The Jazz Life of Dr. Billy Taylor

The Jazz Life of Dr. Billy Taylor

The Jazz Life of Dr. Billy Taylor

The Jazz Life of Dr. Billy Taylor

Synopsis

Legendary jazz ambassador Dr. Billy Taylor's autobiography spans more than six decades, from the heyday of jazz on 52nd Street in 1940s New York City to CBS Sunday Morning. Taylor fought not only for the recognition of jazz music as "America's classical music" but also for the recognition of black musicians as key contributors to the American music repertoire. Peppered with anecdotes recalling encounters with other jazz legends such as Jelly Roll Morton, Duke Ellington, Art Tatum, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, and many others, The Jazz Life of Dr. Billy Taylor is not only the life story of a jazz musician and spokesman but also a commentary on racism and jazz as a social force.

Excerpt

On a frigid December evening, I left my room at Le Parker Meridian and decided to walk the five blocks to the place where Dr. Billy Taylor left his heart. That place, that era, and that magic were so deeply ingrained in his being that his stories about 52nd Street came alive in my own mind, transporting me to the reality of something that I could feel and hear even though its sights and sounds had already vanished well before I was born. I weaved my way through Manhattan’s bustling throngs, its street vendors, showgoers, tourists, subway catchers, and fashionable canines, each exhaling hurried breaths of cold, steamy air from faces set like flint in their respective forward-moving directions. Swimming against this current of future-facing pedestrians, I was looking to arrive at a place in the past. Dr. Taylor’s 52nd Street was nearing the golden anniversary of its swan song. But I had the faith of an archeologist. the history made on 52nd Street was too significant, too world-changing to have vanished altogether. Some evidence of its glory days must still survive.

Swing Street. a ten-minute walk brought me to the corner of 52nd and 6th Streets, where, in a nearly frostbitten state, I turned in the direction where the Onyx Club, the Famous Door, the Hickory House, and the Three Deuces had been in the 1930s and 1940s. of course, there were different buildings in the places where these clubs once stood, but I imagined myself tracing the footsteps of a twenty-two-year-old Bill Taylor, perhaps even walking on the same pavement that brought him, more than six decades earlier, to this very spot as he headed to the Three Deuces for his audition on an equally frigid night.

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