both words and music, for this song he wrote only the timeless tune, with Ned Washington writing its adoring lyrics. Written in 1938, it became a hit for the Glenn Miller orchestra in 1940 with vocals by Ray Eberle. Many other vocal and instrumental versions followed, including those by Kay Kyser, Dinah Shore and Eddy Howard. Ella Fitzgerald and Louie Armstrong including it on their chart-topping 1956 duets album, Ella and Louis, with the great Oscar Peterson on piano and Buddy Rich on drums. In 1962, legendary jazz pianist recorded it as the title song for his album The Nearness of You, Ballads played by Red Garland. His rendition was the inspiration for a song written by this writer with Darryl Purpose, “Red Garland [The Nearness of You],” from his album Still The Birds.

8. You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught (Richard Rodgers-Oscar Hammerstein II)
From the 1949 musical South Pacific by composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II, “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught” is the most controversial song in the show, and the one many felt should have been removed. Concerning the source of human prejudice, it’s preceded in the show by dialogue suggesting racism is not intrinsic to the human condition, but learned. It’s “not born in you, it happens after you’re born…”

In today’s context, such content seems mild, but in 1949 was deemed genuinely dangerous. When the show toured the American South, a Georgia legislator insisted the song was an implicit “threat to the American way of life” by sanctioning interracial marriage, and should be outlawed.

The songwriters, both from Jewish families who immigrated to America along with the families of almost all songwriters of the Great American Songbook, both defied Broadway and entertainment tradition. They steadfastly championed the song and its message over the success of the show. And the triumphed.

Author James Michener, who wrote the book of stories Tales of the South Pacific on which the show was based, felt they were making a grave mistake. He objected to their insistence that the song “represented why they had wanted to do this play, and that even if it meant the failure of the production, it was going to stay in.”

It’s ironic that this song, with lyrics by Hammerstein and not Rodger’s first and more controversial lyricist, Lorenz Hart, was so controversial. Hammerstein, who wrote the lyrics for “Oklahoma” and other classic musicals with Rodgers, was quite a different songwriter than the troubled Hart, a closeted, alcoholic homosexual known for darkly ironic lyricism, such as in “My Funny Valentine,” which inverts the love song in a way few songwriters, with the exception of Randy Newman, have done. In that song, Hart substitutes the usual adoration for non-romantic realism: “Your looks are laughable/unphotographable…” Hammerstein’s oeuvre was more involved with the sunny simplicity of American life, eluding romantic and political content to sing, “Oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day….”

Though with different lyrical tendencies, both Hart and Hammerstein were remarkably gifted lyricists, each with a genius for matching the gloriously tuneful, sophisticated melodies of Richard Rodgers with lyrics of great grace and perfection. Like Sammy Cahn and other lyricists of the era for whom the elements of craft — rhyme, meter, singability, syllabic stress and linguistic economy – were forever paramount, Hammerstein always injected great elegance into every song, even this, which is essentially a protest song about human intolerance.

Today, now headlong into the 21st century, the lyrics seem surprisingly tame. Yet the message, linked as always to rich melodicism and beautiful lyricism, comes across with stunning clarity:

You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear
You’ve got to be taught from year to year
It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade
You’ve got to be carefully taught

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late
Before you are six or seven or eight
To hate all the people your relatives hate
You’ve got to be carefully taught

From “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught”
By Rodgers & Hammerstein.

9. God Bless The Child (Billie Holiday-Arthur Herzog Jr.)
It is Billie Holiday’s essential song, which she both wrote and performed. It projects a message which James Taylor, in our upcoming interview, refers to as a cold one to receive from the universe, that one better take care of themselves, as nobody else will.

In her autobiography, Billie said the seeds of the song were sown by an argument with her mother about money. She had loaned her mother a lot, yet when she needed help, her mother never repaid her. Instead her mother said to her, “God bless the child that’s got his own.” With Arthur Herzog, she used that line as the foundation for the song, written in 1939 though but not recorded until May of 1941. She recorded it again in 1956 for her album Lady Sings The Blues.

Some writers suggested it was profane for what they perceived as a dismissal of God’s power to protect us. In fact, it’s connected to the ancient wisdom of God helping those that help themselves.

10. Pennies From Heaven (Arthur Johnston-Johnny Burke)
It’s a song which reflects a 1930s mindset in America, that of steely optimism fused with understandable anxiety. There’s the expression of faith, that heaven will provide when earthly straits turn dire. But there’s also the underlying anxiety that there is nowhere to turn for sustenance but to God, and the hope he will rain pennies to save us.

Written by Johnny Burke and Arthur Johnston as the title songs for 1936 movie starring Bing Crosby. Back then, having a song performed by Bing Crosby – then one of the biggest and beloved stars America as ever known, both as popular singer and avuncular movie presence – was a songwriter’s dream, as almost everything he touched turned to gold. The song became one of the biggest and most recorded songs of the 1930s, and one of that decade’s most quintessential American anthems.

