Taylor, Billy, 1921-2010

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BillyTaylor (b. July 24, 1921, in Greenville, North Carolina; d. Dec. 28, 2010, in New York City) was an American jazz pianist, composer, educator, broadcaster, lecturer, and advocate.

From the description of Billy Taylor papers, 1942-2004. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 744987035

Biographical Note

  • 1921, July 24: Born, Greenville, North Carolina, to William Edward Taylor, Sr. and Antoinette Bacon Taylor
  • 1926: Taylor family moved to Washington, D.C.
  • 1928: Began music lessons with Elmira Streets. He would study saxophone, guitar, and drums before eventually settling on the piano
  • 1934: Studied classical piano with Henry Grant while attending Shaw Junior High School
  • 1935: Met long-time friend and fellow saxophonist Frank Wess while attending Dunbar High School. Upon hearing Wess play, Taylor abandoned his interest in playing the saxophone
  • 1938: Graduated from Dunbar High School and entered Virginia State College as a sociology major. He was persuaded to change his major from sociology to music during his junior year by music instructor and mentor Undine S. Moore Began music career as pianist for the Benny Layton Band
  • 1942: B.S. in Music, Virginia State College, Petersburg, Va. Returned to Washington
  • 1944: Moved from Washington to New York City, where he met his idol, saxophonist Ben Webster, at Minton's Playhouse in Harlem on his first day in New York Auditioned for Webster's group at the Three Deuces Club
  • 1946, June 22: Married Theodora (Teddi) Castion
  • 1946: Toured Europe with the Don Redman Orchestra While in Paris, Taylor formed a trio featuring bassist Ted Sturgis and drummer Buford Oliver Recorded The Very Thought Of You and Stridin' for Swing Records on December 4
  • 1949: Led the Artie Shaw Grammercy 5, a quartet formed by Taylor but fronted by the retired Shaw Became house pianist at Birdland after Al Haig vacated the position During his stint at Birdland, Taylor studied classical piano with Richard McClanahan
  • 1951, Feb. 20: Billy Taylor Quartet (Taylor, John Collins, guitar, Al Hall, bass, Shadow Wilson, drums) recorded Good Groove, Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams, What is There to Say?, Thou Swell, Willow Weep for Me, The Very Thought of You, Somebody Loves Me, and If I Had You for Atlantic Records
  • 1951, May 25: Billy Taylor Trio (Taylor, Aaron Bell, bass and Kelly Martin, drums) recorded All Ears, Darn That Dream, My Heart Stood Still, and Double Duty for Brunswick Records
  • 1951, Sept. 29: Joined forces with Miles Davis to record The Squirrel, Move, and Lady Bird, all of which are included on the album Miles Davis: The Complete Birdland Recordings released by Definitive Records
  • 1951, Nov. 1: Recorded Cuban Caper, Cu-Blue, Squeeze Me, and Feeling Frisky for Roost Records
  • 1951: Billy Taylor Trio (Taylor, Earl May, bass, Ed Thigpen, drums) recorded Piano Panarama in New York City
  • 1953: Downbeat Magazine presented Taylor with the New Star Award, the first International Critics Award for "talent deserving wider recognition"
  • 1953 - 1954 : Continued to record and perform with a trio consisting of Taylor, Earl May, bass and Charlie Smith, drums. Three percussionists supplement the trio on its album Mambo Jazz for Prestige Records. Later in 1954, Percy Brice replaced Charlie Smith on drums
  • 1957, Jan. 8: Recorded My Fair Lady Loves Jazz for ABC-Paramount Records. The session featured a large orchestra conducted by Quincy Jones
  • 1957, Nov. 17: Organized a nine-piece ensemble to record Billy Taylor and His Orchestra for Argo Records in Chicago. Present for this session were Ellington Orchestra members Johnny Hodges, Paul Gonsalves, Clark Terry, and Harry Carney
  • 1958: Began disc jockey career on radio station WLIB in New York City Named music director for the NBC-TV series The Subject is Jazz Taylor's role as a spokesman for jazz and jazz education began during this period and gained wider recognition throughout the early 1960s
  • 1961: Began long-term tenure as pianist at the Hickory House in New York City
  • 1962: Music director for the pilot television show comedy That Was the Week That Was, hosted by David Frost
  • 1962 - 1963 : Continued jazz outreach efforts, including a two-year term at WNEW radio in New York City. Taylor returned to WLIB after its conclusion
  • 1964: The New York Times selected I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free as "one of the great songs of the sixties." Although composed in 1954, it did not gain popular appeal until the Civil Rights Movement of the mid-1960s. Several recording artists would later cover the piece, including vocalists Nina Simone, Joe Simon, Lena Horne, and the jazz-rock band Cold Blood. It also became the theme song for the film Ghosts of Mississippi. Peaceful Warrior, a suite in four movements dedicated to the life and achievements of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was also composed during this period Taylor and the Harlem Cultural Council announced Jazzmobile, a project intended to bring jazz music to the streets of New York
