Dr Billy Taylor

Billy Lives! A 90th Birthday Celebration of Dr. Billy Taylor

Dr. Billy Taylor lives on in our hearts and minds at WBGO. The pianist, educator and broadcaster played a unique role in the life of the station from our first broadcast in 1979 until his death late last year. As the originator of jazz broadcasting at NPR, he was our tireless advocate and mentored many of us over the years.

"His knowledge and gentle presentation set the tone in how jazz performance was presented," said Thurston Briscoe, WBGO's vice president of programming. "He was one of the most supportive people I ever met."

WBGO honors Dr. Taylor on the occasion of his ninetieth birthday this Sunday, July 24, with our exclusive webcast of Billy Taylor: A Life in Jazz, a new documentary by award-winning filmmaker Bret Primack.

This remarkable half-hour documentary contains rare footage of Taylor with Duke Ellington, Willie "The Lion" Smith, Ella Fitzgerald and Cannonball Adderley, as well as clips from his groundbreaking 1956 television series The Subject Is Jazz and testimonials from Wynton Marsalis, Jon Faddis and many others.

After Sunday, the film can also be seen at Primack's YouTube channel, JazzVideoGuy, which has more than 750 jazz videos.

Check back to wbgo.org/billytaylor every day, as we will be adding more performances, photos and interviews with Dr Taylor, drawn from the WBGO archives!<!--more-->

Billy Taylor at WBGO

"Dr T" came to try out the station's new Steinway. I think he likes the piano. He runs through the entire keyboard! This comes from the late 1980s.

I hope you can listen to Toast of the Nation at 9pm Fri 12/31 and 3pm Sat 1/1 for a 30-minute remembrance of Dr Billy Taylor (1921-2010), hosted by Rhonda Hamilton. Dr Taylor invited Rhonda to host a live New Year's broadcast on NPR in 1979. She speaks about how much that meant to her, and we hear clips from some of his many NPR shows.

Dr. Billy Taylor remembered on WBGO

Starting Sunday, WBGO will have one week of specials celebrating the life and music of Dr. Billy Taylor.  With eight special broadcasts over seven days, there are many opportunities to tune in or log on to hear the late, great Billy Taylor.

Billy Taylor by Dalibor Plavsic
Billy Taylor by Dalibor Plavsic

Schedule follows:

Sunday – Jan 9 - JazzSet features Billy Taylor - 6:00pm

Monday – Jan 10 – Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz featuring Billy Taylor– 8:00pm

Tuesday – Jan 11- Jazz Profiles spotlights Billy Taylor – noon - Wednesday –

Wednesday - Jan 12 – Billy Taylor Jazz at the Kennedy Center – Joe Lovano – 9:00am

Wednesday – Jan 12 - JazzSet features Billy Taylor - 6:30pm

Thursday – Jan 13 – Billy Taylor Jazz at the Kennedy Center – Nancy Wilson– 2:00pm

Friday – Jan 14 - Gary Walker with Billy Taylor at the piano – 9:00am

Saturday – Jan 15 – JazzSet - Billy Taylor 80th Birthday Tribute Concert – 3:00pm

Dr. Billy Taylor on JazzSet January 9 & 12

We at JazzSet mourn the loss of Dr Billy Taylor, who pioneered the relationship between jazz and NPR / public radio. From 1977-82, Taylor was the original host of NPR’s Jazz Alive! He was an original host of live New Year’s Eve broadcasts from NPR, 31 years ago. <!--more-->

At the time of his death on December 28, 2010, Dr Taylor was the long-running Artistic Director for Jazz at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. He was the heart of the connection between the Kennedy Center and JazzSet. We feel great appreciation for his leadership and friendship.

To remember him, we will rebroadcast “Billy Taylor’s Diz,” his retirement concert from March 31, 2005, at the Kennedy Center. (To no one’s surprise, Taylor stayed busy and active after this occasion.)

(This program replaces the previously announced James Carter Trio from Newport; we hope to reschedule that program in the future.)

Taylor invited trumpeter Jon Faddis to share the stage, to celebrate their mutual hero, Dizzy Gillespie (1917-1993).  Between tunes, Jon describes his first and second meetings with Diz.  Fifteen-year-old Faddis brought his entire Dizzy collection – dozens of LPs – and Gillespie patiently autographed each one, though he claimed not to remember recording several of them.

Dizzy had a great sense of humor and, clearly, both Taylor and Faddis love remembering him.  Billy credits Diz for moving jazz closer to Latin music, and advancing jazz harmony.  Gillespie’s 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 open this JazzSet, we hear an earlier Taylor trio. In the late 1980s, WBGO “Jazz 88” in Newark acquired a new Steinway piano. The station asked Dr Taylor to inaugurate it. He promised to play every key, and does so with EASE on “The Man I Love.”

Tune in to WBGO Jazz 88.3FM on Sunday, January 9 at 6pm and again on Wednesday, January 12 at 6:30pm to hear this special broadcast.

To hear more of Dr. Taylor's eloquence, click here to hear him discuss the legacy of the great Art Tatum in November 2009, courtesy of our illustrious producer, Simon Rentner.