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The Jazz Life of Dr. Billy Taylor Hardcover – April 18, 2013

4.3 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"This book (including Dr. Teresa L. Reed’s eloquent introduction) captures with great clarity and accuracy the character of this man. Taylor not only always aspired to excellence, he was also
humble and generous of word and deed. The Jazz Life of Dr. Billy Taylor provides the backstory of why he must be remembered as one of the major leading lights of America’s classical music." ―New York City Jazz Record

"In this excellent collaboration with author Teresa Reed, Dr. Billy Taylor, one of the most beloved and iconic figures in the jazz world, tells his extraordinary life story in his own words with characteristic humility, warmth, and eloquence. This is a book of major importance not only to the jazz field but also to the study of the African American social and cultural experience in the 20th and early 21st centuries. It is a must read―I couldn't put it down!" ―Dr. David N. Baker, Chair, Jazz Studies, Indiana University Jacobs School of Music; National Endowment for the Arts American Jazz Master

"The Jazz Life of Dr. Billy Taylor... does his high esteem justice. Without sacrificing the man's integrity, the book captures Dr. Taylor's wide-eyed enthusiasm for jazz and for his missions to further the music's tradition and expand its audience." ―JazzTimes

"As a highly-esteemed jazz pianist, educator, and media figure who helped popularize the concept of jazz as "America’s classical music," Billy Taylor’s contributions to jazz were significant, and his story intersects with some of the music’s most fascinating figures and historical chapters. As a jazz education pioneer and well-liked spokesperson for the music, Mr. Taylor is a civil rights figure in his own way, and this gives his book a value that transcends the normal boundaries of music biography." ―David Brent Johnson, Jazz Director, WFIU

"[C]o-author Reed has done an exemlary job of making the story flow in Taylor's own words." ―Jazzwise

"The Jazz Life of Dr. Billy Taylor is an impeccable memoir by one of America’s most celebrated renaissance men. The consummate master musician, intellect, educator, humanitarian and activist reveals the steep challenges and overwhelming victories of his life journey in a manner that exemplify his tremendous dedication to making the world a better place and his demonstrative commitment to excellence. The writing is as fluid as it is gorgeous, captivating and inspiring. This monumental memoir offers an in-depth and critical analysis of American history through the lens of one the most decorated African American creative artists of the 20th and 21st centuries. Filled with poignant reflection on the importance of the African-African American cultural continuum as a foundation for American culture, this memoire takes us from the hey days of 'Swing Street' to the most prestigious concert halls around the world with an insider’s tour of the meritorious metamorphosis of William E. Taylor, Jr. into the widely celebrated, Dr. Billy Taylor. From amazing details of interactions with Malcolm X, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., John Coltrane and Mary Lou Williams to the behind-the-scenes inspirations for compositions such as 'I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free,' 'Don’t Go Down South' and Peaceful Warrior; this is a must read by anyone who claims to be remotely interested in American music, history, arts and culture." ―Emmett G. Price III, Ph.D, Executive Editor of Encyclopedia of African American Music

"...Those of us who had the privilege of hearing him speak will recognize how accurately Reed captures his spirit and his enthusiasm for the music to which he dedicated his life." ―NPR

"This must-read collaboration weaves not only the story of a highly esteemed jazz great and genre ambassador, but it is also a narrative on racism and the social influence of jazz." ―Smooth Jazz News

About the Author

Dr. Billy Taylor (1921–2010) served as the Duke Ellington Fellow at Yale University, Artistic Advisor for Jazz to the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and Board Member on the National Council for the Arts. A lifelong spokesperson for jazz, he hosted radio shows in New York, on National Public Radio, and became the jazz correspondent on CBS Sunday Morning. With over 23 honorary doctoral degrees, Dr. Billy Taylor is also the recipient of two Peabody Awards, an Emmy, a Grammy and a host of prestigious and highly coveted prizes, such as the National Medal of Arts, the Tiffany Award, a Lifetime Achievement Award from Downbeat Magazine, and election to the Hall of Fame for the International Association for Jazz Education.

Teresa L. Reed is Director of the School of Music at the University of Tulsa where she teaches music theory and African-American music.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Indiana University Press; 2 edition (April 18, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 025300909X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0253009098
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,967,690 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Dr. Taylor's autobiography is inspiring and entertaining. I really enjoyed reading about his life and the lives of his jazz contemporaries. He grew up in Washington, D.C. and the portrait he paints of the city, especially the U Street corridor, transported me back to another era. The racism Dr. Taylor encountered could have stifled his talent. Instead, he used his talent to get around artificial barriers and to establish himself not only as a major jazz musician but as an ambassador for this music he loved so much.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a story of a great musician's career, family and a personal view into his family. Well written commentary of a man, one of a kind in the audiences' sight and in the presence of his family.
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If you’re looking for a book that seamlessly weaves the evolution of one of America’s greatest jazz statesman against the backdrop of segregation and the civil rights movement in America, then The Jazz Life of Dr. Billy Taylor (with Dr. Teresa L. Reed, Indiana University Press, 213, pp. 227) is a volume you should have before you as soon as possible. This is a book that also provides clear, direct evidence of the importance of family background and upbringing, mentors, and one’s individual character--not just credentials, position, or money--in the evolution of a life.

Billy Taylor grew up in a household surrounded by professionals and educated people of color: his father was a dentist, his father’s best friend a doctor; his mother was also college-educated as a teacher; his grandfather was a minister. In today’s cultural context this might not seem unusual, but in the early 1920’s in the American South—Greenville and Raleigh, North Carolina, and Washington, D.C.—segregation was an accepted way of life and educated, professional African-Americans were the exception, not the rule. His family made sure Billy was close to the arts, especially when they moved to Washington, D.C.: “We were wealthy in Henry O. Tanner’s art, in Claude McKay’s poetry, and in James Weldon Johnson’s literature; and we were filthy rich in music, so culturally affluent, in fact, it was unnecessary to venture beyond the [segregation] boundaries set for us,” Taylor relates.

Taylor started taking piano lessons with Mrs. Elmira Streets at age seven. He graduated from Virginia State College in 1942 with a music degree.
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