The song not only essays the American spirit of faith and hope leavened with reality, it also projects the budding historical schizophrenia of this country from the wild abandon of the 1920s to the dark storms of the 1930s and beyond into the Great Depression. Americans then, as they have been in certain circles ever since, were encouraged by the song to remain hopeful, but not crazy. No one was promising millions of dollars raining down on America, not in the 1930s. Not even nickels or dimes. But pennies, yes. That much seemed possible, if not likely. And when Bing Crosby sang it, it was hard not to believe. Since then, many of the greatest singers recorded it, including Billie Holiday in 1936. Sinatra recorded it twice, once with Count Basie, and popular versions were also recorded by Louis Armstrong, Tony Bennett, Dinah Washington, Stan Getz, Dean Martin, Louis Prima, and many others. It is Louie Prima’s 1957 version which is used prominently in the 2003 movie Elf, starring Will Farrell.

11. My Heart Stood Still (Richard Rodgers-Lorenz Hart)
Another song by a man considered one of the greatest American melodists of all time, Richard Rodgers, it was written in 1927, has lyrics by Rodgers’ first collaborator, Lorenz “Larry” Hart. Like a lot of famous songs, it was written to a title that emerged from real life. Rodgers and Hart, who wrote Broadway shows as well as popular musicals designed for London’s West End were in London working in a revue starring Charles Cochran called One Dam Thing at the London Pavilion. During a little trip to France with two young ladies, they took a taxi from Paris to Versailles. Heading back to Paris, they were almost driven off the road by a speeding truck. One of the women was so rattled, she cried out that she was so scared that her heart stood still. Hart instructed Rodgers to jot down the title, which the lyricist later used as the title for the song. But first Rodgers – as he often did – composed a melody that embodied the title, and played the tune for Hart, who loved it. Oddly, and perhaps due to his alcoholism, Hart had no memory of the near-crash. But it didn’t stop him, and in very little time he crafted the famous words, which substitute the actual source of the title – fear – with love:

Though not a single word was spoken
I could tell you knew
That unfelt claps of hands
Told me so well you knew
I never lived at all
Until the thrill of that moment
When my heart stood still

From “My Heart Stood Still”
By Rodgers & Hart

Rodgers and Hart used the song also in their Broadway musical A Connecticut Yankee, 1927. It became a beloved standard after being performed and recorded by a vast swath of singers, including Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Artie Shaw, Dave Brubeck, Chet Baker, Rod Stewart and even The Mamas and The Papas, on their self-titled second album. .

12. Ol’ Man River (Jerome Kern-Oscar Hammerstein II)
With a classic melody of sorrow and hope by Jerome Kern, and words by Oscar Hammerstein, it was written for the 1927 musical Show Boat. It’s now a famous and beloved American standard, forever linked to the voice and heroic spirit of Paul Robeson, who sang it in the show and throughout the rest of his career. Yet its lyrics have been the source of much controversy for decades and have been continually changed; even Robeson, later in his career, sang changed lyrics.

It’s a show which balances the timely struggles of blacks in the South with the timeless flow of the Mississippi. This song is sung by Joe, the black stevedore of a showboat, who sings the famous tune starting with an extremely low bass note that Robeson – and few humans ever since – could sing with resonant vigor. The song is reprised many times in the show, using this natural imagery of the ages, so resonant that it’s become one of popular song’s most potent symbols. *

The song was a hit for many, including Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra, Bing Crosby and even The Temptations. Yet to this day the song persists in echoing racism which is deep in the American soul. Second only perhaps to Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn in terms of being a beloved cultural artifact with racism baked into its core, still the song, like the book, persists.

In the original includes a verse referring to the blacks on the Mississippi with the n-word, which was later changed many times, first to another racist term, then the not much better “colored people.” Even Robeson changed the words. In most later versions, that verse was simply omitted.

James Taylor, in his version, evokes the brave spirit of Robeson, even starting on that low bass note so low it sounds like another singer at first. Until that famous voice ascends inside that iconic tune, and it’s immediately obvious it’s nobody but James. The man has a large vocal range, even bigger than we knew.

13. It’s Only A Paper Moon (Harold Arlen-Yip Harburg-Billy Rose)
One of many famous songs which emerged from a movie or show mostly forgotten now, evidence of the undeniable power of song. Written by composer Harold Arlen and lyricist Yip Harburg (the same team who wrote “Over The Rainbow” and other classics), and also credited to Billy Rose in 1933, it had a different name – “If You Believed In Me,” and was featured in the 1932 Broadway show “The Great Magoo,” set in Coney Island. It was a flop, but had one thing going for it – that great song. Renamed by its more popular title, “It’s Only A Paper Moon,” it persisted due to countless cover versions, including hits by Paul Whitman with Bunny Berigan on trumpet, and a 1933 Cliff Edwards records. But it was during the last years of World War II that the song, with its comforting lyrics evoking a carefree American spirit so many yearned for then, made a major comeback. Nat “King” Cole, Ella Fitzgerald and Benny Goodman all had hits with it. Since then it’s been recorded thousands of time – and by some of our greatest recording artists, including Paul McCartney and Harry Nilsson, as well almost all the most luminous jazz luminaries of the past century, including Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Lionel Hampton, Stephane Grapelli, Django Reinhardt, George Shearing and Oscar Peterson. There’s also a lovely version of John Pizzarelli, who also joins James Taylor brilliantly on this and every song on the album, their two guitars joined in a duet of unbound invention and grace.

