Billy Taylor - piano; Bill Reuther - bass; Jo Jones - drums
A stalwart on New York's famed 52nd Street scene at the height of the bebop craze, pianist Billy Taylor won the respect of fellow scenesters like Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Ben Webster, Stuff Smith and a host of other hepcats with his solidly swinging accompaniment and dazzling soloistic abilities at the keyboard. A disciple of the Art Tatum school of piano playing, Taylor could summon up some dazzling right-hand facility on single note runs that rivaled Tatum himself. But it was his tasteful accompaniment and harmonic invention, along with his ability to play ballads with deep feeling, that secured Taylor his early sideman work on 52nd Street, eventually leading to a longstanding gig as house pianist at Birdland.
A 1988 recipient of the prestigious National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Award, Dr. Taylor has championed jazz music for more than 50 years in his capacities as a player-composer-bandleader, educator and broadcaster.
The first to call jazz "America's classical music," Taylor would play a key role in disseminating jazz through the airwaves, first as host of "The Subject Is Jazz," a pioneering 1958 program broadcast on the National Educational Television network (a precursor to PBS), and later as a jazz DJ on New York radio station WLIB during the 1960s. From 1969-72 he was house bandleader for the David Frost television show and in the 1970s also served as host-director of the NPR syndicated "Jazz Alive" radio series. In the 1980s and into the 1990s, Taylor profiled some of the biggest names in jazz as an interviewer and reporter for CBS television's "Sunday Morning" program. In the 1990s, he became artistic director of the Jazz at the Kennedy Center program in Washington, DC, from which emanated his syndicated NPR radio series, "Billy Taylor's Jazz at the Kennedy Center." To celebrate a recent birthday in 2009, Dr. Taylor released "88 Years…88 Keys…88 Videos," a project showcasing 88 different videos from his remarkable life in jazz.
A sampling of Taylor's impressive keyboard prowess is heard here on the quintessential jazz jam vehicle "Sweet Georgia Brown," performed on the final night of the 1955 Newport Jazz Festival. Taylor is accompanied by fellow inveterate jammers Bill Reuther on bass and the great drummer Papa Jo Jones, a charter member of the Count Basie Orchestra from 1935 and part of the band's fabled "All-American Rhythm Section" (with bassist Walter Page and guitarist Freddie Green). Jones left the Basie aggregation in 1947 to become a featured player on Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic tours and by the mid '50s made frequent appearances at George Wein's annual clambake in Newport, Rhode Island. On this swinging version of "Sweet Georgia Brown," the three are in total synch with Jones' brisk brushwork fueling the proceedings and Reuther holding down the steady 4/4 pulse on bass. Taylor takes great liberties with the melody while leaping nimbly back and forth between octaves in seamless fashion. His harmonic invention throughout this fugue-like treatment of the well-known tune is a testament to both his chops and ingenuity. (Milkowski)