Billy Taylor in 1976
|Birth name||William Taylor|
July 24, 1921|
Greenville, North Carolina, U.S.
|Died||December 28, 2010
Manhattan, New York, U.S.
|Genres||Jazz, hard bop|
|Occupations||Pianist, composer, educator, broadcaster|
|Associated acts||Charlie Parker
Dee Dee Bridgewater
Billy Taylor (July 24, 1921 – December 28, 2010) was an American jazz pianist, composer, broadcaster and educator. He was the Robert L. Jones Distinguished Professor of Music at East Carolina University in Greenville, and since 1994, he was the artistic director for jazz at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
Taylor was a jazz activist. He sat on the Honorary Founders Board of The Jazz Foundation of America. In 1989, Billy Taylor, Ann Ruckert, Herb Storfer and Phoebe Jacobs started The Jazz Foundation to save the homes and the lives of America's elderly jazz and blues musicians, later including musicians that survived Hurricane Katrina.
Billy Taylor was also one of the foremost jazz educators. He lectured in colleges, served on panels and travelled worldwide as a jazz ambassador. Critic Leonard Feather once said, "It is almost indisputable that Dr. Billy Taylor is the world's foremost spokesman for jazz."
Early life and career 
Taylor was born in Greenville, North Carolina but moved to Washington, D.C. when he was five. He grew up in a musical family and learned to play different instruments as a child, including guitar, drums and saxophone. But he was most successful at the piano and took classical piano lessons with Henry Grant, the same teacher that had educated Duke Ellington a generation earlier. He made his first professional appearance playing keyboard at the age of 13 and the compensation was one dollar. Taylor attended Dunbar High School, America's first high school for African American students. He went to Virginia State College and majored in sociology. Pianist Dr. Undine Smith Moore noticed young Taylor's talent in piano and he changed his major to music, graduating with a degree in music in 1942.
Taylor set out to New York City after graduation and started playing piano professionally from 1944, first with Ben Webster's Quartet on New York's 52nd Street. The same night he joined Webster's Quartet, he met Art Tatum, who became his mentor. Among other musicians he worked with, he played with Machito's mambo band, when he developed a love for Latin music. After an eight-month tour with the Don Redman Orchestra in Europe, Taylor stayed there with his wife Theodora and worked in Paris and Holland. Taylor returned to New York later that year and cooperated with Bob Wyatt and Sylvia Syms at the Royal Roost jazz club and Billie Holiday in a successful show called Holiday on Broadway. A year later, he became the house pianist at Birdland and performed with many of the greatest jazz talents in history, including Charlie Parker, J.J. Johnson, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis. He played at Birdland longer than any other pianist in the history of the club. In 1949, Taylor published his first book, a textbook about bebop piano styles.
He composed one of the his most famous tunes in 1952 "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free", and subsequently achieving more popularity with Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Nina Simone covered the song in her 1967 album Silk & Soul. It is widely known in the UK as a piano instrumental version, used for BBC Television's Film programme. Solomon Burke, Derek Trucks, The Lighthouse Family, Levon Helm and Jools Holland & his Rhythm & Blues Orchestra have also recorded versions.
He continued dozens of the recordings in the 1950s and 1960s, notably the album he made with the Cuban percussionist Candido Camero titled Billy Taylor Trio with Candido, My Fair Lady Loves Jazz, Cross Section and Taylor Made Jazz.
His broadcast career also thrived. In 1961, Taylor founded New York's Jazzmobile, which provides arts education program of the highest quality via workshops, master classes, lecture demonstrations, arts enrichment programs, outdoor summer mobile concerts, special indoor concerts and special projects. In 1958, he became the Musical Director of NBC's The Subject is Jazz, the first ever television series focusing on jazz. The 13-part series was produced by the new National Educational Television Network (NET) and hosted guests including Duke Ellington, Aaron Copland, Bill Evans, Cannonball Adderley, Jimmy Rushing and Langston Hughes. He also worked as a DJ and program director on radio station WNEW in New York in the 1960s. During the 1960s, the Billy Taylor Trio was a regular feature of the Hickory House on West 55th street in Manhattan. From 1969 to 1972, Taylor served as the music director forThe David Frost Show and was the first African American to lead a talk show band. Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Benny Goodman and Buddy Rich were just a few of the jazz musicians who played on the show. In 1981, Jazzmobile produced a Jazz special for the National Public Radio, and for which the program received the Peabody Award for Excellence in Broadcasting Programs. Jazzmobile's 1990 Tribute Concert to Dr. Taylor at Avery Fisher Hall, part of the JVC Jazz Festival, featured Nancy Wilson, Ahmad Jamal Trio and Terence Blanchard Quintet.
