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Jazz' most articulate and long-standing advocate, Dr. Billy Taylor has spent over 50 years spreading his love of the music by educating the public, providing performance opportunities for musicians and delighting his own audiences world-wide.
In the early Ď60s, as a twelve year old boy living just outside New York City, with a growing interest in Jazz and no money, no records and only an AM radio, this writerís opportunity to expand his awareness of this wonderful art form was severely limited. Fortunately for me and
countless others, every afternoon from 4:15 to 5:00 there was a radio show on WLIB-AM that offered the best in Jazz. The host was none other than Billy Taylor. His warmly genteel voice, extensive knowledge and impeccable taste gave me my first real exposure to the legendary giants of Jazz, with just enough background information to let me make some sense out of this mysteriously complex world.
Nearly four decades later, Dr. Taylor continues to bring new listeners into the world of Jazz through his ceaseless commitment and peerless erudition. Not only is he responsible for bringing innumerable fans into the fold, but heís also opened the doors of opportunity to vast numbers of musicians through his various educational activities and fine performance programs over the past forty years.
Unlike many other Jazz activists and educators, Billy has maintained his top-level artistry with a busy performing schedule in spite of his extensive endeavors as the musicís prime advocate. And all this as he approaches his 80th birthday, unburdened by the ego problems that often accompany other artists/activists of considerably lesser accomplishment.
For all of these reasons, Dr. William Taylor, Jr. deserves a very
special place in the Jazz pantheon.
Somehow, in spite of a non-musical schedule that could flatten two men half his age, Billy remains extremely active, both as pianist and composer. In the whirlwind of his other activities these musical contributions are sometimes overlooked.
In addition to concerts and club dates with his trio, including the Jazz at the Kennedy Center NPR series, Billy has composed numerous symphonic works for Jazz piano and has a real knack for composing for dance, an extremely challenging undertaking that requires patience, precision and great sensitivity to the limitations that physicality puts on music. Writing for dance has long been one of his loves, going back to the Ď40s, working with Katherine Dunham.
The awards and honors that have been bestowed on Dr. Taylor are
staggering, including nearly two dozen honorary degrees, an Emmy, two Peabody Awards and the nationís most prestigious artist recognition, The National Medal of Arts. To list all of his awards and accomplishments in the field of education and advocacy would require an entire separate article.
But if there is one thing that is most impressive about Billy Taylorís endeavors is their longevity and resounding impact. He doesnít go from project to project as many so-called visionaries do. He understands how to establish a foundation to build upon, planting seeds that will continue to nurture for years to come. Thatís why the various Kennedy Center programs continue to thrive. Thatís why Jazzmobile is still active 36 years after its inception.
Having vision is only the first part of the job. Making it happen is the real test. It takes a rare combination of creativity, diplomacy, forethought, leadership, intelligence and commitment. Those are the qualities that make Dr. William Taylor, Jr. a national living treasure.