“It was a ballsy move,” admits 28-year-old Grammy-winning trumpeter Curtis Taylor on his relocation last January from Jersey City to San Diego. Taylor was playing hundreds of sideman gigs back East: “I didn’t realize how much I was giving up to make this move. Last year, I didn’t have to look for work at all; I pretty much just had to answer my phone and say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’” Taylor visited San Diego last October to record the debut album of vocalist Mimi Klein, with UCSD professor Kamau Kenyatta, the same man who, as producer, brought him onboard for singer Gregory Porter’s Liquid Spirits, the winner of the 2014 Best Jazz Vocal album.
“What brought me here is simple — two words: Kamau Kenyatta. I came out here, man, this is the first time in Southern California, and my thoughts are really clear. A lot of people seem nicer out here, compared to the East Coast [laughs]. There wasn’t so many people per square inch...I knew I had to get back as soon as possible. Since I’ve been here, some really great things have happened. I’m trying to plant here, or at least make this my base of operations. Ideally, I’m trying to travel and perform with any and everybody I can, as well as work on my own projects, but I specifically came here to team up with Kamau and focus on my own product to offer the music community.”
Taylor is confident that San Diego is the place to develop as a bandleader, even if it meant walking away from so many opportunities on the East Coast. “I did not realize how ballsy it was until, like, three weeks into being here. I said, ‘Wow, did I just do that?’ But last year, I had maybe 2 or 3 gigs as a leader, and since I moved here I’ve probably had 15 since January. I’m just stepping out here on faith — and people have been just lining themselves up to help me.”
Even though Taylor played on Porter’s first album, Water (also nominated for a Grammy), he wasn’t a lock to perform on Liquid Spirits. “It was actually between me and Roy Hargrove,” Taylor relates. “I’m so, so glad they went with me. I mean, [Hargrove is] one of my favorites, man, but I need some time, too!”
Did he have any idea Liquid Spirits would garner such acclaim? “I knew it,” Taylor says. “The songs that Greg wrote really spoke to the people, and I was elated to be a part of it!”