14. The Surrey With The Fringe On Top (Richard Rodgers-Oscar Hammerstein II)
Another one by Rodgers and Hammerstein, this one from their 1943 show Oklahoma, which like many of James’ famous songs, introduced beautiful country imagery into popular song. On Broadway in that era, most shows were set in cities, with urban imagery. This one, though still urbane, reflects an old-world sensibility comforting then in 1943, like “It’s Only A Paper Moon,” during the final years of WWII when Americans longed for their carefree past. It’s a song in which the main character, Curly, tries to get a date with Laurey by luring her with this promise of a fancy vehicle, setting the path for all ther rock & roll car songs soon to come.

It was the one song which became a hit from the show, and also a jazz standard. Distinguished by Rodgers’ unusual repeat of seven notes, the song – and that aspect – attracted many jazz greats such as Ahmad Jamal and Miles Davis to reinvent the song in wondrous ways, shifting its harmonies as JT does on his version.

Ironically, Rodgers didn’t appreciate the jazz versions at all. His melodies, he felt, were perfect, and the sound of people taking liberties with them irritated him. Such is the life of a songwriter.

*Sure, songwriters through the ages have always relied on natural imagery to symbolize the human experience. Forever there are songs with the ocean, trees, stars, the moon, snow, rain and sun. Yet the river – especially in English – is a symbol at the heart of countless songs, including many from the rock & roll era and beyond. It starts with the standards such as this, “Moon River,” and Arthur Hamilton’s beautiful “Cry Me A River.” But let’s not forget Hank Williams’ “Tennessee River,” Johnny Cash’s “Big River,” John Fogerty’s “Green River,” Al Green’s “Take Me To The River,” Bruce Springsteen’s “The River,” Joni Mitchell’s “River,” Neil Young’s “Down By The River,” Jimmy Cliff’s “Many Rivers To Cross,” Ike & Tina Turner’s “River Deep Mountain High” (written by Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich and Phil Spector), Eminem and Ed Sheeran’s “River,” Garth Brooks’ “The River,” Willie Nelson’s “Whiskey River” and Bob Dylan’s “Watching The River Flow,” to name but a few.


Monday, February 3

LATIMES.COM — At 71, James Taylor has a new audio memoir, loves watching ‘Blue Bloods’ and won’t dish on Carly Simon

By Amy Kaufman

LENOX, Mass. — Even here, in the stillness of the Berkshires forest, James Taylor grows anxious. He has to be conscious of how he enters his days, since he most often experiences stress during the first six hours of being awake.
“I was glad to get a chance to see my shrink. I haven’t seen her since before the break,” he says. “I think any attempt at mental health is an excellent idea. It’s a little bit self-centered and navel-gazing, to a certain extent, to focus on yourself to that degree. But some of us need to become conscious of what we’re doing that we need to stop doing.”

It’s early January, and the 71-year-old, who has just driven the mile of his maple-lined entry after visiting with his therapist, walks into TheBarn — his recording studio, a building just a few paces from where he sleeps — and takes off his coat. He keeps on his trademark newsboy cap while tending to the fire in the wood-burning stove.

It’s difficult to imagine a more tranquil environment. But in recent years, Taylor says, he has found his anxiety becoming “a bear.” From the inception of his career, the musician has been open about his mental health struggles. In his senior year of high school, he spent 10 months at Boston’s McLean Hospital during his first depressive episode. A couple of years later, he checked into another residential treatment center in an attempt to kick his heroin addiction. It was there that he composed the majority of his first hit record, 1970’s “Sweet Baby James” — a story he shared whenever he spoke about his songwriting.

Which is why, when Taylor has been asked by publishers over the years to write his memoirs, he has declined. Because he finds it redundant to talk about his music — “it should be listened to, and it either connects or it doesn’t” — he’s been more forthcoming about his personal struggles since he became famous 50 years ago.

“I didn’t necessarily feel worthy of anyone’s attention, so when I was interviewed, I’d just say, ‘Well, whatever you think is worthy of writing about. Here’s the whole thing,’” he says, settling into a chair at the kitchen table. “I think that’s part of being a public person. You have to accept that people can have any of it that they want, and they will interpret it as they will. Self-doubt is a trait I really like in people — I trust people who are right-sized. But I don’t think it’s a very helpful trait if you’re going to be a celebrity. I think you have to be very entitled to pull it off.”

