Photo by Ruth Morgan
Photo by Ruth Morgan
Dr. Billy Taylor, Founder; Robin Bell-Stevens, Executive Director
“There are so many wonderful people who I consider jazz legends in Harlem, who meant a lot to me during my career.”
—Dr. Billy Taylor
Dr. Billy Taylor is the personification of commitment, creativity, and vision, a true American treasure. The prominent jazz pianist has performed with Jo Jo Jones, Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Roy Haynes and Machito’s Afro-Cuban Band. He was the protégé of Art Tatum, playing his first professional gig with tenor saxophonist Ben Webster in 1942, at the then famous Three Deuces.
“That gig was my most memorable experience, I had just come to New York to stay. Arriving in Harlem, I went straight to Minton’s,” recalls Dr. Taylor. “I listened to the music from 10 pm until 3 am before I was allowed to play. Ben Webster came in and liked my style, and asked me to come down to 52nd Street the following day to jam with him and the band. I got the job my third day in New York.”
Dr. Taylor is the Chairman Emeritus and founder of Jazzmobile, whose goals have not changed since its inception in 1964. “I felt jazz wasn’t reaching people in communities like Harlem, and Bedford Stuyvesant,” explained Dr. Taylor. “The idea was to reintroduce them to the music they created by bringing it into the schools and neighborhoods.”
As the artistic advisor for Jazz at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, Dr. Taylor has developed such acclaimed concert series as the Art Tatum Pianorama and the Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival. During the 1960s he hosted a daily show on New York’s WLIB-AM and later on WNEW-FM. Moving to television, he became musical director for the David Frost Show. He recently completed a 21-year stint as the cultural commentator on CBS –TV News “Sunday Morning.”
His hometown of Greenville, North Carolina named the local jazz festival and a street in his honor. Dr. Taylor has over 350 songs to his credit including “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free,” which became an anthem for the civil rights movement.
“There are so many wonderful people who I consider jazz legends in Harlem, who meant a lot to me during my career,” stated Dr. Taylor. “It’s an honor to be included with some of my elders that I looked up to and the younger musicians, who are carrying the ball.”
—by RON SCOTT