Taylor Haskins: Raising His (Trumpet) Voice
But it all started on piano for Haskinswho, at the age of four, would tap out songs he heard on television. Ironically, the first noticeable tune was "You Deserve a Break Today," a McDonald's fast food restaurant jingle. "I remember not being able to see the keys. I could feel the side of the keys. Plunking it out. The sad irony, or kismet of life, brought me to writing commercial music when I was 27 or 28. The first thing I ever sold was a McDonald's thing."
Piano lessons started at age five, and he picked up the trumpet at about age ten. He earned scholarships to both undergraduate and graduate school to pursue his musical studies. But for Haskins, 38, growing up did not involve hearing jazz on radio or TV. At a department store he bought two cassette tapes on a "buy one get one free" offer. One was Aerosmith. The other contained hits of Miles Davis.
"I just wore them out, shooting basketball in my driveway and playing them on the boom box over and over. Aerosmith was very popular, and there was plenty of information on them. But for Miles Davis, there wasn't information. There was no Internet. I couldn't just go absorb quickly some information. I really didn't know much about him until I got to college. I knew a little bit in high school from stage band. You know caricatures of people whose music you're playing. You don't really know fully who they were."
Maynard Ferguson also became a big influence, but "in college I really locked into Miles. That one tape. It was a real mixed bag too. A couple things from his electric period. A couple things from the '50s. There was one tune from Decoy (Columbia, 1984), 'What It Is.' I played that over and over. I could see how it related to the things I was into. I was also into prog rock, like Genesis and Rush, things like that. It was a gradual crossover for me."
From Davis, he picked up John Coltrane and then guitar players like Pat Metheny. And Wynton Marsalis, because he was doing the classical/jazz crossover thing at the time. I was studying classical trumpet and really just learning about jazz, so that was a huge influence."
At the Manhattan School of Music, he got some tutelage from the extraordinary trumpeter Lew Soloff. "He's great. He just has a lot of knowledge about the trumpet. The kind of knowledge I needed at the time. I'm an instinctual player. I haven't studied a lot formally. All the formal studies I've ever done have, at first, set me back. Then I come back to things, after I've recovered from whatever mistakes I made from making adjustments, based on what the people were saying. I could take pieces of it later on and incorporate it. But in general, it wasn't really helping much. It was very dogmatic stuff. 'Do this exercise over and over and then you'll be successful.' That wasn't working for me. It was really all about this new thing, to me, which was the Carmine Caruso method, which was all about treating it like calisthenics or something. Focusing your air and how you use your air more efficiently, which made a lot of sense to me. That was great for me."
After graduating, he picked up work in New York. "I started playing in Broadway shows, subbing around. Rehearsal bands all the time. The first big gig I had was playing with Maynard Ferguson. It only lasted a few months. To get the call to go out with him was kind of special. Playing with him for a few months was great. I started playing with Maria Schneider's band when she was at Visiones [a NYC club]. That got me hooked up with a lot of people, spread the word. That was a great thing."
"Literally speaking, it was a New York Times ad. I haven't ever looked in the New York Times for work before or since. There was this ad for midi transcribers. I thought it was interesting. I applied and got the job transcribing popular songs into midi files. This company was starting music software. To write music based on algorithms. They were touting it as artificially intelligent music creation or something. And it did work. It was a fascinating project. I started working on that, and then I realized a little bit into it that the company that was funding the whole project was tomandandy, which at the time was a really big music production house for commercials in New York City. I got hooked into them that way. A fluke. Otherwise, it's kind of an impossible scene to get into.