Drummer Walter Taylor III uses the Blu Fonk movement to bring the blues back to Oklahoma City 

click to enlarge Walter Taylor III poses for a photo at his Home, Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2016. - GARETT FISBECK
  • Garett Fisbeck
  • Walter Taylor III poses for a photo at his Home, Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2016.

On a warm evening overlooking the city skyline, an out-of-towner from New York asked Walter Taylor III, on break from drumming a jazz set on the Oklahoma City Museum of Art rooftop terrace, where he could find a jazz club in town.

Taylor, an Oklahoma City-born musician who first played in a jazz club in the 1960s, had no answer.

There are places that sometimes play jazz, he said. But few, if any, options exist for jazz or blues joints geared exclusively toward the American genre. Even Edmond’s University of Central Oklahoma Jazz Lab is not exclusively jazz, Taylor said.

Blu Fonk is one of Taylor’s many efforts to revitalize blues in Oklahoma City and beyond. Not as much of a band as it is a movement, Blu Fonk is the umbrella label Taylor applies to the multiple musicians he occasionally gathers for blues showcases across the city.

“We’re just trying to start a movement here that hasn’t been started, because in our community, the blues no longer exists like it used to,” he said.

The 60-year-old, multigenre drummer, bassist and music revivalist said local and national clubs and dancehalls started dying out after they faced competition from other night entertainment options like casinos. How people consumed music changed, too. Organic, live music gave way to overdubbed musicians and DJs.

In the transition, Taylor said music lost some of the fun coming from the less predictable and polished jazz or blues genres.

“I like spontaneity,” he said. “I like for it to be not so rehearsed sometimes, because you can hear some of the best music when it happens like that.”

Taylor said his music experience began at a young age. He played drums at age 11, and his bass-playing stepfather, Ashley Monroe Taylor Jr., brought 13-year-old Taylor along for his first club gig. He wasn’t old enough to be there, so whenever the band took a break from playing, he waited outside.

Taylor, who spent his youth in Kansas City before moving back to Oklahoma, eventually tired of playing jazz and blues and wanted to move on to other genres. He returned to his roots later in life when he realized his deep personal history with jazz and blues and their underlying connection to spirituality.

‘We’ll take it’

Blu Fonk was born in 2014 as an entrant into the International Blues Challenge music competition. Taylor’s band included members “Sir” James Walker Sr. (guitar and lead vocals), Larry Banks (saxophone), Danny White (harmonica and vocals) and Vernon King (bass). They advanced into the finals in Memphis, Tennessee. He has gathered musicians to compete every year since.

“I don’t go in there to win; I go in to play the best that we can play,” he said. “If we win, we’ll take it.”

Beyond competition, Taylor also helps organize occasional Blu Fonk showcases around the city. The most recent show was in November in front of a large audience at Bistro 46 Restaurant & Grille. Taylor is planning his next one for sometime in the spring.

He said bringing blues back is an important mission to him because he recognizes it as the groundwork of a larger culture and the countless genres that sprang from it.

“I saw how personal it was, how spiritual it was ...,” he said. “When you get deep into the authentic blues, that’s where you really see it happen.”

Visit facebook.com/blufonkrealokblues.

Print headline: Feeling blues, Drummer Walter Taylor III uses the Blu Fonk movement to resurrect the thrill of a fading genre.

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