Billy Taylor was such an articulate spokesman for jazz, and his profiles on CBS' Sunday Morning television program (where he was a regular beginning in 1981) were so successful at introducing jazz to a wider audience, that sometimes one could forget what a talented pianist he was for over half a century.
While not an innovator, Taylor was flexible enough to play swing, bop, and more advanced styles while always retaining his own musical personality. After graduating from Virginia State College in 1942, he moved to New York and played with such major musicians as Ben Webster, Eddie South, Stuff Smith (with whom he recorded in 1944), and Slam Stewart, among others. In 1951, he was the house pianist at Birdland and soon afterward Taylor formed his first of many trios. He helped found the Jazzmobile in 1965; in 1969 he became the first black band director for a network television series (The David Frost Show); in 1975 he earned his doctorate at the University of Massachusetts; and he both founded and served as director for the popular radio program Jazz Alive. But despite his activities in jazz education, Taylor was rarely absent from performances and recordings, always keeping his bop-based style consistently swinging and fresh. He died of heart failure in New York on December 28, 2010, at the age of 89. ~ Scott Yanow