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Hillsdale pianists music strikes a chord with Portland scene

Kit Taylor hits high notes with performances across town
by: Submitted Photo Taylor, who performs in a variety of genres, said his favorite style is R&B-fusion, similar to the likes of Stevie Wonder and Steely Dan.

HILLSDALE - Cutting a wide swath across a variety of musical styles in a variety of musical venues, Hillsdale resident Kit Taylor has made his mark all over the Portland music scene.

Performing on the piano as a solo act and in two groups and offering private lessons to students from his home studio, Taylor has tackled everything from jazz to pop to rhythm and blues and has no plans of stopping.

Taylor took a few moments to respond to some questions about his musical pursuits; here are his responses:

Claire Oliver: What got you involved in music?

Kit Taylor: I've been interested in music since I was very, very young. My parents got me involved in piano lessons at around age 5, and it took off from there. I started singing and writing songs at 12 and playing piano professionally at 16. My very first musical experience was at age 5, when I played the little musical theme from 'Close Encounters Of the Third Kind' by ear. It sort of struck a chord with my parents and prompted them to set up some lessons.

CO: Are you from the Portland area originally? What keeps you here?

KT: I grew up in Colton, Ore., then Oregon City and fi nally moved to Portland in my 20s. What keeps me here at the moment is the connections I've made in the Portland music scene and the work I get based on name recognition and the people who know me.

CO: Can you comment on the Portland music scene in general?

KT: Yes, I can comment on it. It's insane, in a good way. Portland has an absolutely incredible music scene. I personally know singers in town who could win 'American Idol' with their hands tied behind their back while blindfolded. Some of the best bass players, drummers, horn players and piano players I've ever heard in my entire life live right here. It can be very intimidating but inspiring at the same time. I don't know if every city is like this, but I know that Portland can hang with the best of them. If you pick the right group and the right club, you can hear mind-altering music on a nightly basis here in town.

CO: Can you describe your sound for me?

KT: I have several genres I play in. My favorite style of music is by far R and B-fusion; Stevie Wonder, Steely Dan, Jamiroquai, Bill Withers, Donny Hathaway, even Brian McKnight, Eric Benet and artists in that vein. I love playing the Rhodes electric piano and any style of music with a really solid groove. I'm currently working on a solo pop-fusion album in the vein of Sade, Pat Metheny and Michael Jackson… I've been dreaming about making a pop masterpiece for a couple years now, so to have it becoming a reality is almost surreal.

That style differs from the style that currently makes me my living. I've played solo jazz piano for some time now, since I was 20, and have gradually progress into the rock-and-roll, dueling- piano style with a few tweaks. I specialize in playing for special events, weddings, corporate, etc., where I play pretty much everything - Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga, The Beatles, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elton, Billy Joel, even Usher and Jay-Z.

I've done the Portland City Grill, the Benson Hotel and was recently at the Brasserie Monmartre on a weekly basis….

Currently I play keyboards with a really talented singer-songwriter, Steve Killen, and the band Safire. The sound has a progressive rock base with a little fusion-jazz influence. Steve spent more than year and a lot of resources recording the debut album, 'Crashing Tiles,' and then set out finding the right band to tour on the material. He and I connected on the project last November, and have been working steadily ever since. …

The other group that has been a huge part of my life is called Intervision. It's R and B-soul-pop, my favorite style, and we've been together since 2003. We opened for Lifehouse, played with The Neville Brothers, released three albums and got tons of press and radio play over the course of seven or so years. We still have a very large and active Portland fan base though, and so we do a few shows a year, mostly at Jimmy Mak's. Our next one is coming up on Aug. 27.

CO: What do you hope people take away from listening to your music?

KT: I just want people to be moved. In every style that I play in, I play with passion. When I'm playing solo piano, I bring the melody out almost as if the piano is singing. … In my writing, lyrically, I want to take people away with a fantastic story. I love science fiction, so a lot of my lyrics have a twisted, futuristic edge to them. I can't fully throw myself into something unless I'm passionate about it, so I want people to feel the same way about the music I make.

CO: I know that, with Safire, you've recorded a song called 'Voices' and that a portion of its proceeds is going to charity. Tell me a little about this.

KT: I have to give full credit of this idea to Steve Killen. It's an incredibly ambitious, giving and beautiful endeavor. He's pledged to donate 50 percent of proceeds from this song to charities for the rest of his life. The first charity he supported was NAMI, the National Alliance On Mental Illness. We've both dealt with mental illness in many forms, both ourselves and others, so it's definitely an organization we wholeheartedly believe in. Currently, the charity we are emphasizing is The Refugee Writers Program. It's a nonprofit organization that employs refugees from all over the world to raise awareness about their experiences through published works.

For more information, visit www.kittaylor.net.