If I had any doubt that Livingston Taylor would really live up to the warm, genial and charming image portrayed by both critics and fans, it is quickly dispelled a couple of minutes after he picks up the phone.
“I am so excited to be coming back to Kent, Ohio,” Taylor said. “I love playing in Ohio under any circumstances, but I really love Kent.”
The talented multi-instrumentalist, known for his relaxed and easygoing charm, returns to the Kent Stage for a concert on Saturday evening.
Taylor, born in Boston and raised in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, is the brother of singer-songwriter James Taylor. He has crafted an impressive career of performing, recording, songwriting and teaching – and he is equally at home with pop, jazz, folk and gospel.
Taylor began performing in clubs and coffeehouses in the Boston area in the late 1960s, and it wasn’t long before he caught the attention of a major record label.
“I was taken down to Capricorn Records in 1970 because a guy that wanted to produce me – a writer by the name of Jon Landau – was going there to do an article on Otis Redding,” Taylor said. “I played a little music for the owner of the label, and the next thing you know I was signed to a record deal.”
Landau produced his debut Livingston Taylor, which included the song Carolina Day, as well as his follow up release Liv. Landau went on to a long career as producer and manager of Bruce Springsteen.
Taylor, who enjoyed a couple of top forty hits with the tunes I Will Be in Love with You and I’ll Come Running, is known for his well-crafted introspective original material as well as his intimate, humorous and natural stage presence.
“I’m always working on my music,” he said. “I rehearse a great deal. I practice a lot. I explore new musical ideas all the time. I play a lot of piano now. I’ve been able to develop my piano playing over the years and have that be a really viable part of who I am and what colors I can use.”
Taylor clearly still gets immense joy and satisfaction from performing live.
“I love an audience,” he said. “I love being in the presence of my audience. I’ve liked it since I was a little boy. There is no greater honor for me than the notion that there are some people waiting in Kent, Ohio for me to come and play.”
In addition to his musical pursuits, Taylor keeps busy as a professor and administrator at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. He teaches two courses on stage performance, and the classes are some of the college’s most popular offerings.
Taylor says that while some people are naturals on stage, performing skills can actually be taught. “It is very learnable,” he said. “You can teach people to do things on stage and to behave certain ways on stage that make a dramatic difference.”
Taylor should know, since he literally wrote the book on the subject. The revised version of his Stage Performance tome was released in May.
“I’ve critiqued over 10,000 performances,” he said. “You can take people from being quite terrible to being very good.”
With 17 albums under his belt, Taylor has amassed an impressive musical catalog. His most recent CD is 2010’s Last Alaska Moon. The well-received release features 23 songs and some noteworthy guests.
“It’s a lot of music,” Taylor explained. “It’s dense and fully recorded and we had some wonderful players on it. I had my brother James do a little work, along with my former sister-in-law Carly Simon, Vince Gill, Union Station and Take 6 – the list goes on.”
Fans at the Kent show can look forward to hearing songs from that effort as well as Taylor’s trademark mix of great material. “I’ll play some old stuff, some standards, and some funny things,” he said. “We’ll just travel along together for about an hour and a half or so.”
It sure sounds like an enjoyable ride.
Tickets are $26 and are available online or at the door. Show time is 8 p.m. with doors opening at 7 p.m.