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William Edward Taylor Jr. (Greenville, July 24, 1921 – New York, December 28, 2010), known as Billy Taylor , was a pianist and American jazz composer, also popular for his work disseminating this music through his interventions in different media, including the television program Sunday Morning of CBS, which he regularly participated in since 1981. As a musician, he remained in the stylistic limits of swing and bop.
He wrote more than 300 compositions, in very different forms and styles, among them “I Wish I Knew How Would I Feel to Be Free”, a simple gospel tune written in collaboration with Dick Dallas and that would become a hymn not official of the civil rights movement during the sixties; more complex is, for example, “Suite for Jazz Piano and Orchestra”, 1973.
Although born in Greenville, he grew up in Washington; his father, William, was a dentist and his mother, Antoinette, a high school teacher.
He graduated in music at Virginia State College in 1942 and the following year he moved to New York, where he played, among others, musicians such as Ben Webster (with whom he worked at the Three Deuces Club on 52nd Street), Eddie South, Stuff Smith and Slam Stewart.
In 1951, he became Birdland’s lead pianist and then formed the first of the various trios he worked on; with that group he played in clubs like the Copacabana in New York and the London House in Chicago.
In 1958 he became the musical director of the NBC television program The Subject Is Jazz. A few years later, he worked as a disc jockey on the Harlem radio station WLIB. In 1962 he moved to the WNEW, but returned to the WLIB in 1964 to also be its musical director, works in which he remained until 1969. Later, he would co-found the Inner City Broadcasting, which would buy the WLIB in 1971.
He collaborated in the foundation of Jazzmobile in 1965, an association that, among other activities for the benefit of the most needy, organized free street concerts in which well-known musicians participated. In 1968 he was appointed member of the Cultural Council of New York, along with Leonard Bernstein, Richard Rodgers and other important figures of the artistic world; he later participated in similar agencies at the state and federal level, and became an advisor to the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington. In 1969 he became the first black orchestra director of a television program (The David Frost Show, 1969-1972).
In 1975, he earned a Ph.D. in music education from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
At the end of the seventies, he started working at National Public Radio, where he was for more than two decades, first as a presenter of Jazz Alive and then, between 1994 and 2002, at Billy Taylor’s Jazz at the Kennedy Center, series of programs where live performances and interviews with musicians were presented.
In 1980 he was part of a commission from the National Endowment for the Arts to demand more support for jazz. Many of his proposals were accepted and Taylor himself was awarded in 1988 with the “Jazz Masters Award”, endowed with $ 20,000. In 1992 he also received the «National Medal of the Arts».
He taught courses on jazz at the University of Long Island, the Manhattan School of Music and other institutions. He also wrote articles for DownBeat, Saturday Review and other publications. He also made an extensive series of conferences-concert at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
He founded and was director of the radio program Jazz Alive.
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