Bessemer Curtis Taylor Jr.
April 10, 1941 – January 16, 2017
Cleveland’s music community has lost a great artist, teacher and friend with the passing of 75-year- old master conguero Bess Taylor on Mon 1/16. Bess not only played congas, bongos, timbales and percussion in multiple jazz, Latin jazz, Afro-Cuban, salsa, son and folkloric ensembles, he was also a prolific teacher, whose grateful students are almost all working as professional musicians today.
Bess Taylor was a mentor and friend to the many Latin players in the region, and part of a significant musical shift in Northeast Ohio that began in the 1980s when he and several other master players, teachers and drum-makers began to share age-old African and Afro-Cuban folkloric musical traditions, songs and dances with an ever-growing cadre of students.
This trio of master drummers included Baba David Coleman, Iyanifa Fasi Irunsewe Olomo (Linda Thomas Jones) and Bess Taylor. They are behind the formation of multiple African dance companies, Parade the Circle crews and various Afro-Cuban-based bands and ensembles across the region. Their peers and colleagues at the national level include Babatunde Olatunji, Chief Bey and Milton Cardona, among others, as well as local masters such as Halim El Dabh, Baba Jubal, Baba Adetobi Ajibilu, Charles Chano Gibson and ethnomusicologist Craig Woodson.
Like his peers, Bess did not seek recognition for his prowess as a performer nor his incredible wealth of knowledge as a teacher. He simply shared his passion based on a true love of music, and a deep respect for the sacred musical traditions that had been given to him by his teachers and that he in turn passed on to his students. I am blessed to have spent several joyous years studying and playing with Bess, and to be able call myself a conga player today. He will be missed by many, and his smiling face will always be remembered, as we continue to play and share the music that was so much a part of his daily life.
Services for Bess Taylor will take place Wed 1/25 @ 10-11am at Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church. In lieu of cards and flowers, please contribute the fund has been established to help the Taylor family to cover the cost of arrangements. — Jeffrey Bowen
Jeffrey Bowen’s writing has appeared in Call & Post, City News, Cool Cleveland, Doan Brook Watershed, EarthWatch, Elephant Journal, Girl Scout News, Green City-Blue Lake, Heights Observer, Live Cleveland, Neighborhood News, Nonprofit Notes, Sun News, multiple Habitat for Humanity publications and several poetry collections.
[Photo by Leslie Moynihan]