• Taylor's Take Two: What Did Tatum Teach?

    July 21, 2011. Posted by Tim Wilkins.

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    The following is the second in our series of rare audio clips of Dr. Billy Taylor, drawn from the WBGO archives, which are part of our 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 Two: What Did Tatum Teach Taylor?

    In 2009, Tatum's centennial year, Doctor T stopped by WBGO's studios again and sat down at the piano with Gary Walker to share memories and some of what he learned from his mentor and friend.

    Billy Taylor with Art Tatum and friends
    Billy Taylor with Art Tatum and friends

    "He liked things that used the melody to take him to some unexpected place," Taylor told Gary, as he played through the first chords of Eubie Blake's "Memories of You" as Tatum might have done. "Why was it diffferent? Well, it was different because he heard things that were different."

    In 1944, at age twenty-three, Taylor moved to New York City and found work on 52nd Street alongside tenor saxophonist Ben Webster. If landing a gig with a Swing-Era legend was superb luck for any young musician, then Taylor was twice lucky, because Webster's quartet played opposite Tatum, who was Taylor's boyhood idol and the first to inspire him to play jazz.

    "When I first wanted to play jazz, my uncle gave me my first Art Tatum record, and said... 'Try to play this!'" Taylor recalled. "And I said, 'Wow - how do you do that?'"

    The two became fast friends, and spent countless hours together at baseball games and of course at the piano keyboard, playing and talking about music.

    You can hear more of the fascinating hour Taylor spent with Walker in this special broadcast, which first aired on November 5th, 2009, the anniversary of Tatum's death, by clicking on the link below.

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