WBGO Blog
  • Taylor's Take Nine: With Gary on Big Ben and Mary Lou

    July 25, 2011. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

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    The following is the ninth in our series of tributes to Dr. Billy Taylor, part of our birthday celebration of "Doctor T," who would have turned ninety this Sunday, July 24. Check wbgo.org/billytaylor for our full tribute page, which includes more clips and our exclusive webcast of Billy Taylor: A Life In Jazz, a new video documentary by Bret Primack.

    Take Nine: Billy with Gary on Big Ben and Mary Lou

    Gary Walker had the good fortune to interview Dr. Billy Taylor several times in the WBGO studios over the years. Even better, the pair nearly always sat at the piano for these conversations, which are peppered with Dr. T's spontaneous musical observations and memories.

    Gary Walker
    Gary Walker

    In an earlier post, we presented Taylor's 2009 tribute to his friend and mentor Art Tatum. In this 1995 conversation, Taylor speaks with Gary about his admiration for Mary Lou Williams, and how on his first night in New York, Ben Webster picked him out of the crowd of piano players at a jam session at Minton's Playhouse and hired him for his first big-city gig.

    "Billy Taylor was a treasure," Gary recalls. "His friendly demeanor demanded the understanding of a life enriched by the arts. His purpose took him around the world. How lucky we were that his home was jazz."

    To hear audio from this conversation, click on the link below. Enjoy!

  • Taylor's Take Eight: Billy The Broadcaster

    July 24, 2011. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

    Add new comment | Filed under: billy taylor

    The following is the eighth in our series of tributes to Dr. Billy Taylor, part of our birthday celebration of "Doctor T," who would have turned ninety this Sunday, July 24. Check wbgo.org/billytaylor for our full tribute page, which includes more clips and our exclusive webcast of Billy Taylor: A Life In Jazz, a new video documentary by Bret Primack.

    Take Eight: Billy The Broadcaster

    Billy Taylor's success as a broadcaster brought him - and jazz - into living rooms across the United States. Starting in 1958 with The Subject is Jazz, then on The David Frost Show and CBS Sunday Morning, Taylor was the first to introduce jazz through television to mainstream audiences, and he reached radio listeners  as a disk jockey for WLIB and WNEW.

    BT On The Air
    BT Is On The Air

    Indeed, he became so well known to audiences as a broadcaster, that some didn't realize that he had an equally hard-earned reputation as a pianist!

    Starting in 1975 with Jazz Waves, Taylor worked tirelessly to create a home for jazz at National Public Radio at a time when it was increasingly absent from commercial radio. These shows, which incorporated perforamance and commentary, also set the record straight about his own musical skills.

    "NPR was like the light at the end of the tunnel," he told singer Nancy Wilson, the host of Jazz Profiles. "It was a way to keep jazz alive."

    In 1977 he got his own show, Jazz Alive!, which he followed with Taylor-Made Piano and finally Jazz at the Kennedy Center. He hosted many jazz specials, such as the annual Toast of the Nation New Years' Eve celebrations. In all, Taylor created hundreds of hours of jazz broadcasts for public radio.

    On the 25th anniversary of his first NPR broadcast,  Jazz Profiles produced a special portrait of Dr. T, which contains many excerpts from his career on the air.

    Of course, 25 years was only half the story - for by the time of his death in 2010, he had been a broadcaster for more than fifty years!

    To hear the audio of this program, click here:

  • Taylor's Take Seven: Bill and Diz

    July 24, 2011. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

    Add new comment | Filed under: billy taylor
    Bill and Diz
    Bill remembers Diz

    The following is the seventh in our series of tributes to Dr. Billy Taylor, part of our birthday celebration of "Doctor T," who would have turned ninety this Sunday. Check wbgo.org/billytaylor for our full tribute page, which includes more clips and our exclusive webcast of Billy Taylor: A Life In Jazz, a new video documentary by Bret Primack.

    For his retirement concert at the Kennedy Center on March 31, 2005, Doctor T characteristically chose to honor someone else: in this case his close friend John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie. And, as his special guest trumpeter Jon Faddis  notes from the stage, Taylor does not sound like a retiree; he sounds lively and delighted to play.

    In the concert, Taylor invites Faddis to share the stage to play some of Gillespie's most memorable compositions. Taylor and Gillespie shared a passion for Latin music, and Dr. T credits Gillespie for moving jazz closer to its counterparts in Latin America and for advancing jazz harmony.

    Gillespie compositions are the heart of this set. Then, at the end, Taylor closes with "Take the 'A' Train," played very slowly, at the tempo he discovered when he played the tune at composer Billy Strayhorn's funeral.

    To hear the audio from this performance, click on the link below. Enjoy!

  • Taylor's Take Six: Bill May Photo Gallery

    July 24, 2011. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

    Add new comment | Filed under: billy taylor

    The following is the sixth in our series of tributes to Dr. Billy Taylor, part of our birthday celebration of "Doctor T," who would have turned ninety this Sunday. Check wbgo.org/billytaylor for our full tribute page, which includes more clips and our exclusive webcast of Billy Taylor: A Life In Jazz, a new video documentary by Bret Primack.

    Photographer Bill May was on hand to capture many memorable moments at in the WBGO studios in the eighties and nineties, including the visit from Dr. Billy Taylor with bassist Victor Gaskin and drummer Bobby Thomas to inaugurate our new Steinway piano on November 1, 1987. Enjoy his beautiful and candid portraits of Dr. T!

    Photos by Bill May

  • Taylor's Take Five: Dee Dee Serenades Dr. T

    July 24, 2011. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

    Add new comment | Filed under: billy taylor

    The following is the fifth in our series of tributes to Dr. Billy Taylor, part of our online celebration of "Doctor T," who would have turned ninety this Sunday. Check wbgo.org/billytaylor for our full tribute page, which includes more clips and our exclusive webcast of Billy Taylor: A Life In Jazz, a new video documentary by Bret Primack.

    Take Five: Dee Dee Serenades Dr. T



    Dee Dee Serenades Doctor T
    Dee Dee Serenades Doctor T

    In 2001, Dr. Billy Taylor was slated to perform with Dee Dee Bridgewater at the Kennedy Center on his 80th birthday, but was forced to cancel as he recovered from illness.

    In this moving tribute, Bridgewater and her band of Stefon Harris, Cyrus Chestnut, Chip Jackson, and Winard Harper serenade Dr. T on his 80th birthday with their version of his composition "If You Really Are Concerned." The piece comes from a suite, Peaceful Warrior, which the Atlanta Symphony commissioned Taylor to write in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King.

    Taylor's inspiration for the piece was a conversation he once overheard when a woman from Connecticut asked King what she could do to support the Civil Rights movement.

    "If you are really concerned, then you should show it and you can show it where you are," King told the woman. In many ways, this phrase encapsulates Taylor's own spirit of activism.

    The second verse goes like this:

    If you really are concerned, then speak up
    You can demonstrate your point of view
    But you've got to get involved
    With pressing problems closest to you
    If you want to change this world.

    To read more about Taylor's relationship with Dr. King, click here. To hear this audio, click on the link below, courtesy of JazzSet: