Arts & Leisure

Taylor contributes to BLM protests with music

MUSICIAN MATTHEW EVAN Taylor, shown in his Middlebury College office, responded to the unrest over racial inequality by recording a series of jazz improvisations, distributing the work on Bandcamp.com, and contributing the proceeds to Black Lives Matters charities.

It’s the first time that I recall, since my grandmother’s funeral in 2017, crying during a performance … That one was particularly moving because I was really reaching for all that I could.
— Matthew Evan Taylor

MIDDLEBURY — In addition to attending some small-scale rallies around the state, Middlebury College Assistant Professor of Music Matthew Evan Taylor felt like he needed to respond in his own way to the Black Lives Matter protests that have sprung up over the past month. So Taylor released the seven-track digital album “Say Their Names” to the online music site Bandcamp on June 6. 
“‘Say Their Names’ is a collection of improvisations that I did using wind instruments and a loop station (a device with guitar pedals that help you record and playback a sound or a snippet of music),” Taylor said. “There are seven improvisations, each one representing my reaction to the news of the day since the George Floyd video was broadcasted and the protests began.”
Taylor uses Instagram to post daily clips of him recording and said that “the opportunity for me to record these (tracks for the album) comes out of this recurring challenge that I have of doing 39 seconds of improv a day until my 40th birthday (Dec. 3, 2020) … What prompted me to record these and in particular compile them into an album was that on May 29 I really started hearing about the death of Breonna Taylor and the senselessness of her murder.” That was when he created the track “Why Can’t We Breathe.”
Taylor said he created this album as a way to contribute to the protests, but also as a way to translate the pain and anger he felt after hearing the news each day. “It was the only way I could get my frustration and my outrage out. I felt really isolated here (in Vermont).” 
The first track on the album, “Lamentations for the Fallen,” moved Taylor to an unexpected depth. “It’s the first time that I recall, since my grandmother’s funeral in 2017, crying during a performance. 
“That one was particularly moving because I was really reaching for all that I could.” 
In the improvisations Taylor plays soprano and alto sax, flute, clarinet and hulusi (a reed instrument from Asia). He doesn’t recall having any particular musicians in mind when creating these tracks. “I think a lot of people draw a lot of parallels to John Coltrane’s late music or maybe even Archie Shepp, but I think it’s more because of the attitude behind it. There are so many voices I’ve heard so it’s hard to pinpoint.” 
One Coltrane song, though, has always fascinated Taylor  — “Alabama.” The jazz legend recorded “Alabama” in response to the death of four girls in the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing of 1963 — a moment of white supremacist violence that has echoes with today’s racial environment. 
Taylor announced through social media at the time of the release that he would donate the proceeds from “Say Their Names” to Black Lives Matter movement, the Equal Justice Initiative and “other causes that are leading the renewed fight against anti-black racism.” He said he would match purchases up to $500 — “It quickly blew past that,” he says. The album can be purchased for $5 — or more — on Bandcamp.com. 
“The response has been really great,” Taylor said. “I’m planning on making a donation next week of about $2,000 distributed between organizations.” 
Since releasing “Say Their Names” Taylor said sales have slowed down and he has started to think about how to keep the momentum going. “It’s been an interesting process. My experience with a lot of stuff like this is that there is a lot of excitement at first, but slowly things start to die down. So, I’m asking myself, how can I use this format (music) in other ways to keep stirring things up.” 
Moving forward Taylor imagines there will continue to be a lot of uncertainty. He is currently trying to figure out what the fall semester with his students at Middlebury College will look like. Taylor says there have been several musical premiers that have been canceled due to COVID-19. 
“I’m hoping to work on using my position as a musician who also happens to be a college professor to help my freelance friends who have been devastated by all of this. So, I’ve got some initiatives coming up.
“The next year or so is going to be about outreach and support more than it will be about my own creative projects.” 

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