New Jersey native Taurey Butler has carved out a solid reputation as a highly skilled pianist able to wring the new out of the old to produce his unique and original style. His self-compositions have also drawn wide acclaim. Taurey took time out from his busy schedule to talk to Kreol Magazine.

The Lucky break

Surviving let alone thriving in the world of contemporary jazz takes talent, tenacity and the knack of being in the right place at the right time. For the budding young Creole performer Taurey Butler, it was a chance meeting with bassist Eldee Young that set him on his way, leading as it did to an extended tour in Asia. Then, in 2007, and following the death of Young, the by now more seasoned pianist opted to relocate to Montreal where he started to get regular gigs. The rest isn’t so much history as steady progress on a musical journey which suggests there is still plenty to be discovered by Butler – which is good news for jazz fans everywhere.

The beginning

So where did it all begin for Taurey Butler? Back home in East Orange, New Jersey. Taurey grew up to the sound of drums as his father was a drummer in a band which rehearsed in the family basement. Although a reasonable drummer himself – at “hobby level”, as he puts it – Taurey’s first instrument was keyboard, an Alesis QS8.1, which he owns to this day.

In terms of encouragement, his parents were supportive as were his piano teachers but the person who had the greatest impact was his high school band director, Barry Centanni. Recognising how much the young Butler loved music, Mr Centanni gave Taurey a solo piano recording of Oscar Peterson which proved to be something of a lightbulb moment. “He exposed me to something that he believed would inspire me – and from then I knew that jazz would always play a major role in my life,” reminisces Taurey.

At first, however, and despite his love of jazz, Taurey wasn’t sure about making a living by music. He enrolled at college where he studied Japanese and majored in electrical engineering. He saw himself as, “A Japanese speaking electrical engineer who loved playing jazz piano.” It was only when he returned to New Jersey and started to attend jam sessions in New York that his talent was recognised, and gigs started to come his way. While playing at the Cotton Club and Swing 46, he was to have that fateful encounter with Eldee Young. Fast forward a few years and with a number of original compositions such as ‘Sunset, Sunrise’; ‘An Afternoon Downtown’, and ‘Nobody’s Here’ to his name, Taurey is no longer the new kid on the block. He features regularly with his trio at one of Montreal’s most prestigious jazz clubs, The House of Jazz. He is also signed to Canada’s premier Jazz label – Justin Time Records.

Taurey Butler

The art of Composing

His arrangements have been described as “Adventurous, respectful and positively breath-taking”. Kreol wanted to know where he gets his inspiration from and how he goes about composing in the first place. He explains, “I’ve always loved the works by John Williams. It was from him I discovered Gustav Holst and his work ‘The Planets’. I also like Danny Elfman and Hans Zimmer – great film scoring composers. For jazz I like Duke Ellington, Wayne Shorter, John Coltrane, Horace Silver, Bobby Watson and Cedar Walton”.

“For arranging and composing, I use a variety of methods. Sometimes I start with a drum beat, a piano groove, a chord progression or a melody. It depends on the project and my mood. My favorite, yet much less reliable, method is in the shower. Sometimes ideas just come to me when I’m in there!”

His own Master

Forming the Taurey Butler Trio, shortly after arriving in Montreal, would prove to be another incisive moment in his career as it gave him more control over what he wished to express musically. To this end, he feels his culture and ethnicity have had a huge influence on his art.

“My culture and ethnicity mean everything to me. As an African-American, I am proud of the contribution my culture has made to the world. I am proud of the scientific, social and artistic advancements of the black American culture. It’s a source of validation and strength for me. In fact, the only truly original American art form is jazz. And that was created by African-Americans.”

Musical advice

Every musical career is a journey and while Taurey’s is still a relatively short one, it has taught him some valuable lessons which he is happy to pass on to fellow musicians anxious about making it in jazz. He advises, “Listen, learn, listen, practice, listen, imitate, listen, repeat, listen…and most importantly, don’t forget to listen. The more you listen, the more you will connect the patterns that occur naturally and the ones you’ll learn while studying.”

Taurey himself is still learning, needing a deadline to help him finish a composition. He admits, “I find that my main challenge with any musical project is to not get too absorbed in the creativity. Sometimes I spend too much time on the details instead of the overall song. That’s why deadlines are critical for me.” He also used to worry more about actually finishing everything he wanted to do but has learned to focus on each project at hand, get done what he can and to, “Keep digging further into music to discover more about myself.”

Extra-musical life

Away from music, he enjoys cooking (his favourite cuisine is soul food, Italian and Chinese) learning to draw and programming. In fact, if he hadn’t been a musician, he would have probably become a programmer or graphic designer. Speaking to Taurey, one gets the sense that while he is committed to his music, he doesn’t take himself too seriously. That said, he does feel he has a responsibility to use his talents to help others and performs benefits when the opportunity presents itself – last year, for instance, he played at the Salvation Army’s Center for Women in Montreal.