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Billy Taylor

Pianist, composer, and recording artist Billy Taylor was born in Greenville, North Carolina, on July 24, 1921, to a dentist father and schoolteacher mother. As a youth, Taylor and his family moved to Washington, D.C.; it was there that he began to study music. During his teenaged years, Taylor was heavily influenced by the sounds of the Big Bands that were popular. Young Taylor experimenting with many instruments, including drums, guitar and the saxophone, before he found his niche with the study of classical piano. Aside from actively pursing his musical education through independent means, Taylor also remained active in academia, graduating from Virginia State College in 1942 with his B.A. degree in Music.

Taylor moved to New York City in 1944, where he began his professional music career playing piano with Ben Webster's Quartet on 52nd Street. Taylor eventually became the house pianist at the legendary Birdland jazz club, where played alongside musical greats such as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Miles Davis. Taylor continued on in the New York circuits, until the 1950s, when he began to lead and record with his own trio.

Taylor entered the realm of television in the 1970s, when he took on the role of musical director for The David Frost Show, which broadcast on the U.S. Westinghouse Corporation television stations. In addition to his activities with The David Frost Show, Taylor also acted as the musical director for Tony Brown’s Black Journal Tonight, a weekly show on PBS. Later in his television career, Taylor hosted his own jazz piano show on the Bravo network called Jazz Counterpoint. Despite his forays into visual media, Taylor remained closely tied to the world of audio by hosting a variety of radio both locally in New York, and syndicated nationally by National Public Radio. Perhaps his widest radio audience was reached when Taylor became the arts correspondent for CBS Sunday Morning in the early 1980s.

In addition to becoming a well respected musician of international fame, Taylor also went on to become a successful music educator. Taylor received his Masters and Doctorate degrees in Music Education from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and went on to serve as the Duke Ellington Fellow at Yale University. Subsequent to these academic achievements, Taylor received several honorary doctoral degrees over the course of his career.

Recipient of numerous awards and appointments throughout his career, Taylor became one of only three jazz musicians at the time to be appointed to the National Council of the Arts. In addition to serving on the National Council of the Arts, Taylor was also appointed the artistic advisor on jazz for the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, where he developed a run of widely acclaimed series, including the Louis Armstrong Legacy series, and the annual Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival.

For his performances and professional activities, Taylor received two Peabody Awards; an Emmy; a Grammy; and a place in the Hall of Fame for the International Association of Jazz Educators. At the time of his interview in 2005, Taylor was still professionally active; touring and recording with his Trio, playing concert dates, appearing in television and radio engagements, writing music, and lecturing.

Taylor passed away on December 28, 2010.

Accession Number

A2005.210

Sex

Male

Interview Date

8/29/2005

Last Name

Taylor

Maker Category
Organizations
Schools

Lucretia Mott Elementary School

Shaw Middle School at Garnet-Patterson

Paul Laurence Dunbar High School

Virginia State University

First Name

Billy

Birth City, State, Country

Greenville

HM ID

TAY08

Favorite Season

Fall, Winter

State

North Carolina

Favorite Vacation Destination

Africa, South America

Favorite Quote

Jazz Is America's Classical Music.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

7/24/1921

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

None

Death Date

12/28/2010

Short Description

Music professor, jazz pianist, and music composer Billy Taylor (1921 - 2010 ) has enjoyed a long and prolific career as an educator, recording artist, and touring musician. Taylor played with such musicians as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Miles Davis, in addition to becoming a national and international name for his performances, television musical directing, and television and radio hosting activities.

Employment

Birdland

CBS

Favorite Color

None

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Billy Taylor's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Billy Taylor lists his favorites, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Billy Taylor lists his favorites, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Billy Taylor describes his mother's background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Billy Taylor describes his father and his siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Billy Taylor lists his mother's siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Billy Taylor describes his father's background

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Billy Taylor remembers his Sunday routine

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Billy Taylor describes his paternal grandfather

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Billy Taylor describes his maternal grandfather's storytelling

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Billy Taylor describes his father and paternal uncle's relationship

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Billy Taylor describes the importance of community building, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Billy Taylor recounts switching majors at Virginia State College in Petersburg, Virginia

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Billy Taylor describes moving from Greenville, North Carolina to Washington, D.C.

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Billy Taylor describes his early musical interests

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Billy Taylor describes his first piano teacher, Elmira Street

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Billy Taylor remembers listening to new music on the radio

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Billy Taylor describes his educational experiences in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Billy Taylor describes his mentors at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Billy Taylor remembers playing in the orchestra at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Billy Taylor describes the sights, sounds and smells of growing up in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Billy Taylor describes his early jazz gigs in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Billy Taylor remembers the African American professional community in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 2 Story: 13 - Billy Taylor describes his father's athletic involvement

Tape: 2 Story: 14 - Billy Taylor describes Virginia State College in Petersburg, Virginia

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Billy Taylor recalls different responses from white and black audiences in the 1930s

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Billy Taylor recalls segregated train travel

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Billy Taylor remembers jamming with white musicians in the 1930s

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Billy Taylor describes Mary Lou Williams

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Billy Taylor recounts his musical experiences at Virginia State College in Petersburg, Virginia

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Billy Taylor recalls playing with local bands in Petersburg, Virginia

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Billy Taylor describes his friends' career paths after college

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Billy Taylor remembers meeting Count Basie and Jo Jones in Petersburg, Virginia

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Billy Taylor remembers meeting Ben Webster at Minton's Playhouse in Harlem

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Billy Taylor remembers meeting Art Tatum at the Three Deuces in New York City

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Billy Taylor recalls meeting Coleman Hawkins at the White Rose Bar in New York City