Then, last summer, Audible approached Taylor about collaborating on a project. Because he was preparing to release an album of classic covers — “American Standard,” out Feb. 28 — his manager thought that teaming up with the audio company might help to promote the new music.

“My wife and I like ‘Blue Bloods,’ and when you watch one of those, they set out three plot lines at the beginning. You follow them and they all resolve,” Taylor says, referring to the CBS family and police procedural drama. “We can’t just have one plot line anymore. I feel as though multi-tasking in that way is sort of the new norm, and I think my manager looks at it from the same point of view: ‘Let’s do something that allows us to make even more noise in the popular culture for a second.’”

Initially, Taylor envisioned creating something for Audible that would focus on his songwriting. He planned on selecting six of his tunes and talking about the process of writing them, their meaning and reception.

But when he began talking to the project’s producer, Bill Flanagan — an author and television executive who oversaw VH1’s “Storytellers” and CMT’s “Crossroads” — a different idea emerged.
“We talked on the phone about the parameters — about 90 minutes of James talking about something — and the best idea that came up was his detailing the first 21 years of his life,” says Flanagan, who has known Taylor for 35 years. “In the years I was at VH1 and MTV, he never wanted to do a ‘Behind the Music’ special — he could never be talked into it. So it was interesting to me how fully committed and into this he was once we started going. He told me a lot of stuff I never knew. And he’s one of the only rock stars you’ll ever meet who speaks in full paragraphs.”

Taylor decided to call the audio memoir “Break Shot: My First 21 Years.” The title is a reference to the first shot of a billiards game, when the cue ball slams into the other balls, sending them off into various directions. For Taylor, that moment occurred when he left his Massachusetts boarding school, Milton Academy, and went to McLean. But “it had been building,” he says, “to a real discontinuity:” His father’s alcoholism had reached a critical point. His parents’ marriage was coming to an end. The Vietnam War was underway. John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated. The U.S. was living under the threat of nuclear annihilation amid the Cuban Missile Crisis.

He was on the precipice of adulthood, but he didn’t have any direction. Growing up, Taylor often felt crushed by the weight of his family’s unspoken expectations. His father was, as he puts it, “the ultimate academician” — a star student who went from Harvard Medical School to head resident at Massachusetts General Hospital. When Taylor and his four siblings were still kids, their father uprooted them from the Northeast to North Carolina, where he would later become dean of the University of North Carolina Medical School.

But as he remembers in “Break Shot,” Taylor wasn’t getting any clear instruction from his parents on how to achieve such success — about how to apply to college or pursue a career. He grapples with his relationship to his parents throughout the audio memoir, which he says he largely felt comfortable making at all because his parents are no longer around.

“I wanted to be careful not to drag other people’s business into the street — people who are my contemporaries and my siblings — anyone who’s still alive,” he explains.

Less than a month before the Jan. 31 release of the Audible project, Taylor is still uneasy about the prospect of sharing it with the world. Because the final touches had yet to be put on the audio version of the story, his representatives would allow The Times to review only the manuscript of “Break Shot” — and to read it on Taylor’s property.

The singer-songwriter says his hesitation came from a fear that someone might “furiously read it and mine it for its prurient or sensational aspects” before release. The abbreviated memoir does delve into his infamous drug use — he didn’t get sober until his mid-30s — and in one scene, he recalls how he accidentally gave John Lennon a dose of methadone “too big to be taken by a civilian…. I am sure glad I didn’t kill John Lennon that day,” he says.

But, as promised, he never reveals much about his intimate relationships with other living public figures. He briefly mentions taking up with Joni Mitchell, saying only: “Our romance did not last that long, but our friendship has sustained for 50 years.” And the only reference to his first wife, Carly Simon, occurs as he is recalling his childhood summers on Martha’s Vineyard, where he says he first met the Simon sisters who, at 14, were out of his league. He married Simon in 1972, a few years after “Break Shot” cuts off.

“Maybe that’s why Bill suggested we do that early part [of my life], so as not to have to make decisions like that,” Taylor says of excluding his romance with Simon from the story. “It’s hard to talk about, to tell half of a story like that. To own the whole thing — I’m glad I didn’t have to talk about those intimate relationships with people who are still alive.”

Simon — with whom Taylor has two adult children, Sally, 46, and Ben, 43 — made a very different choice when she wrote her own memoir in 2015, “Boys in the Trees.” In the book, she wrote extensively about her 10-year marriage to Taylor, detailing how she watched him shoot up in a room at the Chateau Marmont and her intense physical attraction to him.

“The connecting of our skin went more than inches,” she wrote of the first night they spent together in 1971. “He was four inches taller and his torso was much longer than mine, but it felt as though a manufacturer of bodies had copied our limbs and made them a perfect double.”

But if Taylor was upset about the revelations in Simon’s book, he doesn’t show it.

