NEW YORK — He was a giant in the jazz world. Jazz pianist Dr. Billy Taylor took jazz and brought it back to the people who created it and he is being remembered Saturday night on the 100th anniversary of his birth. He was a jazz pianist, jazz educator and the first jazz ambassador.
His most famous composition, “I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to be Free,” became an anthem of the civil rights movement and was made famous by Nina Simone. Taylor passed away 11 years ago. Friends, fans, family and jazz musicians gathered in Damrosch Park at Lincoln Center to celebrate Dr. Taylor’s most lasting legacy: Jazzmobile.
“Jazzmobile is an organization my dad created over 50 years ago. designed to bring jazz to communities all across the city for free,“ said Kim Taylor-Thompson, Dr. Taylor’s daughter. “It allowed people to appreciate what he called America’s classical music, which is jazz,” she added.
Since its founding in 1964, Jazzmobile in conjunction with Summerfest has been providing free jazz concerts and workshops in parks, on the street and in concert halls. More than four million New Yorkers and visitors have participated over the last five decades.
“Billy Taylor is the one who created the whole concept of taking a look at Jazz and making it an art form,” Robin Bell-Stevens, the director of Jazzmobile explained. “Dr. Taylor started it and there are a lot of other organizations copying it and making it stronger,” she added.
And to the musicians up on the stage, like percussionist Winard Harper, Dr. Billy Taylor was a loving mentor and role model: “Billy Taylor is one of the reasons people go to college and study jazz, get degrees because of his pioneering work,” Harper said. “Aside from the music, one thing that stood out for me is that he is one of the best human beings I have known in my lifetime.”
Billy Taylor’s highly acclaimed albums on Arkadia Records are Billy Taylor: Ten Fingers, One Voice and Billy Taylor: Music Keeps Us Young.
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