Although well respected for his tasteful, non-intrusive accompaniment as a sideman, Billy Taylor was known for his championing of jazz music, especially through his various broadcasting and educational ventures.
After growing up in Washington, DC, Taylor earned a degree at Virginia State College in 1942, then moved to New York. He spent the 1940s frequently playing the clubs on New York's famed 52nd Street, performing with greats such as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Ben Webster, Stuff Smith, Machito, Slam Stewart, and Don Redman. His adroit abilities enabled him to freely cross over from swing to the then-burgeoning modern jazz called bebop.
In the 1950s, he served as the ideal sideman, finding work with Roy Eldridge, Oscar Pettiford, and Lee Konitz while employed as house pianist at Birdland in 1951. Beginning in 1952 he became a bandleader, primarily heading trios with bass and drums.
Taylor started in radio with a program in the 1960s on WLIB in New York. From 1969-72 he was house bandleader for the David Frost television show, and in the 1970s also served as host-director of the NPR syndicated Jazz Alive radio series. Taylor also profiled some of the biggest names in jazz as an interviewer and reporter for CBS television's Sunday Morning program.
As a jazz educator, Taylor's experience was vast, starting with a series of beginning piano primers he authored. He was a founder of New York's successful Jazzmobile community performance and school-withoutwalls, which debuted in 1965. He earned his doctorate in Music at the University of Massachusetts in 1975, with a dissertation on The History and Development of Jazz Piano: A New Perspective for Educators. Taylor subsequently taught at Yale, Manhattan School of Music, Howard University, University of California, Fredonia State University, and C.W. Post College. His experience at the University of Massachusetts led to a lead faculty position at the university's annual summer intensive program, Jazz in July.
As a composer he wrote a number of commissioned works, his most well-known composition being "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free." In the 1990s, Taylor became artistic director of the Jazz at the Kennedy Center program in Washington, DC, from which he launched his syndicated NPR radio series, Billy Taylor's Jazz at the Kennedy Center. He was the recipient of two Peabody Awards, an Emmy, a Grammy, and a host of prestigious awards, such as the Tiffany Award, a DownBeat Lifetime Achievement Award, and the National Medal of Arts (1992).
Cross-Section, Original Jazz Classics, 1953-54
National Endowment for the Arts · an independent federal