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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Post Mortem - Jazz great Billy Taylor, pianist, educator & media personality, dies at 89

Billy TaylorCover of Billy TaylorPost Mortem - Jazz great Billy Taylor, pianist, educator & media personality, dies at 89

Billy Taylor, one of the musical treasures of Washington and the world, died last night, Dec. 28, at a hospital in New York City. He was 89 and died of a heart attack.

Dr. Taylor, as he was known to one and all, was a first-rate jazz pianist who grew up in Washington and was a graduate of Dunbar High School. He moved to New York in the early 1940s and was present at the birth of bebop, the new vernacular of music that transformed jazz. He played alongside Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis and became a protege of the greatest jazz pianist ever, Art Tatum.

In the 1950s, Dr. Taylor began to branch out into broadcasting with a television series, "The Subject Is Jazz," and with radio programs. He appeared on CBS over the years, particuarly on "CBS Sunday Morning," interviewing and performing many of the great artists in jazz.

Dr. Taylor -- who earned a doctorate in education, by the way -- had been the artistic adviser for jazz programming at the Kennedy Center and was a constant presence at concerts at the center. He often performed with his own trio and other groups and helped make the Kennedy Center one of the most important venues for jazz in America. He launched the annual Women in Jazz Festival at the Kennedy Center and was instrumental in developing other concert series.

For several years, he was the host of an NPR series, "Billy Taylor's Jazz at the Kennedy Center," and many people considered him the foremost jazz educator of his -- or any -- time.

Dr. Taylor received every award there is in jazz and the arts, including the National Medal of Arts in 1992, and was designated a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1988.

I knew Dr. Taylor somewhat, and I treasure the memory of visiting him once at the Watergate hotel, interrupting him as he was practicing on an electric piano in his room. We sat and talked for more than an hour for background for a story you can find here

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