Livingston Taylor reflects on 50-year career

Livingston Taylor took up guitar at the age of 13, launching a career that has spanned over 50 years and taken him around the world as a songwriter, teacher and performer. Born into a very musical family that includes Alex, James (yes, that James Taylor), Kate and Hugh. Livingston made his first record at the age of 18. In July he released a five-disc box set of his live music, including top-40 hits like “I Will Be in Love with You” and many more.

On tour in the United States this year, he will perform a show at the Ridgefield Playhouse on Aug. 14 with Grammy-winning folk singer Janis Ian.

Andrea Valluzzo: Tell us what this show will be like.

Livingston Taylor: One of the things that happens after you’ve been doing this for 50 years is that I open up my mind and I have so many different things to choose from. What I do is just I get to the space and into the moment, letting it unfold as the moment talks to me. Obviously, I do my hits, but there are so many other things I have an opportunity to play. It’s really the most fun time I’ve ever had in my career, to have these strengths, this level of musicality and tunefulness coupled with the ability to talk about the songs and speak of the history of what is there. It’s informative, joyful and, if I may, very strong.

AV: You are doing this show with Janis Ian. How did you and Janis come to start doing shows together?

LT: Janis and I have known each other for decades and she is a powerful musical force. She has got a deep integrity and meaning in what she does, I tend to be a little more irreverent than she is, it’s a very nice combination, where she carries gravitas and I carry unbridled joy and it works.

AV: Do you have favorite songs to perform?

LT: I certainly do but that changes given the environment that I am in and obviously Janis and I will do some stuff together as well and that’s a real thrill for me. She is a fantastic musician.

AV: As a songwriter, what’s more important to you: the melody or the story?

LT: Generally, my most successful songs are when I write a melody that I enjoy, that interests me because then I can just continue to play and toy with that melody until a good story occurs to me.

AV: How has your songwriting style evolved over the years?

LT: My style has evolved. My songs tend to be simpler and better crafted. I really know how to craft lyrics now in a way that I didn’t know when I was young, So when I write these days, it’s very meticulous writing. The songs I write today when you listen to them, they seem effortless and that’s because with my present skillset, I just know how to smooth the rough edges.

AV: Do you ever go back and rewrite old songs?

LT: I have absolutely no difficulty [doing that]. There is a song I wrote a couple decades ago, “I Belong,” and I rewrote the bridge to it and I turned it from a good song to a really good song. When I wrote it 25 years ago, I didn’t have the discipline to wait for the bridge, so I went to work on it and it took me two months to write and pages of lyrics, and it just turned out great, so that’s very exciting to me to be able to go back and I have no compulsion about going back and rewriting a song and improving it.

AV: What’s next for you?

LT: I’ve got a couple of things. One of the things I want to do is record an album of my songs from down in Nashville with great players but me not singing them, recording them with some of my first students from the Berklee College of Music who are particularly outstanding. Number two is I’m planning to go with a string arranger friend of mine and recording with a symphony orchestra, We’re going to the Netherlands and do that. He’s got a symphony orchestra over there that he likes to work with and so I want to go over and do that project with him.