Tape: 3 Story: 12 - Billy Taylor remembers meeting Dizzy Gillespie

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Billy Taylor describes his interest in playing melodies

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Billy Taylor remembers playing with Dizzy Gillespie in New York City

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Billy Taylor remembers influential musicians he performed with

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Billy Taylor describes segregation in the music business

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Billy Taylor describes Erroll Garner

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Billy Taylor describes the transition from big band to bebop, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Billy Taylor describes the transition from big band to bebop, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Billy Taylor remembers performing with Billie Holiday in Baltimore, Maryland

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Billy Taylor describes recording with Savoy Records

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Billy Taylor recalls playing on Broadway's 'Seven Lively Arts'

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Billy Taylor describes the Afro-Cuban influences on his music

Tape: 4 Story: 12 - Billy Taylor recounts becoming house pianist at Birdland in New York City

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Billy Taylor describes his early writings about jazz

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Billy Taylor differentiates between jazz styles

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Billy Taylor remembers playing for Duke Ellington's opening night at Birdland in New York City

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Billy Taylor remembers musicians he performed with at New York City's Birdland

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Billy Taylor recalls the premiere of his 'Suite for Jazz Piano and Orchestra' at Salt Lake City's Mormon Tabernacle

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Billy Taylor describes teaching and studying composition

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Billy Taylor recalls his time as the band leader on 'The David Frost Show'

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Billy Taylor remembers his CBS segment on HistoryMaker Quincy Jones

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Billy Taylor describes being jazz correspondent for 'CBS Sunday Morning'

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Billy Taylor remembers performing with HistoryMaker Ramsey Lewis

Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Billy Taylor describes his NEA and Grammy awards

Tape: 5 Story: 12 - Billy Taylor describes his piano student, Eldar Djangirov

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Billy Taylor recalls lessons from his international travels

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Billy Taylor describes his songs inspired by Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Billy Taylor describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Billy Taylor describes opportunities for young black musicians

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Billy Taylor reflects upon changes to jazz music and jazz instruction

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Billy Taylor describes the importance of community building, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Billy Taylor describes the limitations of Ken Burns' 'Jazz' series

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Billy Taylor reflects upon media representations of jazz musicians

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Billy Taylor shares an anecdote about Art Tatum

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$4

DAStory

9$2

DATitle
Billy Taylor remembers playing in the orchestra at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C.
Billy Taylor remembers playing with Dizzy Gillespie in New York City
Transcript
So when you look back over your years at [Paul Laurence] Dunbar High School [Paul Laurence Dunbar Senior High School, Washington, D.C.], what sort of stands out for you?$$Well Dunbar was a place where I really began to realize that I wanted to play jazz and I wanted to--we had--I played in the orchestra and I played saxophone in the orc- very badly. I fooled around with cello and a couple of other instruments and--but I was fortunate in that because of the nature of black schools in those days, we had in addition to the traditional--we had saxophone. We had other instruments in the orchestra you know and, because they were available and people had them and it was all inclusive so you got to play what you could on that instrument. One of the reasons I didn't play piano was because one of the great classical pianists and I'm embarrassed right now. I'm trying desperately to remember his name. I can see his face right in front of me. But he was--we were in high school together. He was about a year younger than I and this guy was playing [Sergei] Rachmaninoff. He was playing all, I mean he was playing it. He was beautiful, you know. I said well (laughter)--.$$(Laughter).$$--okay. Let me try a little more Teddy Wilson and--but I really, I didn't chalk that up as a loss maybe because I always wanted to play both. I always wanted to play jazz but I wanted to play with some of the things that I had begun to listen to and learn from Henry Grant.$Just going back to where we left off with Dizzy [Gillespie], and take--you having the opportunity to play. So that night he was missing a piano player?$$When Dizzy Gillespie opened at the Onyx Club [New York, New York] at this time he just didn't have a piano player. So there was--he had hoped to have Bud Powell who was supposed--he was billed as the person who would be there. He, for whatever reason he couldn't make it and didn't make it. And so as soon as we found that there was no, the piano seat was vacant, somebody--everybody jumped, I jumped up there, other guys jumped up there and said, "Hey let me"--because we all wanted to learn how to play bebop. And bebop was the new music, and we wanted to see what, you know, what are these guys doing? Dizzy Gillespie was a wonderful teacher. I mean he would reach over me like this and say, "Billy [HistoryMaker Billy Taylor], it go"--and he'd play what the chords were and so forth. And I mean he was not only a good teacher, but he taught by example. I mean he could not only play all those things but he could show you why he was doing it and how he did this thing. And it was just a great opportunity, one that I really cherish. Because two, it did two things for me: it showed me what a great teacher Dizzy was and what he was like as a person. I mean, because, you know, many of the older guys and he was just a couple of years older than I. But many of the guys would take that and say, "Well man, you know, let me--where's Bud? Find somebody. Find somebody," you know. And he would just take the time and say, "No, no, this is what we need," you know. And that went on from that time 'til he died I mean we always had a great relationship. I mean I would, I remember being, coming to a club over by Columbia University [New York, New York], and I went in just to see Dizzy. And so I--the place was jammed I mean you know because he didn't play uptown very much and here he was right on campus. And so I went in to say, "Hey," you know, "how's it going?" He said, "Come on, come on, come on." Said, "What do you mean come on?" He said, "Come on up here." So I went up front and I said, "There's no seat up here." He said, "Yes there is. Piano," (laughter) so I sat in for him, with him for the rest of the night. So on a couple of occasions he had many years later that happened where I got to sit in because he didn't have a piano player.