Later career 
In 1981, after being profiled by CBS News Sunday Morning, he was hired as an on-air correspondent and then conducted more than 250 interviews with musicians. He received an Emmy Award for his segment on the multi-talented Quincy Jones.
In 1989, Taylor formed his own "Taylor Made" record label to document his own music. You Tempt Me (1996) is a strong outing by his 1985 trio (with Victor Gaskin and drummer Curtis Boyd) that includes a rendition of Duke Ellington's "Take the "A" Train". White Nights (1991) has Taylor, Gaskin, and drummer Bobby Thomas performing live from Leningrad in the Soviet Union, then came Solo (1992), and Jazzmobile Allstars (1992). In 1997, he received New York state governor's art award.
Taylor suffered from a 2002 stroke, which affected his right hand, but he continued to perform almost until his death. He died after a heart attack on December 28, 2010 in Manhattan, at age of 89. His legacy was honored in a Harlem memorial service on Jan.11, 2011, featuring performances by Taylor's final working trio, bassist Chip Jackson and drummer Winard Harper, along with longtime Taylor associates Jimmy Owens, Frank Wess, Geri Allen, Christian Sands and vocalist Cassandra Wilson. He is survived by his wife of 65 years, Theodora Castion Taylor; a daughter, Kim Taylor-Thompson; and a granddaughter. His son, artist Duane Taylor, died in 1988.
Taylor appeared on hundreds of albums and composed more than 300 songs during his career spanned over six decades. His 1963 song, "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free" dealt with civil rights issues and became the unofficial anthem of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. It was selected as "one of the greatest songs of the sixties" by the New York Times and was the theme music of the 1996 film "Ghosts of Mississippi". His 1967 instrumental recording of the tune is widely known in the United Kingdom as the opening theme music for the long-running TV series The Film Programme, for many years hosted by Barry Norman.
Engaging and educating more audience and young people had been a central part of Taylor's career. He holds the Wilbur D. Barrett Chair of Music at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, is a Duke Ellington Fellow at Yale, and holds 23 honorary degrees. Besides publishing instructional books on jazz, he taught jazz course at Howard University, Long Island University, The Manhattan School of Music, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he earned his Masters and Ph.D in 1975.
His extensive appearance in television series and jazz educational programs brought the music he loves to the masses at the grass roots level as well as more formal arenas. He's sometimes more known as a television personality than a pianist. He was quoted saying in a 2007 article in the Post Magazine: "there's no question that being an advocate eclipsed my reputation as a musician. It was my doing. I wanted to prove to people that jazz has an audience. I had to do that for me." 
Awards and honors 
With over twenty-three honorary doctoral degrees, Taylor was also the recipient of two Peabody Awards for Jazzmobile, NEA Jazz Masters Award (1998) an Emmy Award (1983) for carrying out over 250 interviews for "CBS News Sunday Morning", a Grammy Award (2004) and a host of prestigious and highly coveted prizes, such as the Down Beat magazine's Lifetime Achievement award (1984), National Medal of Arts (1992), and the Tiffany Award (1991). He was also honored in 2001 with the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) Jazz Living Legend Award, and election to the Hall of Fame for the International Association for Jazz Education. He served as the artistic director for jazz at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, where he developed many critically acclaimed concert series including the Louis Armstrong Legacy series, and the annual Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival. In addition, he performed at the White House seven times and was one of only three jazz musicians to be appointed to the National Council of the Arts.
