W. Allen Taylor | Music & Medicine
W. Allen Taylor, winner of the San Francisco Bay Area’s first “Jazz Search West Competition” in 2010, combines originality with a style reminiscent of the golden age of jazz singing. With vocal influences that include Al Jarreau, Betty Carter, Nat King Cole, Eddie Jefferson, and Little Jimmy Scott, he explores the classic jazz standards with a richly dynamic approach. As a band-leader and guest vocalist, the current DC Area resident has appeared in many of its popular venues including Alice’s Jazz & Cultural Society, The Brixton, Columbia Station, Mr. Henry’s, Twins Jazz, JoJo Restaurant, Takoma Station, and Westminster Jazz Night in DC. In the SF Bay Area, where he lived for 27 years until 2016, Taylor performed at Anna’s Jazz Island, Slates Jazz Supper Club, The Jazzschool, Piedmont Piano Company, Avonova, The Sound Room, the Seahorse Supperclub, Geoffrey’s Inner Circle, 57th Street Gallery, and many other local establishments.
Mr. Taylor is also a former member and featured soloist with the Oakland Jazz Choir, the Jazz Singers Collective, and the East Bay Center Jazz Ensemble. He was a frequent featured vocalist with the Yancie Taylor Jazztet, the Noel Jewkes Quartet, and the Sharp Five Jazz Band during his years in the Bay Area. Music was Taylor’s first love. The Cleveland, Ohio native played piano as a child, led a rock/soul band as a teenaged drummer, and had a popular jazz- fusion radio show as a college DJ that would lead to a move to NYC in pursuit of a professional radio career as a jazz disc jockey. However, his early ambitions were eventually sidelined by a long career in the theatre, and music remained an avocation for much of his professional life. As a young adult, Taylor became a classically trained actor, and performed in many regional theatres around the country and in NYC, where he worked with such prominent theatre companies as the Negro Ensemble Company and the La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club. He later performed on Broadway, where he appeared in August Wilson’s “Seven Guitars”. As a theatre solo-performer, his critically acclaimed one-man play, “Walkin’ Talkin’ Bill Hawkins…In Search of My Father”, which he wrote and performed for 20 years, won the “Best Solo-Performance of 2006 Award” from the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. The play was also nominated for an Audelco Award in NYC for Best Solo-Performance of 2008, and had its final performance in Washington, DC in 2018.
In addition, Mr. Taylor has been a theatre educator for many years. After receiving his MFA from the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco, he taught acting, and directed numerous plays, while serving on the Bay Area faculties of the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts, Laney College, and the College of Marin. In 2016, he retired from COM as a tenured professor and former drama department chair. While theatre was his priority for 35 years, music was always standing nearby, and ironically, it was theatre and serendipity that introduced him to the possibilities of singing. After singing a song for a student exercise in a NYC acting class in 1980, his teacher recommended that he audition for the chorus of an upcoming production of the opera, “Don Giovanni”, at a neighboring theatre. He reluctantly auditioned and was cast, making his theatrical stage debut, not as an actor…but as a singer. It was in preparing for this small but intimidating role, that he took his first singing lessons; and when the opera closed, his singing teacher encouraged him to continue. However, his musical tastes had been evolving towards jazz for a number of years, so his time with the operatic instructor would be short-lived. It was then that he had the good fortune of being cast in a blues musical theatre production, giving Taylor an incredible opportunity to arrive at the theatre early, with charts in hand, in an effort to talk the musicians into playing some standards for him. As they were primarily jazz players, they were more than willing to humor the young vocal neophyte with enough accompaniment to give him a revealing dose of reality on the amount of work involved for an aspiring jazz singer. Taylor continued to act in plays through the early 80s, but with a growing appetite to take his new ambition to a higher level. He soon landed in a weekly vocal workshop with the renowned pianist, Barry Harris, at Harris’s legendary Jazz Cultural Theater; a hip one-of-kind storefront nightclub that offered instrumental and vocal jazz training. The experience left a huge impression, as he studied music theory and vocal harmony in a group setting, and became a member of Harris’s jazz chorus of that time. Harris also gave Taylor his first job as a waiter at JCT, after he quit his day-job in 1983.
While he truly loved singing, theatre had begun to give Taylor more consistent work by the mid-80s, and he followed the lead of his budding success as an actor. He eventually decided to move to San Francisco in 1987, after being accepted into a graduate program for advanced acting training. This decision would not only be critical to his longevity as a theatre artist and educator, but would also allow him the stability to give his sideline a stronger presence. After graduation in 1989, he started searching out jazz open-mics, and for the first time, he was singing the standards he loved, as a soloist…and he hasn’t looked back since.
Today, Mr. Taylor is singing more than ever. Now in the third act of his life journey’s arc, he still remains active in theatre as an acting coach and teacher, but music is clearly no longer on the sideline. It is finally back at the forefront of his evolution as an artist. With the release of his debut album, “Storyteller”, a new and intriguing chapter has officially begun.