“I think she’s been pretty kind to me, and that’s certainly her story to tell,” he says of his ex-wife, who told The Times in 2015 that her kids weren’t allowed to give her Taylor’s phone number. “Maybe she got better offers. Or maybe they were more compelling, somehow. One should be free to be one’s self and not the prosecuting attorney and the defense. It would be hard for me.”

Flanagan didn’t push for such detail, anyway, he says: “By 21, he’d spent time in a mental institution, got into a motorcycle accident, got addicted to heroin, started playing music with the Beatles. I just felt there was so much good stuff that I was very, very happy with ending it there.”

The idea of someday sharing more about his life isn’t particularly appealing to Taylor, who still has trouble viewing himself as in any way exceptional. In TheBarn, memorabilia from his celebrated career — magazine covers, photos with politicians, commemorative record sale plaques — was put on the walls of the stairwell only after his assistant asked if she could take the keepsakes out of storage. (His five Grammy awards rest on shelves above her desk on the second floor of the office.)

“I certainly don’t have anything enlightening to say,” he says of the prospect of a future written memoir. “I don’t have anything to say that other people aren’t saying as well, and probably saying better. This Audible thing is fine, you know? It takes the part before I was known, and basically sort of lays it down, and I think it is an interesting story with a couple of lessons to be learned from it about parenting, about how we help young people become adults.”

Taylor has two other children, 18-year-old twins Rufus and Henry, with his third wife, Kim, whom he married in 2001. Like their father, the boys attend Milton Academy and are both interested in music. Rufus is a fan of musical theater, while Henry is the head of the school’s male a cappella group and plays jazz guitar.

“Looking at Sally and Ben’s experience with two parents who were successful in music, it may open a few doors, but you pay much more for it,” Taylor says of his elder children, who are also singer-songwriters. “Celebrity is good for the celebrity, but it’s really not that great for everyone around the celebrity. It’s something you have to cope with. It’s not really an advantage. It’s not the ideal situation for a kid coming up to have a parent who’s in the spotlight somehow.”

Raising his younger boys, Taylor says, he was especially cognizant of making sure his sons realized that “their parents’ emotional needs are not their responsibility.” As he recites in “Break Shot,” he often felt he had to parent his parents — particularly during ages 7 to 9, when his father left the family for two years to serve as a medical officer for the U.S. Navy in Antarctica. The eventual divorce of Taylor’s parents was hard on him, and as an adult, he invited his father to one of his therapy sessions in New York to discuss it.

During the meeting, he says in “Break Shot,” the psychologist confronted Taylor’s father, asking why he’d had five children with a woman he didn’t love. He replied that his own mother had died in childbirth, so he surmised his ex-wife might come to the same fate.

“He was just trying to maintain a little bit of his pride,” Taylor says of the brusque remark. “My dad was a little defensive coming down to New York to talk to a sort of a feminist family police. She was almost indicting him for my issues. He wanted to show me that he loved me and would do anything for me. If I wanted him to come down and come talk to a family therapist, he’s there for me. But if she starts poking at him with a stick, he’s going to bite her back, and he did.”

Taylor has found himself reflecting more on his youth as he ages. “It seems to be a time of summing up,” he says, “when there’s a finite amount of time that remains.” When he listens to music — which is, in fact, a rarity, because he prefers silence so he can “put something together” in his head — he finds himself returning to favorites from his childhood. “American Standard,” which he began work on in 2018, includes 14 guitar-centric arrangements of songs he treasured as a boy: “The Surrey With the Fringe on Top” from “Oklahoma,” Henry Mancini’s “Moon River,” Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught.”

“Not only do these songs inform my music, but very early on, they were what I was playing,” he says. “Those songs were so smart and so capable and so well done that as songs, they need to have a presence in the life of music. I think it’s good to reiterate them. Bill Evans played these songs so beautifully. He threw them into a whole new light on the piano that it inspired an entire generation of jazz players. I’m not saying that I’m as capable as he, but the thing is, it’s worth doing if you bring something new to it or see it in a new light.”

In May, Taylor will embark on a 26-date U.S. tour with Jackson Browne to promote the new music. (He’ll stop in Anaheim on May 28.) He is rarely at home for more than a month, but tries to balance his touring schedule just enough so that he doesn’t tire of it.

“In its season, there’s nothing like it,” he says of being on the road. “I don’t know if I’ve got another studio album in me of my own material. It’s hard to know what will happen in the next 10 years. I’m still writing. I feel as though I’ve done this all my life, and I just want to take it as far as I can go.”


Monday, February 3

BERKSHIREEAGLE.COM – A busy James Taylor reflects on a long and winding road

By Clarence Fanto

WASHINGTON — A half-century after his breakthrough as a singer-songwriter, James Taylor is coming to grips with the rocky road that led him to a hard-won stardom. On Feb. 1, 1970, his album “Sweet Baby James” was released, including his first top-10 hit, “Fire and Rain.”

