- Billy Taylor encompasses that rare combination of creativity, intelligence, vision, commitment and leadership, qualities that make him one of our most cherished national treasures.
The distinguished ambassador of the jazz community to the world-at-large, Dr. Billy Taylor’s recording career spans nearly six decades. He has also composed over three hundred and fifty songs, including “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free,” as well as works for theatre, dance and symphony orchestras.
Playing the piano professionally since 1944, he got his start with Ben Webster’s Quartet on New York’s famed 52nd Street. He then served as the house pianist at Birdland, the legendary jazz club where he performed with such celebrated masters as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis. Since the 1950s, Billy Taylor has been leading his own Trio, as well as performing with the most influential jazz musicians of the twentieth century.
Dr. Taylor has not only been an influential musician, but a highly regarded teacher as well, receiving his Masters and Doctorate in Music Education from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and serving as a Duke Ellington Fellow at Yale University.
He has also hosted and programmed such radio stations WLIB and WNEW in New York, and award winning series for National Public Radio. In the early 1980s, Taylor became the arts correspondent for CBS Sunday Morning, a post he still holds today.
Dr. Billy Taylor is one of only three jazz musicians appointed to the National Council of the Arts, and also serves as the Artistic Advisor for Jazz to the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, where he has developed one acclaimed concert series after another including the Louis Armstrong Legacy series, and the annual Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival.
With over twenty two honorary doctoral degrees, Dr. Billy Taylor is also the recipient of two Peabody Awards, an Emmy, a Grammy nominations and a host of prestigious and highly coveted prizes, such as the National Medal of Arts, the Tiffany Award, a Lifetime achievement Award from Downbeat Magazine, and, election to the Hall of Fame for the International Association of Jazz Educators.
Now in his eighties, Billy remains active, touring and recording with his Trio, playing concert dates, television, and radio engagements, writing music and lecturing.
And the long version:
- Pianist, composer, teacher and lecturer, television and radio personality, recording artist and author…Billy Taylor is all of these.
For more than six decades, Dr. Billy Taylor’s enthusiastic and personal commitment to make jazz a part of the American mainstream have been rewarded by recognition and acclaim by his peers, critics, educators, students, enthusiastic listeners, and five US presidents.
Billy Taylor was born in Greenville, North Carolina on July 24, 1921. His father was a dentist and his mother a schoolteacher and they encouraged their son’s creativity. After the family moved to Washington, D.C., for a more cosmopolitan life, he began studying music with Elmira Streets. Billy experimented with drums, guitar and saxophone but soon settled on classical piano study.
The big bands provided much of the musical excitement in Billy’s life during his teenage years. There was music all around him: on the radio, at parties, and at D.C.’s Howard Theatre, where he became an enthusiastic regular. One of the theater’s most enduring qualities was its cultivating of a young art form known as jazz. As jazz expanded and new artists came to the forefront, the Howard, listening to live broadcasts on the radio and hearing music locally, proved vital in showcasing the plethora of black talents to Billy Taylor.
At the same time, Billy seriously pursued his studies and graduated from Virginia State College with a B.S. in Music in 1942.
After taking a couple of years off for more practice and study, Billy Taylor arrived in New York City in 1944, on a Friday evening quickly made his way to Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem. The club, bebop’s birthplace, was the setting for the hottest jam session in town. When Billy played the piano that night at Minton’s, fate intervened. One of his idols, Ben Webster, was part of the jam session, and he stood by the piano while Billy played. Ben was one of Billy’s idols when he was considering becoming a tenor player.
Ben invited Billy to audition for his group at the Three Deuces and two days later, the young pianist began his professional career with Webster’s quartet (which also included drummer Big Sid Catlett and bassist Charlie Drayton) at the Three Deuces on 52nd Street, alternating sets with the Art Tatum Trio. Billy’s admiration and respect for Tatum touched the Piano Master and the young man soon became Tatum’s protégé.
Billy also began his recording career at the same time, in a trio with Al Hall and Jimmy Crawford for Savoy.
