John Taylor first came to the attention of the jazz community in 1969 when he partnered with saxophonists Alan Skidmore and John Surman. He was later reunited with Surman in the short-lived group Morning Glory and in the 1980s with Miroslav Vitous's quartet.
In the early 1970s, Taylor was accompanist to the singer Cleo Laine and started to compose for his own sextet. He also worked with many visiting artists at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club in London, and later became a member of Scott's quintet.
In 1977 Taylor formed the trio Azimuth, with Norma Winstone and Kenny Wheeler. On some of the group's recording Taylor played synthesiser and organ. The group was described by Richard Williams as "one of the most imaginatively conceived and delicately balanced contemporary chamber-jazz groups". The trio made several recordings for ECM Records and performed in Europe, the USA and Canada.
The 1980s saw Taylor working with groups led by Jan Garbarek, Enrico Rava, Gil Evans, Lee Konitz and Charlie Mariano as well as performing in duos with Tony Coe and Steve Arguelles. Composing projects included a commission for the English choir Cantamus Girls Choir with Lee Konitz and Steve Arguelles and pieces for the Hannover Radio Orchestra with Stan Sulzmann. Taylor also performed on David Sylvian's song "Laughter and Forgetting", on which Kenny Wheeler also featured.
From 2006, Taylor was a member of Kenny Wheeler's quartet and large ensemble and performed in duo and quartet settings with John Surman; their recording of Ambleside Days on ahum won critical acclaim. In 1996 Taylor played organ on Surman's choral work Proverbs and Songs from Salisbury Cathedral, later released on ECM Records. During the 1990s he made several recordings also for ECM with Peter Erskine's trio with Palle Danielsson on bass.
In 2000 Taylor made a new collaboration with Azimuth and the Smith Quartet for the Weimer Festival. Also in that year he recorded Verso with Maria Pia De Vito and Ralph Towner.
Taylor celebrated his 60th birthday in 2002 with a Contemporary Music Network Tour in which he presented his new trio with drummer Joey Baron and Marc Johnson on bass. The tour also featured the Creative Jazz Orchestra playing Taylor's composition "The Green Man Suite". In July 2002 Taylor received the BBC Jazz Award for 'Best New Work' for this suite.
Taylor's trio recording with Johnson and Baron was released early in 2003, and September 2003 saw the release of his solo CD Insight on Sketch. John Fordham wrote in The Guardian: "This is one of contemporary jazz's great performers at work ... a beautiful solo statement by a very modest star." In 2004 Taylor recorded Where Do We Go from Here? in duo with Kenny Wheeler and Nightfall with bassist Charlie Haden. They subsequently performed at the Montreal International Jazz Festival. Also that year Taylor formed a new trio with Palle Danielsson and Martin France. They performed at the Vancouver Jazz Festival and recorded Angel of the Presence for CAM Jazz. This recording was released in January 2006 to coincide with their UK tour and has received critical acclaim.