This is a busy year for JT, whose groundbreaking audio memoir “Break Shot: My First 21 Years” — it’s a musical autobiography — just came out on His 19th studio album, “American Standard,” is set for release Feb. 28 on Fantasy Records. Spring and summer North American tours are ahead, including the annual Independence Day celebration on July 4 at Tanglewood.

The album of Broadway and pop standards is intertwined with the audio memoir, a project brought to him by his management team.

The deeply introspective look at his formative years forced Taylor to confront the personal demons that haunted him from his privileged but ultimately fractured family life, suicidal thoughts while in high school and eventual heroin addiction.

“Three of us kids ended up in psychiatric hospitals, and the fourth should have,” he says in “Break Shot.”

“Drug and alcohol addiction tore us up. You could make a case that most of the songs I’ve written have been a way of trying to work out just what happened to us. Like that movie `Groundhog Day,’ I keep going through it over and over until I figure it out, until I get it right.”

In the memoir, he acknowledges that “heading out into the world to play music was not a career path, it was an abandonment of conventional ambitions. It was like becoming a hobo and riding the rails. No one was offering the music business as a college degree. Any hope my family might have had that I would pull myself together, go to college, study law or medicine, was now abandoned. I was heading into territory for which there was no map. I was free.”

But barely out of his teens, he managed to break into the music business, winding up in London, singing for Paul McCartney and George Harrison and being the first outside act signed to Apple, the Beatles’ new label, to cut his first album.

“I felt like I was in the big leagues,” Taylor remembers. “Fifty years later, I can’t get over what the Beatles did for me. Their approval validated my music and introduced me to the world I’ve lived in ever since. The Beatles opened the door and invited me through. It was the dividing line in my life.”

Taylor speaks briefly of his brief romance with Joni Mitchell, followed by a lifelong friendship with her and with Carole King. He credits his 19-year marriage to Kim Taylor for overcoming multiple personal struggles.

“Falling in love with Kim put my life back on the path I might have wandered off forever,” he says. “Kim also gave me a second chance to have a family, now that I was old enough and clearheaded enough to take it on. With Kim, I was able to break the patterns I inherited from my father; I was able to become my own man.”

During a revealing fireside chat at his home base in the town of Washington, Taylor mused about the long and winding trail, including bouts of depression that led him to spend time at the McLean psychiatric hospital outside Boston, and then at the Austen Riggs Center in Stockbridge to kick heroin.

“Austen Riggs is very close to where I live now,” Taylor said. “Life circles around.”

The following conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Q: What inspired you to revisit your first 20 years through an audio memoir and a related album?

A: One of my managers, Sam Feldman, thought it would be a good idea to have both things support each other.

I’ve never done anything like the Audible project before, so, I worked with music journalist Bill Flanagan. We did a few days of interviews, came up with a script, accompanied by some music that illustrates it. It’s a short autobiography of my beginnings, and I’m reading it as if I had written a book.

It focuses on the story of my mom [Trudy] and dad [Dr. Isaac “Ike” Taylor] after he moved all of us down to North Carolina in 1951 for his position at the University of North Carolina’s Memorial Hospital in Chapel Hill. Then he went on a Navy expedition to the South Pole as a medic in 1956-57.

I was 8 and 9, and it was a tough time for my mom. Moving to North Carolina was a very abrupt and complete change from what she was used to in Boston, a real stretch, and then for him to leave for two years, [she became depressed].

Q: In delving deeply into the first 20 years of your life, were there any fresh insights that struck you?

A: In focusing in depth on my childhood and that formative period, I see it as a whole now, being very much what happened to me and my entire family in the cultural context of the ’60s, Vietnam, nuclear proliferation, the civil rights movement, assassinations, Nixon and Watergate. A lot of things changed, the music and the way we communicate. It was remarkable.

The typical form was go to high school, college and become a professional. Those forms that people always relied on, like my father did, were called into question. And the music was a key part of it.

Q: How did the music bring you to a closer understanding of your past, and your family’s traumas?

A: We assemble our own personal mythology from elements of the popular culture, and we use that popular art to support ourselves. The music is a big, big part of that.

There was a family story informed by my father’s tragic childhood. He was raised by his aunt from Springfield because his mother died giving birth to him. After my father moved us south to get in touch with his North Carolina roots, there was his alcoholism, though he was an extremely functional, brilliant man as well, and a loving father. Then he left my mother for two years to go to the South Pole, where we had no contact with him at all except for a big packet of letters from time to time and gifts for each kid’s birthday.

Q: What’s the significance of the audio memoir’s title, “Break Shot”?

A: It’s the opening in a game of pool, when you slam the cue ball into the 15 other balls in the middle of the table, giving them a good smack and they go flying off in all directions, all at once. That’s how I felt in 1967-68, when my dad’s drinking overwhelmed him, my mom and dad separated, my brother Alex dropped out of school [he died in 1993, at age 46, of alcoholism].

