Tiny Desk

Otis Taylor

Download Audio

Otis Taylor: Tiny Desk Concert

I'd never think that a banjo player could find my musical sweet spot, which falls somewhere between Mali and The Velvet Underground, but Otis Taylor hits it, spot on. Taylor's music is trance-inducing, and he achieves that effect by playing songs that are modal: Sometimes, they sit on one chord for the entire song. Taylor says that by doing that, by eliminating chord changes, you also eliminate reference points, so songs can run as long as 10 or even 15 minutes in length. After a while, you have no idea how long they've been going on — that's when the trance just hits you.

Taylor grew up in Denver. His mom had a ukulele, and one day, while playing around with the instrument, he broke a string and went to the local music shop to get it fixed.

Taylor says he "walked into the store and psychologically never came out. All of a sudden, I heard Mississippi John Hurt [and] country music; I never heard country music, banjos and guitars. And I went there every day after school until I moved to Boulder. And they taught me for free, because I was a little poor black kid; because it was close to the ghetto. It was sort of the bohemian section of Denver where all the coffeehouses were."

The roots of the banjo go back to Africa, but Otis Taylor didn't know that when he started to play the instrument. In fact, he says, "I didn't know the banjo came from Africa until I heard it on NPR about 15 or 20 years ago." What Taylor does with that instrument — and with the songs he writes and sings — honors that long tradition. You'll hear that when you watch this Tiny Desk Concert. Performing along with Taylor were his bandmates: Todd Edmunds on bass, Larry Thompson on drums, Anne Harris on fiddle and Jon Paul Johnson on guitar.

Set List
  • "Ten Million Slaves"
  • "Ran So Hard"
  • "Talking About It Blues"
  • "Think I Won't"
Credits

Michael Katzif (cameras); edited by Bob Boilen; audio by Kevin Wait; photo by Erin Schwartz

[+] read more[-] less

More From Tiny Desk

Tiny Desk Concert with And The Kids. Morgan McCloy/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Morgan McCloy/NPR

Tiny Desk

And The Kids

The trio's music is full of life, with dissonant sounds that still feel suited for singalongs.

Tiny Desk Concert with Oddisee Colin Marshall/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Colin Marshall/NPR

Tiny Desk

Oddisee

The charismatic Brooklyn-via-D.C.-area rapper creates just the right amount of space in his music.

Tiny Desk Concert with Hop Along. Maggie Starbard/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Maggie Starbard/NPR

Tiny Desk

Hop Along

Frances Quinlan's raspy voice whispers one moment, then lets loose a gut-punching howl the next.

Tiny Desk Concert with Timothy Showalter, songwriter and producer of Strand of Oaks. Maggie Starbard /NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Maggie Starbard /NPR

Tiny Desk

Strand Of Oaks

Timothy Showalter's music is filled with bite and sometimes regret, but also a good deal of warmth.

Tiny Desk Concert with The Prettiots. Morgan McCloy/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Morgan McCloy/NPR

Tiny Desk

The Prettiots

The clever trio shares its love of everything from Law & Order to old-school girl groups.

Tiny Desk Concert with Anna & Elizabeth. Emily Jan/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Emily Jan/NPR

Tiny Desk

Anna & Elizabeth

If you've never thought your tastes would lean to mountain music, breathe deep and soak it all in.

TK Morgan McCloy/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Morgan McCloy/NPR

Tiny Desk

Genevieve

See a singer with a powerful voice and extremely encouraging message.

Tiny Desk Concert with Zac Sokolow (left), Frank Fairfield and Tom Marion. Emily Jan/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Emily Jan/NPR

Tiny Desk

Frank Fairfield

A young man with an old musical soul has a spellbinding voice and fluid fiddle playing.

Tiny Desk Concert with Jason Vieaux and Yolanda Kondonassis. Meredith Rizzo/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Meredith Rizzo/NPR

Tiny Desk

Jason Vieaux And Yolanda Kondonassis

Watch the Grammy-winning guitarist and acclaimed harpist play music influenced by Africa and Asia.

Back To Top