Thursday, December 30, 2010

Billy Taylor - 1921-2010

The jazz and musical world lost a great friend two days ago when Dr. Billy Taylor died at the age of 89 in Manhattan.

Taylor was born in Greenville, North Carolina and had his first piano lesson at the age of seven. His family later moved to Washington D.C. and attended Virginia State College for Negroes (now known as Virginia State University) where he studied music.

After graduation in 1946, Billy moved to New York City at a time when jazz and bebop was about to explode onto the music scene. Within two days of his arrival, he began working with noted jazz musician Ben Webster and later became the house pianist at the famous Birdland Jazz Club.

He formed his own jazz combo in 1951, toured all across the United States, and even put his music degree to good use; lecturing at schools on jazz, writing extensive articles for DownBeat magazine, and even had a long tenure of concerts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.

Taylor's diverse resume deepened with stints on television (musical director of the 1958 NBC show called "The Subject is Jazz") and on radio (several positions as DJ and program director on NYC radio throughout the 1960s).

In 1969, Taylor was asked to become his musical director of "The David Frost Show" - going head to head with Johnny Carson. It was a good four year run from 1969 to 1972 and even spawned a full-fledged Christmas album:

After the show ended, Taylor went back to school and received a Doctorate in Music Education from the University of Massachusetts in 1975. The doctor did house calls: teaching gigs at Long Island University, the Manhattan School of Music, and then back to UMass.

Dr. Taylor has a long career at National Public Radio, first as the host of "Jazz Alive" in the late 1970s and then "Billy Taylor's Jazz at the Kennedy Center" from 1994 to 2002 (Taylor was the artistic director for jazz at the JFK Center for many years).

Early risers on Sunday mornings knew Taylor as a correspondent on "CBS News Sunday Morning", profiling nearly 250 interviews with jazz musicians. His work garnered him an Emmy.

The list of accomplishments can go on and on - his absence will be sorely felt.

I was fortunate to find a copy of his Christmas album sealed at at a record show earlier this year. This was one of the first albums I transferred using my Stanton T.92 USB turntable.

To honor the memory of Billy, I'm posting the Christmas album for a limited time:

Merry Christmas From David Frost & Billy Taylor - Bell Records - 6053 (1970)

Rest in peace, Dr. Taylor.



Ernie said...

I get a lot of requests for that album, but I've never ripped it. Thanks for sharing. Too bad it had to mark the passing of yet another artist.

Chris in Cary said...

Thank you, Captain. Dr. Taylor was a gentleman, a scholar and a great musician. I look forward to hearing this.

emailsyucky said...

Thanks for this and the other things that you've shared. :o)

Anonymous said...

I have a DJ white label 45 from this album. Side A is Frost reading "The House of Christmas / Stable Down the Road." Side B is the most atrocious version of "Away In A Manger." Someone (the DJ or program director scribbled "NO" on that side.