I went to McLean Hospital and was followed there by two of my siblings. It seemed like everything had cruised along relatively normally and then suddenly the whole thing just fell apart. For five children of a committed academic, for not one of them to go to college was unusual.

I have been somewhat mystified by why we jumped the rails like that. I think I understand it more now; I understand my mother and my father. The tragedy of his birth very much informed his life, and all of ours; there wasn’t enough joy in his motivation, it was all duty and proving himself.

Q: Do you foresee sequels to “Break Shot,” covering your later life?

A: I’m such an autobiographical artist anyway, my stuff is so self-referred and self-centered that it would seem redundant to do that. It has been interesting to take a look at this haphazard way I fell into this life, or wandered into it. But, I think I put all that out there, one way or another.

Q: What inspired you to delve into pop standards and Broadway classics for your new album?

A: The Gershwins, Cole Porter, Frank Loesser, Rodgers and Hammerstein, all this was basically our parents’ music from the ’30s into the ’60s. That music was called the American Songbook, performed by Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Bill Evans.

This really is the pinnacle of American popular music. Lennon and McCartney grew up listening to it, and it was a harmonic source. It’s important that people keep that stuff alive as a source so that we don’t dumb down too much in our music as we go forward.

My own sources were those songs and their harmonic sense, the typical sort of Protestant American hymnal had a huge effect on all of our music, and then equal parts Brazilian, Afro-Cuban, and rhythm and blues, along with Celtic music, some harmonically accessible classical pieces by Aaron Copland (“Appalachian Spring”), Ralph Vaughan-Williams (“Greensleeves”), Dvorak.

I was introduced to those various musical forms before I was 20, and my parents’ record collection was the first thing. There was always country music on the radio. As time goes by, it’s clearer to me what my sources were.

Q:There are so many standards; how did you narrow down to 14?

A: Over the years, I’ve done many covers, and you want to do something new with the material instead of just substituting your voice for Nat King Cole. These chosen songs are those I learned on my guitar growing up; it’s the way I’ve always done covers and the way we did these standards. So, I have my own versions going into the project, and that’s the foundation.

And I worked with John Pizzarelli, a great guitarist, a delight. We had a musical conversation back and forth; that’s what generated these arrangements. I wanted to keep my guitar version supported by John Pizzarelli’s seven-string guitar, to keep that simplicity and transparency, and then we worked like crazy on the vocals and some choral parts here and there.

The process is very similar to writing a song. I have a lens, an approach, which is in no way complicated or formalized. It’s like speaking in a certain vernacular. I have a musical vocabulary and I just apply it to these songs.

Q: What are the challenges of promoting a new album like this?

A: The music doesn’t need to be sold; one of the great things about music is that it either strikes you or it doesn’t, it either engages you or it sails right by you. With my type of music, the beauty of it is, it connects with us or it doesn’t.

If I can get people to listen to it, I’ve done my job. And if they like it, they want it to be in their ears and in their lives, or not. It’s just getting it out there and getting it noticed in this changed world. We’ll go out again on the road this summer, and we’ll find room for a couple of these tunes.

Q: Are there any downsides to fame?

A: I think there’s such a thing as too much exposure, being too popular. I see people whose lives are restricted by how well-known they are. I can move relatively calmly and comfortably in pretty much any circumstance.

People in the Berkshires may recognize me more than they do elsewhere, but basically, it’s a very comfortable level of fame, it’s really the best of both worlds, and it’s been extremely gratifying.

Q: How did you come up with the album title “American Standard.”

A: The last time you saw it was on a plumbing fixture. I don’t think many people will realize that. I remembered the name between the two taps on a kitchen sink in North Carolina, cast into the porcelain in cool blue letters. I have that association with it from those days. So, the album’s got everything but the kitchen sink in it.


Thursday, January 30

AMERICANSONGWRITER.COM – Inside an Icon: Henry Diltz and Sweet Baby James

By Paul Zollo

There comes a time in your teenage years when image is everything. You’re searching for someone to emulate – you’re looking for a hero. Your parents aren’t heroic anymore – quite the contrary — so you’re spending a lot of time alone in your bedroom. When I was a teenager, in the early 70s, there was no computer in the bedroom, no cell phone, no Internet, no TV, no video games. What you had were your records. LPs. And those LPs came with big pictures on the cover, pictures you could scrutinize and obsess over for hours, while reading the lyrics and absorbing the music.

And then there was JT. James Taylor. Sweet Baby James. And there was the blue-green hue of that iconic portrait taken by Henry Diltz. And inside the album, the lyrics were printed on a big double-spread, on the back of which was another beautiful portrait taken by Mr. Diltz. A portrait, like the cover shot, that showed James gazing gently at the photographer, not in some cold studio, but outside, in the natural splendor of nature, as natural as his earthy, captivating voice.

