NEW YORK – Billy Taylor, an acclaimed jazz pianist and composer who became one of the genre’s most ardent advocates through radio, television and the landmark Jazzmobile arts venture, has died at age 89.
Taylor died Tuesday of a heart attack in Manhattan, said his wife, Theodora Taylor. “He enjoyed his life,” she said. “Music was his love.”
Though he had a noteworthy career as a musician and composer that spanned decades, and played with luminaries such as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis, Billy Taylor was probably best known as a tireless jazz booster, educator and broadcaster.
Dr. Taylor, as he preferred to be called, was the first black to lead a television studio orchestra in the 1950s. He helped found Jazzmobile in the 1960s – which began as mobile, outdoor concerts on a parade float to bring free music to inner city neighborhoods. He was host of a popular jazz show on National Public Radio from 1977 to 1982.
And, in what he later called one of his more significant accomplishments, he profiled musicians for CBS’ Sunday Morning show – winning an Emmy Award in 1983 for a piece on Quincy Jones.
For Taylor, jazz was a central musical form for telling the story of America.
“If you really listen to that, study that, everything you need to know about America is right there, and it’s up to us who’ve experienced much of that to be able to share that,” he continued.