  • 1965: Gave lectures on jazz and jazz education at Yale and other institutions Worked on television projects: Captain Kangaroo, Rainbow Sundae, Exploring, Tony Brown's Journal, Dial 'M' for Music, and composed original music for PBS shows The Electric Company and Sesame Street Established Billy Taylor Productions
  • 1967, May 31: Performed "Take the "A" Train" with violinist Ray Nance as a funeral dirge in honor of Billy Strayhorn
  • 1967: The Billy Taylor Trio (Taylor, Ben Tucker, bass, Grady Tate, drums) recorded the album I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free for Tower Records
  • 1968: Appointed to the New York City Cultural Council by mayor John Lindsay
  • 1969 - 1972 : Music director for The David Frost Show, becoming the first African-American music director of a nationally distributed television program
  • 1970: Appointed to the National Council for the Arts by President Richard Nixon Recorded the album Okay, Billy for Bell Records. The orchestra was comprised of musicians from The David Frost Show
  • 1972: Appointed to the New York Commission on Cultural Research by governor Nelson Rockefeller
  • 1975 Aug.: Doctor of Music Education, University of Massachusetts at Amherst; dissertation entitled The History and Development of Jazz Piano: A New Perspective for Education
  • 1977 - 1982 : Directed the Jazz Alive program for National Public Radio. Jazz Alive was also the title of an album the Billy Taylor Trio recorded for Monmouth-Evergreen Records. Taylor's Suite for Jazz Piano and Orchestra was among the pieces recorded
  • 1980: Member, advisory panel that called for greater support for jazz from the National Endowment of the Arts
  • 1981, May 16: Awarded honorary doctorate from the Berklee College of Music, Boston, Mass.
  • 1981, June 24: Billy Taylor Trio and violinist Joe Kennedy recorded the album You Tempt Me for Taylor-Made Records. Let Us Make A Joyful Noise is recorded during this session.
  • 1981: Received Peabody Award for Taylor-Made Piano NPR radio series
  • 1982: Published Jazz Piano: A Jazz History. Dubuque, Iowa: Wm. C. Brown Arts correspondent for the television program CBS Sunday Morning, where he conducted interviews with influential figures in music, art, and literature
  • 1983: Earned Grammy Award for CBS Sunday Morning interview with Quincy Jones
  • 1984: Awarded Downbeat Magazine's Lifetime Achievement Award
  • 1988, Aug. 1 - 2 : Recorded Solo, an album of piano music, for Taylor-Made Records
  • 1988: Named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts at the annual meeting of the International Association for Jazz Education (IAJE)
  • 1989, Apr. 5 - 6 : Recorded The Jazzmobile All-Stars for Taylor-Made Records. The album featured nine compositions by Taylor, as well as Ceora by Dizzy Gillespie
  • 1990: Teamed up with pianist Ramsey Lewis to record the two-piano album We Meet Again for CBS Masterworks Records At the suggestion of the Juilliard String Quartet, Taylor composed Homage for string quartet and jazz ensemble. The work was commissioned by the Civic Center of Madison, Wisc. to commemorate its tenth anniversary
  • 1991: IAJE and the John F. Kennedy Center held separate tributes in Washington, D.C. in honor of Taylor's 70th birthday
  • 1992 Jan.: Served as Master of Ceremonies for the Jazz Master Awards presented annually by the National Endowment for the Arts at the IAJE annual meeting
  • 1992, July 22: Awarded National Medal of Arts by President George Bush
  • 1993: Billy Taylor Trio and Friends recorded the album It's a Matter of Pride for GRP Records
  • 1994, Mar. 18: Named Artistic Director of Jazz for the John F. Kennedy Center Host for the series "Billy Taylor's Jazz at the Kennedy Center"
  • 1994, Oct. 10 - 11 : Billy Taylor Trio (Taylor, Chip Jackson, bass, and Steve Johns, drums) with the Turtle Island String Quartet recorded the album Homage for GRP Records
  • 1995: John F. Kennedy Center commissioned Taylor to compose a work for jazz trio and symphony orchestra. On April 23, Theme and Variation for Jazz Trio and Symphony Orchestra was premiered at the Center. The performance featured the Billy Taylor Trio and the National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Leonard Slatkin
  • 1996: Created the Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival at the Kennedy Center
  • 1997, Mar. 1: Billy Taylor Trio inaugurated the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage
  • 2001 Oct.: Library of Congress celebrated the acquisition of Taylor's personal papers with a concert by the Billy Taylor Trio, accompanied by the Juilliard String Quartet. His work Homage, for jazz ensemble and string quartet, was among the pieces performed
  • 2002: Created KC Jazz Club and developed Discovery Artists Series for the Kennedy Center
  • 2007, Mar. 3: Received Kennedy Center's Living Jazz Legend Award
  • 2010, Dec. 28: Died, New York, N.Y.

