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Dennis Taylor's Musical Vision Lives On With 'Steppin' Up'

Dennis Taylor's Musical Vision Lives On With 'Steppin' Up'
Dennis Taylor's Musical Vision Lives On With 'Steppin' Up'

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Doug Levine

One of Nashville’s most respected musicians, saxophonist and composer Dennis Taylor, always dreamed of recording his own album as a bandleader.  That dream came true with his debut set “Steppin’ Up.” But, Dennis never lived to see its much-anticipated release.

The music world lost a giant when Dennis Taylor died of a sudden heart attack at age 56 last October.  Dennis was touring with singer Delbert McClinton, when according to fellow band member Kevin McKendree, his physical condition rapidly deteriorated.

“We were out on the road and we were just leaving Greenville, Texas and he was complaining of indigestion.  And he had also said that his arm had gone numb," McKendree said. "We got to a hospital and gave him some aspirin, and on his way in to the hospital he remarked that he was feeling much better.  But then 15 minutes later he was gone.  It was just like that.”

Dennis mastered the saxophone at a young age.  He studied at several prestigious music schools in Boston, taught improvisational workshops, and eventually joined a band led by blues great Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown.  He also toured with Eric Clapton and U2, and after settling down in Nashville, worked with a variety of country music stars.

No one followed his career more closely than his wife Karen Leipziger, who first met Dennis in 1985.  Karen, a noted musician and publicist, says Dennis was playing better than ever, working almost non-stop with some of the best in the business.

“He worked hard at it and working with great players pushes you and it just got deeper," Leipziger said.  "It didn’t really change as much as it just got better and deeper.  He had a pretty eclectic background but it was all kind of rooted in a lot of New Orleans, Texas blues, jazz.  His big heroes were people like Sonny Rollins, Sonny Stitt, Stanley Turrentine, Hank Crawford was a big influence, Gene Ammons, people like that.”

“This was the album he wanted to make," she continued. "He was a sideman.  He loved being a sideman.  He never wanted to be a bandleader but he had a vision for this album.  He had been talking about doing an organ trio album for as long as I had known him.  He never talked about another one.  This was the one he wanted to make, and he completed it and he was really proud of it.”

Karen Leipziger served as the executive director on “Steppin’ Up,” with Dennis Taylor’s close friend and collaborator Kevin McKendree playing the Hammond B-3 organ.

Dennis covers tunes by his R&B heroes Ray Charles, Fats Domino, Isaac Hayes and Percy Mayfield, as well as The Beatles and Dr. John.  His rendition of Buddy Johnson’s “Since I Fell For You” features Delbert McClinton on vocals.

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