Jazz percussionist Jasper Taylor was born on January 1, 1894. In John Chilton’s Who’s Who of Jazz (1972), Taylor’s birthplace is given as Texarkana, Texas, but in The New Edition of the Encyclopedia of Jazz (1960), Leonard Feather places Taylor’s birth in Texarkana, Arkansas. Taylor began playing drums in a local industrial school in Texarkana and performed at local theaters. In 1912 he left Texas to travel with the Young Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. In 1913 he joined W. C. Handy’s band in Memphis and was with the “Father of the Blues” in 1914 when Handy wrote “St. Louis Blues.” Taylor moved to Chicago in 1917. During World War I he served as a drummer in the United States Army with the 365th Infantry Band in France.
The list of early jazz figures that Taylor worked with includes Clarence Williams, Dave Peyton, Tiny Parham, Freddie Keppard, and Jelly Roll Morton. Taylor first worked with Morton in Memphis and later recorded with him in Chicago in 1923 on two of Morton’s tunes, “Big Fat Ham” and “Muddy Water Blues.” On the Morton recordings, Taylor plays woodblocks and is quite active, perhaps a little overbearing. Jazz critic Martin Williams points out that Taylor “plays wood blocks here, not because he necessarily played them on the job, but because snare drums, bass drum, and cymbals wouldn’t register on the early recording equipment.” Williams adds that Taylor “seems ideal rhythmically for Jelly’s music.”
On a 1928 recording of his own group, Original Washboard Band, Taylor is heard on the washboard performing with the great early clarinetist Johnny Dodds. According to Chilton, Taylor conceived the idea of performing on a washboard “after hearing a harmonica player accompany himself by strumming on bamboo strips.” As a percussionist, Taylor is not nearly so impressive as the wonderful Warren “Baby” Dodds, Johnny’s brother, who was a contemporary born in 1898. Nevertheless Taylor must have satisfied any number of notable jazzmen of the 1920s.
During the Great Depression he left music and worked as a cobbler, but he returned to his previous profession and found regular work in the 1940s. He performed in 1959 with Lil Armstrong’s group and as late as 1962 led his own Creole Jazz Band. Certainly it is historically noteworthy that Taylor recorded with Morton in 1923, the seminal year of jazz recording. Taylor died in Chicago on November 7, 1964.