Billy Taylor

An articulate spokesman for jazz who has been featured constantly on television (including CBS Sunday Morning for years), radio, and documentaries, Billy Taylor (b. 1921) has also been a versatile pianist for over 60 years.

Taylor graduated from Virginia State College in 1942, moved to New York, and immediately began playing on 52nd Street with combos led by Ben Webster, Eddie South, Stuff Smith, and Slam Stewart. Capable of playing either bop or swing, Taylor was in constant demand and became the house pianist for Birdland in 1951. He began leading a series of trios in the early 1950s and recorded steadily, including for Prestige and Riverside between 1952 and 1961.

Billy Taylor Trios features Taylor, bassist Earl May, and drummer Charlie Smith on two former LPs circa 1952-1953 for an extended set of tasteful bop and swing. Cross Section (1954) has Taylor, May, and drummer Percy Brice on eight recordings and adds Machito’s rhythm section for four heated Latin numbers. With Candido finds Candido on congas and bongos joining Taylor’s trio for music that straddles the boundaries between a few different styles.

Billy Taylor with Four Flutes (1959) has several different flutists (including at various times Frank Wess, Herbie Mann, and Jerome Richardson) added to a quartet that also includes Chino Pozo on conga for an unusual-sounding bop date. Taylor’s 1960 trio with bassist Henry Grimes and drummer Ray Mosca swings throughout Uptown, a live set highlighted by “La Petite Mambo,” “Jordu,” and “Cu-Blu.” Warming Up has two Taylor trio outings from 1960-61 with Mosca and either Grimes or Doug Watkins on bass. One date was originally recorded for radio transcriptions, while the other session was a concept album portraying the various steps of a love affair.

Although more than four decades have passed since these recordings, the music still sounds fresh and Billy Taylor, who recently retired from active performing, has continued to make major contributions (musical and otherwise) to the world of jazz.