In Memorium – Jazz Legend Dr. Billy Taylor, 89

Dr. Billy Taylor, legendary jazz musician and educator, passed away last month on 12/28/10.  According to his daughter, he died of heart failure.  Dr. Taylor was 89 years old at the time of his death.

We would be amiss if we did not acknowledge and pay respect to the enormous contributions Dr. Taylor made to music, education, and humanity in general.

Billy Taylor began playing professionally in 1944.  His career spanned nearly seven decades and included music that was not only played in clubs and heard on records, but music for theater, dance, and symphony orchestras.  Dr. Taylor was the recipient of many awards, including two Peabodys, an Emmy, a Grammy, a National Medal of the Arts, a Tiffany Award, a Lifetime Achievement Award from Downbeat magazine, and, he was an inductee in the Hall of Fame for the International Association for Jazz Education.  He also held an impressive total of 23 honorary degrees. 

He found another outlet for his talent in radio and television.  In 1958, he was named Musical Director for the first ever televisedjazz series, The Subject is Jazz, on NBC.   Dr. Taylor also hosted and/or programmed radio shows for WLIB and WNEW in New York, and, for NPR in DC.  In 1981, he became an Arts Correspondant for CBS Sunday Morning, and has contributed ever since.

Dr. Taylor was a highly regarded educator.  He served on the National Council for the Arts, and, since 1994, was Artistic Advisor for Jazz at Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. While in that role, he created such enduring programs as: the Art Tatum Piano Panorama, the Louis Armstrong Legacy Vocalists, the KC Jazz Club, the Discovery Artists Series, Billy Taylor’s Jazz at the Kennedy Center, and the Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival, which recently celebrated it’s 15th year.   The Billy Taylor Trio was the act that inaugurated the Millenium Stage, which provides free concerts, theatrical performances, and dance every day at 6pm in the nation’s capital.  In the early ’60’s, he founded the Jazzmobile, based in Harlem, NY.  The Jazzmobile is a non profit organization that provides arts education programs through workshops, lectures, seminars, symposiums, and free summer concerts by top notch jazz musicians.  He has written over a dozen books on jazz related topics, as well as numerous articles and feature stories.

Dr. Taylor was also a humanitarian and activist who used his music to help people.  He served on the Honorary Founders Board of the Jazz Foundation of America.  The Foundation began in 1989 and helps jazz and blues musicians in need of emergency funds, and connects them with performance opportunities in schools and communities.  The organization helps provide medical and social resources to jazz musicians whose careers did not provide those needs.

The world was very fortunate to have him for 89 years.  He leaves behind an incredible musical history and legacy for all of us to enjoy. 

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