eliza berkon is a journalist and musician based in washington d.c. 

Livingston Taylor talks spontaneity, Einstein and older brother James

It’s 4 p.m. on a Thursday and Livingston Taylor is a bit occupied as he picks up the phone—he’s flying a plane. The Boston-born singer-songwriter with a voice strikingly similar to that of older brother James, regularly flies his ’64 Cessna 205 when he’s not on stage or teaching music at Berklee College of Music. The fourth of five Taylor children recently celebrated 50 years as a performer and plays Hylton Performing Arts Center on April 15.

You grew up in a very musical household—can you paint a picture of a typical Sunday morning in your childhood?

The fantasy is that we all woke up and looked at one another and broke into joyous four-part harmonies; nothing could be further from the truth. We were a plain, average family. There was a lot of music around but no sense that our musicianship was unique. And indeed, it wasn’t. There are plenty of musical families, and the difference between us and them is we became a famous musical family.

As you and your brother James each developed your own careers, how did you avoid becoming competitive?

James’ career is a wonderful career, makes more money than my career makes and is more famous than my career. I sum it up this way: James, his airplane is fancier than my airplane. There’s one big difference: He can’t fly his airplane. I can fly mine. And the size and the breadth of my career allows me to pursue all manner of other things. I’m very proud of my brother for being able to do it. And I love going to his shows and watching him; I don’t want to do it myself.

Do you still perform together?

Occasionally, when our paths cross. That’s a great joy for us. We love being brothers and make no mistake, I’m as proud and impressed by brother James’ career as I possibly could be. He’s got a terrific career for a reason: He’s really good.

Your musical sensibility has remained consistent over decades of albums. How would you define your sound?

I’m very much a chord/melody guy. I love melodies. I love lyrics. I love a crafted song. As I’m fond of saying, I’m about as spontaneous, musically, as a peace conference. I love things in their proper place.

Music has played a therapeutic role in your life at times. What does it provide you that other activities can’t?

The importance of music to innovative thought is that music allows my brain to wander into some very far-off places. I don’t think it’s by accident that Albert Einstein played the fiddle. He didn’t play terribly well but he loved to play. It’s a very good way to go on adventurous thought and have a road map back home.


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