“Straight Ahead”, No Chaser: A Celebration of Billy Taylor

Billy Taylor (1921-2010)

2,100 of jazz pianist and composer Billy Taylor’s family, friends, colleagues, and admirers turned out in full force at Riverside Church to bask in the life of Taylor. Also known as Dr. Billy Taylor, for his actual PhD (Music Education; UMass Amherst), as well as for his unfailing life coach bedside manner, helping anyone who showed the need or desire to find their voice. In Harlem, the Jazzmobile, one of Taylor’s creations, has been streaming live jazz to anyone who can afford the FREE admission ticket since 1964. For the unlucky who don’t live in NYC, Taylor has also been spreading the swinging, cool, and hot sounds of “America’s classical music” via live shows in NYC, KC, DC, etc. or via taped shows on TV. One thing the 106thstreeters learned attending the services for Taylor is that even in death, Billy Taylor is still a master teacher. As we walked away from the church, bells tolling, we were reminded that a well lived life, hopefully with a brilliant jazz soundtrack, is how you get to heaven on earth and beyond. Some of Billy Taylor’s most beloved family and friends testified to such. Taylor’s daughter and son-in-law, Kim Taylor-Thompson and Anthony Taylor, Reverend Calvin O. Butts III (SUNY and Abyssinian Baptist Church), Ramsey Lewis, Loren Schoenberg (The National Jazz Museum in Harlem), Christian Sands, Robin Bell-Stevens, Kevin Struthers (Kennedy Center, Jazz Education), Cassandra Wilson, and the Billy Taylor Quintet all helped those in attendance know and remember Taylor.

During the services for Billy Taylor in the nave of Riverside Church. C. Nelson, 2011.

The Billy Taylor Quintet plays “It’s a Grand Night for Swinging” during the recessional. C. Nelson, 2011.

Nina Simone live at Montreux Jazz Festival 1976 performing Billy Taylor’s “I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to be Free.”

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