By Susan L. Peña
Berks Arts is happy to be honoring guitarist/educator Josh Taylor with the 2021 Frank Scott Award. The annual award is sponsored by the Jerlyn Foundation, is named for the well-known local jazz saxophonist, Frank Scott, who passed away in 1995.
Taylor is a professional guitarist best known in recent years for his performances of Gypsy Jazz music. He and his son Josiah have been featured in concerts at the past several Boscov’s Berks Jazz Fests, and this year he will be part of the Hot Club ensemble in “Reading Pops Orchestra Celebrates the Spirit of Django Reinhardt” on Aug. 14.
Taylor has mentored countless music students in the Reading School District in after-school music programs, and in Reading Musical Foundation-sponsored programs at the Olivet Boys and Girls Clubs in Reading.
“I’m pretty humbled and honored to receive this award,” Taylor said. “A lot of the people I’ve grown up with have already won it, so I’m happy to be in their company.”
Growing up in northeast Reading, Taylor heard his father playing folk and blues music on his acoustic guitar. He also heard all kinds of music on his father’s extensive record collection—which included recordings of Django’s Hot Club of Paris.
He started learning acoustic guitar by ear when he was about 8. “Then I discovered (Jimi) Hendrix and early rock, and I wanted to play electric.”
He and his buddy, bass player Trey LaRue, played in rock and blues bands locally. After Taylor graduated from Reading High School in 1988, he attended West Chester University, earning a bachelor’s degree in health and physical education, with a minor in music.
Taylor was hired by the Reading School District as a substitute teacher just after graduating, and the next year became a full-time phys-ed teacher, continuing to play music on the side.
When the RMF initiated its outreach program, “Face the Music,” Taylor, guitarist David Cullen, music teacher Orlando Taylor, bassist Bennie Sims and keyboardist Cliff Starkey began teaching students improvisational music after school and at night at Olivet.
“We had a lot of kids who had a background in gospel, and a lot of Hispanic kids whose music was very percussion-driven, and the schools weren’t really set up for that,” Taylor said. “We offered guitar, bass, Latin and African hand-drumming and keyboards.”
Taylor also coordinated the music program for the RSD’s four Gateway Schools for Performing Arts, attended by more than 300 sixth-graders.
Meanwhile, Taylor was attempting to learn the music of Django using recordings. Then, around 2010, Taylor attended “Django in June,” a summer camp for teens and adults at Smith College in Northampton, MA. on an RMF scholarship.
“When I got there, I saw Gonzalo Bergara, one of my idols,” Taylor said. “He was teaching there. There were teachers from all over the world giving master classes all week. There were facilitated jams and spontaneous jams. On weekends, the teachers put together a show.”
Taylor returned to the camp with his son Josiah, then 14, and became a regular. He and friends from camp formed Djangoholics Anonymous and performed locally until scheduling became a problem.
Now Taylor and saxophonist/composer Chris Heslop have formed the Hot Club of Reading, along with Josiah, LaRue, and Ken Gehret. Taylor, LaRue and Heslop also perform as Hessie’s Hot Jazz, and LaRue and Taylor perform as a duo.