Taj Mahal can rightfully be called a living legend for his contributions to popular music. With a voice as instantly recognizable as Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles, or Johnny Cash, throughout his career Taj has pushed the envelope of American roots music forward by incorporating sounds from the Caribbean, Africa, traditional blues and jazz. He has won three Grammy Awards from 14 nominations, was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame, and presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Americana Music Association.
With Savoy, Taj takes a new direction in his musical journey, exploring a collection of blues-tinged classic material with his good friend and acclaimed record producer John Simon. Recording Savoy is the realization of a musical collaboration they had been discussing for decades, finally locking in the studio time in Oakland, California to make it happen in August, 2022. The album is a loving throwback to the sounds of the swing jazz big band era, covering 14 standards composed by the likes of Duke Ellington, Louis Jordan, George Gershwin and Louis Armstrong, brought to life by the unique voice and character of the one and only Taj Mahal.
Taj’s exploration of music began as an exploration of self. He was born in 1942 in Harlem to musical parents — his father was a jazz pianist with Caribbean roots who collaborated with Buddy Johnson, Taj’s godfather. His mother was a gospel-singing schoolteacher from South Carolina — who cultivated an appreciation for both personal history and the arts in their son. “I was raised really conscious of my African roots,” Taj says. ”My parents came together around music, which was swing and the beginnings of bebop. That was significant, in terms of what kind of music I heard from them.”
Taj also dug into his childhood roots, channeling the experiences he felt while listening to music. “I heard [the songs on Savoy] as a kid when all of those people who made those musics were alive and speaking to us through the records,” Taj says. “Those weren’t just records to collect. Those were like listening to your relatives, your uncles, your cousins, your grandparents speaking to you through that medium, the medium of music.”
Savoy will be released on compact disc, vinyl, and digital formats on April 28, 2023.