Jazz Pianist And Educator Billy Taylor Dies At 89

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Billy Taylor founded the Jazzmobile, and served as musical director for The Subject Is Jazz, the first-ever TV series on jazz. And at NPR, he was behind Taylor Made Piano, the long-running series Jazz Alive, and Billy Taylor's Jazz At The Kennedy Center.


Sad news this afternoon of the death of jazz pianist, composer, broadcaster and educator Billy Taylor, at the age of 89. Born in North Carolina, he grew up in Washington, D.C. and arrived on 52nd Street in New York, where he became the house pianist at the landmark club Birdland, and play with Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie.

He founded Jazzmobile, served as musical director for "The Subject is Jazz," the first ever TV series on jazz, broadcast on radio stations WNAW and later WLIB in New York City, then for a quarter century here at NPR, including "Taylor Made Piano," the long-running series "Jazz Alive" and "Billy Taylor's Jazz at the Kennedy Center." A point of emphasis -at the piano, on the air, as a professor at Yale, or more recently East Carolina University - was the status of America's indigenous music.

(Soundbite of archived recording)

BILLY TAYLOR: Like most people, I had studied that classical music was European. One thing (unintelligible). Then as I begin to look further, I realized there was an Indian classical music, which was an oral tradition. There were African classical musics, many of them from oral traditions. There were - there was Chinese classical music, which was quite different from all of the stuff that we had studied. In doing research in an academic setting, I began to put all these things together. And I realized that jazz answered the description of what a classical music is.

CONAN: More on Billy Taylor later today on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

The jazz great died earlier today in New York City at the age of 89. This is "A Bientot," a tune he wrote and used to sign off on his radio program.

(Soundbite of music, "A Bientot")

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

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