From the guide to the Billy Taylor Papers, 1942-2004, (Music Division Library of Congress)

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.

From The HistoryMakers™ biography: https://www.thehistorymakers.org/biography/A2005.210

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Taylor, Billy, 1921-2010. Billy Taylor papers, 1942-2004. Library of Congress
referencedIn Ambassador Auditorium Collection, 1974-1995 Archive of Recorded Sound, Stanford University Libraries
creatorOf Taylor, Billy, 1921-. Miscellaneous papers. Jacksonville University, Carl S. Swisher Library
referencedIn Perkinson, Coleridge-Taylor. Collection, 1949-1994. Columbia College Chicago
referencedIn Charles Kuralt Collection, 1935-1997 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Library. Southern Historical Collection
referencedIn Atkins, Irene Kahn, 1922-. Major figures in American music [S-Z] : [oral history]. Yale University Library
referencedIn Milnes, Harriett. Duke Ellington oral history, 1939-1987 (inclusive). Yale University Library
referencedIn Perlis, Vivian. Video collection : [oral history], 1955-1991 (inclusive). Yale University Library
creatorOf Billy Taylor Papers, 1942-2004 Library of Congress. Music Division
referencedIn Harkins, Elizabeth R. Steinway oral history, 1974-1981 (inclusive). Yale University Library
referencedIn Duke Ellington recordings collection Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library, Harvard College Library
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf The HistoryMakers Video Oral History with Billy Taylor The HistoryMakers
Relation Name
associatedWith Albam, Manny. person
associatedWith Albam, Manny. person
associatedWith Dodge, Joseph Jeffers person
associatedWith Henderson, Luther, 1919-2003. person
associatedWith Jazzmobile, Inc. corporateBody
associatedWith John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (U.S.) corporateBody
associatedWith Kuralt, Charles, 1934-1997 person
associatedWith Mardin, Arif. person
associatedWith Nelson, Oliver, 1932-1975. person
associatedWith Perkinson, Coleridge-Taylor. person
associatedWith Taylor, Theodora Castion. person
associatedWith Wess, Frank, 1922- person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Greenville (N.C.)
United States
Bronx (N.Y.)
Jazz musicians
Jazz musicians
Jazz musicians
Jazz musicians
Television music, Arranged
Jazz Pianist
Music Composer
Music Professor


Birth 1921-07-24

Death 2010-12-28

Birth 19210724

Death 20101228




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