As he came of age in the late 1980s, Taylor gravitated toward jazz and classical music -- a world void of lyrics -- even though his parents had always been aficionados of singer-songwriters such as Townes Van Zandt. He mastered the viola, toured with the Turtle Island String Quartet and eventually put together a string jazz ensemble in Austin. His compositions were adventurous, creative . . and well outside the lines of the mainstream.

Once, in the midst of a cross-country tour in the mid-1990s, Taylor and buddies in the band began listening to Joni Mitchell's "Hejira," one of several Mitchell albums that weds a songwriter's lyrical soul with a jazz sensitivity. "The songs on that album -- like 'Black Crow' and 'Refuge of the Roads' -- about being an artist, being on the road, just blew my mind," says Taylor. "The lyrics in those songs cleansed my soul . . . and they opened up an entire avenue of creativity in me."

While remaining true to his jazz and classical roots, Taylor began to build a music library stocked with lyric-driven artists: Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Neil Young. He began to recognize the parallel harmonies in music and the written word. In Austin, he'd seek out folk singers at the Saxon Pub and Cactus Cafe. He began writing arrangements for vocalists such as folksinger Sara Hickman and jazz singer Suzi Stern.

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