Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Remembering Dr. Billy Taylor, 1929-2010

The late Jazz writer, Gene Lees, once said of pianist Billy Taylor: 

"With his knowledge of history, musical and otherwise, Billy quietly rejects the image of the early Jazzman as an uneducated autodidact, creating the music out of thin air and natural instinct - which he calls with a wry smile the 'noble savage' theory of Jazz genesis."

And Richard Cook and Brian Morton writing in The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD noted:

"... Billy Taylor's talents as a piano player should be recognized more than they are. He played with everyone from Stuff Smith to Charlie Parker on 52nd Street.... Taylor's affinities are essentially bop, but his sensibility is akin to Teddy Wilson's: cultivated, gentlemanly, his improvisations take a leisurely route through his surroundings, alighting only on points which are germane to the setting, but managing to suggest a complete grasp of the material and the task at hand."

In The Oxford Companion to Jazz, Bill Kirchner [ed.], pianist Dick Katz stated:

"Pianist-composer-spokesman-author-educator Billy Taylor has done as much as anyone in Jazz history to promulgate an awareness, understanding and appreciation of Jazz to large audiences. ... Because of his public persona, his brilliant piano playing has sometimes been under-appreciated. ... The influence of his mentor, Art Tatum, is a prominent feature of his playing." 

In the following tribute to him, Billy is joined by Gerry Mulligan on baritone saxophone, Chip Jackson on bass and Carl Allen on drums as they perform Laura by David Raksin and Johnny Mercer.