As leader 
- 1945: Billy Taylor Piano (Savoy)
- 1953: Billy Taylor Trio (Prestige)
- 1953-54: Cross Section (Prestige) - released 1956 (includes all tracks from Billy Taylor Plays for DJs)
- 1954: The Billy Taylor Trio with Candido (Prestige)
- 1954: Billy Taylor Trio at Town Hall (Prestige)
- 1955: A Touch of Taylor (Prestige)
- 1956: Evergreens (ABC-Paramout)
- 1956: Billy Taylor at the London House (ABC-Paramount)
- 1957: Introduces Ira Sullivan (ABC-Paramount)
- 1957: My Fair Lady Loves Jazz (Impulse!)
- 1957: The Billy Taylor Touch (Atlantic)
- 1959: The New Billy Taylor Trio (Argo)
- 1959: Custom Taylored (SeSac)
- 1959: One for Fun (Atlantic)
- 1959: Billy Taylor with Four Flutes (Riverside) - with Frank Wess, Herbie Mann and Jerome Richardson
- 1959: Taylor Made Jazz (Argo)
- 1960: Uptown (Riverside)
- 1960: Warming Up! (Riverside)
- 1961: Interlude (Moodsville)
- 1961: Kwamina (Mercury)
- 1962: Impromptu (Mercury)
- 1963: Right Here, Right Now (Capitol)
- 1965: Midnight Piano (Capitol)
- 1966: Easy Life (Surrey)
- 1968: I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free (Tower)
- 1969: A Sleeping Bee (Pausa MPS)
- 1970: Ok Billy (Bell)
- 1977: Jazz Live (Monmouth Evergreen)
- 1977: Live at Storyville (West 54 Records)
- 1981: With Joe Kennedy Where've You Been (Concord Jazz)
- 1985: You Tempt Me (Taylor-Made, 1989)
- 1988: White Nights And Jazz In Leningrad (Taylor-Made)
- 1989: Solo (Taylor-Made)
- 1989: Billy Taylor And The Jazzmobile All Stars (Taylor-Made)
- 1991: White Nights and Jazz in Leningrad (Taylor-Made)
- 1992: Dr. T with Gerry Mulligan (GRP Records)
- 1993: Live at MCG with Gerry Mulligan, Carl Allen, Chip Jackson
- 1993: It's a Matter of Pride (GRP)
- 1995: Homage (GRP)
- 1997: The Music Keeps Us Young (Arkadia Jazz)
- 1999: Ten Fingers - One Voice Arkadia Jazz
- 1999: Taylor Made at the Kennedy Center with Dee Dee Bridgewater Kennedy Center Jazz
- 2001: Urban Griot (Soundspot)
- 2002: Live at AJE New York (Soundspot)
As sideman 
With Arkadia Jazz All Stars
- Thank You, Duke!
With Sal Salvador
- Juicy Lucy (Bee Hive Records, 1978)
With Johnny Hartman
- Once In Every Life (Bee Hive, 1980)
With Mundell Lowe
- A Grand Night for Swinging (Riverside, 1957)
With Sonny Stitt
With Various Artists
- Peter Keepnews (December 29, 2010). "Billy Taylor, Jazz Pianist, Dies at 89". The New York Times. Retrieved December 30, 2010.
- Matt Schudel (December 30, 2010). "Billy Taylor, revered musician, broadcaster and spokesman for jazz, dies at 89". The Washington Post.
- Allmusic biography
- Colin Larkin: 'Billy Taylor bio', The Encyclopedia of Popular Music (Accessed [25, June 2011]), http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/public/
- "Interview with 74 year old Herb Storfer, Jazz Foundation of America President, whose Jazz Musicians Emergency Fund assists musicians in need of food, shelter and medical care.". Retrieved 2009-10-13.
- "Billy Taylor". CBS News Sunday Morning. February 11, 2009.
- Jazz Mobile Inc.[verification needed]
- Michael J. West (January 11, 2011). "A grand night for swinging: Billy Taylor memorial service". Washington City Paper.
- Grammy Award Database
- Jazz Living Legend Award 2001
- "2010 Inductees". North Carolina Music Hall of Fame. Retrieved September 10, 2012.
- ABC-Paramount LP ABC 134.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Billy Taylor|
- Library of Congress exhibit
- Official Website that includes extensive video
- Billy Taylor's oral history video excerpts at The National Visionary Leadership Project
- Billy Taylor's Piano Regimen on YouTube