At that time, the image of James, to me, was everything. He was a hero, and that picture captured all his shining heroic greatness. He was the essence of cool; cooler than any big brother, cooler than the coolest teacher or pro athlete. He was, like they said about Clark Gable in his day, the kind of man women swoon over, and men want to be. Not only was he tall and movie-star handsome, but he had a voice like the earth itself, a voice resplendent in its resonance.

And he wrote songs that sounded like heaven. Songs of sadness – like “Fire and Rain,” songs of that natural splendor, like “Blossom” and “Anywhere Like Heaven,” songs that rocked with the blues, like “Steamroller Blues,” and songs that told mythic cowboy tales, like “Sweet Baby James.” To be a kid in the suburbs of Chicago and hear him sing about a “young cowboy who lives on the plains,” and whose “horse and cattle are his only companions,” was more beautiful and thrilling and soul-nourishing than anything we had before; it was more thrilling than “Twilight Zone,” than Ed Sullivan, than baseball, than the Marx Brothers, than Superman, Batman and the Green Lantern all combined.

And it was all represented by those photos, taken by a guy whose name I knew well from all those years of scrutinizing album covers. Henry Diltz. The name to me became as mythic as the music it accompanied. A name I saw on the LPs of so many of the great heroes of that time. But this one – Sweet Baby James – will always resound in my life, because it intersected with my soul at that exact moment – that incredibly impressionable moment of awakening youth – when the whole world is just starting to unfold in all its beautiful, romantic and mysterious glory. It was a world in which, instead of becoming a businessman like most of our fathers, one could become a man like JT. A man who strode like Lincoln with a guitar. A man who hung out and romanced genuine goddesses, like Joni Mitchell and Carole King.

Like so many people my age, I took that middle-spread Diltzian portrait of JT out of the album, and taped it up in my bedroom. Over my desk. So I could look into his eyes every day – in the morning when I got up, in the long after-school afternoon when I would make that happy leap directly into the heart of his music, and in the night, when I’d go to sleep. I’d look into those eyes that were smiling – a confident, knowing smile –smiling precisely because they were looking into the lens of Henry Diltz. There was Henry, behind the photo, behind his camera, this magical and mysterious man of the famous name and even more famous photos, whose own face was always hidden, never revealed, only reflected in the beamish repose of those he photographed.

This photo was cropped perfectly, so that all the emphasis of was on the face itself – that face of ambition, of preternatural wisdom – that face of romance, of possibility, of promise. It was all captured by the gifted Mr. Diltz, whose own face I imagined – way back then, many decades ago now – to be even older than it is now. I reasoned that anyone taking photos of that caliber, and hanging out with all these artists – these artists from California of all fantastic places, the exotic Golden State – these artists who painted our very lives with their powerfully intimate voices and songs and guitars – anyone who could do all that had to have been doing it a long time to reach this plateau of greatness.

I assumed, wrongly, that Henry was an old guy. I figured he must be a very seasoned pro who had been around the music world for decades so as to be granted access to my heroes. For some reason I pictured him then not unlike the way he looks now – an old hippie. Not a young one, but still with a sparkle in his eyes and a pony-tail.

But little did I know at the time that Henry was actually one of their peers. A musician himself. A denizen of that same Laurel Canyon from which so much of this special magic emanated. But, as I later discovered, it was because Henry himself possessed that very magic – he played music, he hung with goddesses, he laughed and partied alongside JT and Cros and all the coolest of the cool heroes – that he and he alone could translate that magic at this unique juncture in human history, at this farthest western edge of the continent, and he could embody in his photographs this unique, unprecedented fusion of Americana with poetry, myth, folk music, rock and roll, art, literature, drugs, electricity, budding awareness, blossoming enlightenment, audacious aspiration, rebellion, revolution, book smarts, street wisdom, spirituality, real romance, sexual fire, beauty, and euphoria, and he could do it in a way that was elegant, imbued with grace, and as timeless as those songs are timeless.

I also assumed, wrongly, that the photo was taken in James’ native Massachusetts. I never thought about this aspect much, it’s just something I figured neatly into the equation. It was a bit of a revelation when, years later, Henry told me he actually shot it in Burbank! Over at what is now the Oakwood Apartments, where Zevon and others came to sometimes reside. Back then it was a farm with an old weathered barn that Henry loved to use for shoots.

Henry Diltz, in his visual expedition into the heart of the music, preserved for all of us the magical genius of that time, the inspirational glory that was expressed in those classic songs, in the words and music of James Taylor and the rest. And though JT himself, and all of us, have aged, the music is untouched by time, the spirit perseveres, and those great photos by Henry Diltz remain; their power is undiminished by the crass commercialism of modern times. Those great photos remain great because it was a great time, and great artists were connected directly to the electric bloodstream of the people, and their music was our music, and their visionary hopes for a better world were our hopes, and their romance was our romance. And one man captured it all. And it turns out, remarkably, that he’s one of the sweetest humans ever. His name is Henry Diltz.