Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Ten Fingers, One Voice: Remembering Jazz Great Dr. Billy Taylor

Billy Turner, one of jazz music's greatest performers, passed away last week.

Posted By on Tue, Jan 4, 2011 at 6:37 PM

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Every form of music has an articulate champion. That person who makes the music more accessible and thereby easier for people to understand and enjoy. In the case of jazz, the music’s grand champion, Dr. Billy Taylor, died this past week at age 89.

A superb pianist noted for how he, as jazz critic Nat Hentoff put it, “played with infectious joy,” Taylor was best known to millions of Americans for 20 years of jazz segments on CBS’s Sunday Morning show as well as hundreds of guest appearances on other television shows.

Taylor is often credited as the first person to label jazz as, “America’s classical music.” He was also known for his ability to play a myriad piano genres from stride to freeform to illustrate his on-camera discussions.

I had the privilege of catching Taylor years ago at Chicago’s London. Playing in his typical crystal clear and buoyant s style, Taylor’s on-stage persona was that of an engaging academician with a great sense of humor and ability to make his audiences feel like they were listening to him in their own home.

There’s a lot of Taylor at play on YouTube with clips from his Jazz Masters television series. The best of them has to be the one of him playing alongside grand piano maters Duke Ellington and Willie “The Lion” Smith. The clip is a historical gem and, as Taylor might well have noted at the time, “a gas.”

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