When Dizzy Gillespie first opened on 52nd Street, with a band that featured Don Byas, Max Roach and Oscar Pettiford, he didn’t have a pianist. So although Billy was working another gig across the street, he sat in with Dizzy between sets. Billy remembers that “Bud Powell was supposed to be Dizzy’s pianist but Bud’s guardian, trumpeter Cootie Williams, was concerned about the under-age musician running around 52nd Street, so he wouldn’t let him work the gig, which was lucky for me because I got to play with Dizzy.”
As word quickly spread of Billy’s keyboard acumen, he began working steadily, with Machito’s Afro-Cuban ensemble, Eddie South, Coleman Hawkins, Wilbur de Paris, Roy Eldridge and Jo Jones, his “self appointed guardian.”….. [continued]
- Billy Taylor Trio
Billy Taylor has consistently selected artists of exceptional stature to accompany him and the combination of piano, bass and drums is one which pleases even the most uninitiated ear. The Trio’s comfortable blend of musicianship creates a rapport between its members nearly as infectious as the music itself.
In jazz parlance, the Billy Taylor trio cooks; its compelling rhythms move even the impassive.
This cohesive and dynamic unit has been entertaining at home and abroad while serving as a super sales instrument for jazz by providing a better understanding of American music.
Over the years, the Billy Taylor Trio has included:
Charles Mingus, Earl May, Oscar Pettiford, Paul West, Chris White, Larry Ridley, Joe Benjamin, George Duvivier, Bob Cranshaw, Dave Williams, Buster Williams, Lisle Atkinson, Aaron Bell, Martin Rivera, Wilbur Bascomb, Victor Gaskin, Doug Watkins, Henry Grimes, Clyde Lombardi, John Levy and Chip Jackson.
Jo Jones, Kenny Dennis, Grady Tate, Dave Bailey, Billy Cobham, Bobby Thomas, Candido, Grassella Oliphant, Harold White, Joe Harris, Leonard Gaskin, Charlie Smith, Denzil Best, Ed Thigpen, Percy Bryce, Freddie Waits, Harold White, Walter Perkins, Ray Mosca, Kenny Dennis, Frank Gant, Louis Hayes, Richie Pratt, Keith Copeland, Curtis Boyd, Steve Johns and Winard Harper.
listings of TV and radio appearances, video, notable performances, a press kit for print AND for the web, quotes from critics
- “Bam! A lesson in cooking lyricism. America’s foremost jazz missionary strikes again…(He excludes a) rollicking pulse and earthy feeling…in musical performance.” – Newsday
“His playing is subtle, virtuosic and at times elegant.” – Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“One of those rare artists who is also a scholar of his art.” – Los Angeles Daily News
“Taylor’s melodic bebop provides awe and entertainment in equal measures.”
The New Yorker
“One of Jazz’s premiere pianists, educators and public figures.”
“Taylor is an engaging and stylish player, an easy-going crowd pleaser.”
“The venerable pianist is as elegant a stylist as they come.” -The New Yorker
“He articulates (Jazz) history with candor and verve. He deserves thanks, as well as applause. Billy Taylor is the model Jazz polymath.”
Piano & Keyboard
“Taylor’s playing is…a cheerful stewpot of overstuffed arpeggios, cascading glissandos, thickly rhythmic bass patterns and frantic be-bop runs.”
The New York Post
“The most exciting pianist in the jazz world today and its most articulate spokesman.”
“The music and mind of Billy Taylor projects a maturity and wealth of ideas. To communicate with Taylor is to go beyond the limits that confine jazz and enter a world of history, mystery and sound.”
“Taylor’s chops are dazzling…”
Jazz & Blues Report
“Billy Taylor is, indeed, the jazz worlds urban griot, its historian, master musician, educator, story teller, sage and evangelical bearer of the good news alive and well in the music.”
and an MP3 of one of his most famous songs, “I Wish I Knew How to Be Free.” Excellent resource – good job.