With a career that mixes songwriting, performing and teaching, Taylor has carved a musical niche that gives him great satisfaction.
Taylor hopes to spread that feeling when he performs at 7 p.m. Sunday at Manship Theatre, where he last performed in 2007.
“I am so looking forward to it,” he said. “I’ve been dying to get back ever since.”
To say music is in his family’s blood is a bit of an understatement.
Taylor, 65, picked up a guitar when he was 13, by which time his older siblings — Alex, who died in 1993, James and Kate (he has a younger brother, Hugh) — already had begun performing while growing up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. There, Taylor’s father was dean of the University of North Carolina’s medical school. Their mother, Gertrude, had been an aspiring opera singer before she married, and she took the children on trips to see Broadway productions.
“There’s no question that I saw the joy, not to mention the success, that our oldest brother Alex had,” Taylor said. “He had a band, and he made music, and I’ll never forget when I was 10 or 11 years old, and he came home and had been off making music at a frat house at the University of North Carolina, and he had money. He had, like, 20 bucks. I was, like, wow. That was a real eye-opener for me. We can get paid for this.”
And so all of them did at some point.
In Livingston Taylor’s case, his performing career produced some Top 40 successes (“I Will Be In Love With You” in 1979, “First Time Love” in 1980) and 18 albums, the latest of which, “Blue Sky,” was recorded in 2014.
Taylor, who plays the piano, guitar and banjo, has — unsurprisingly — a vocal sound much like his famous brother’s, and performs jazz, folk rock, gospel and soft rock songs, typically with a mellow feel. James Taylor has recorded a handful of his songs, including “Boatman” and “Going Round One More Time.”
Taylor jokingly says he writes all his songs for Celine Dion.
“She’s just not recording them,” he said.
Despite spending much of his formative years in the South, Taylor said his greatest musical influences include George Gershwin, Richard Rodgers, Burt Bacharach, Aaron Copeland and John Williams.
“I try to steal from these people whenever I can,” he said. “As I’m fond of saying to my students: Steal from the best; don’t get caught.”
Those students attend Berklee College of Music in Boston, where Taylor has been on faculty for 26 years.
“My great love, the greatest joy comes when the muse has decided to come and sit on my shoulder for a while. Nothing is more fun than writing,” Taylor said. “That notwithstanding, when she is elsewhere — because she is nothing if not fickle — then I love studying music and studying other great writers and learning what they do.
“Then, I love performing. I love being with my audience and in their presence. And then, when I’m not doing those things, I love being with my students. I love being around the future and seeing their enthusiasm and their energy and their hope about what might be.
“It’s a very nice combination.”