- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 23, 2002

Given the huge assembly of talent on the program, no way could Sunday's musical tribute to jazzman and educator Billy Taylor fail to please the sold-out audience in the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater. They clapped and cheered, moving heads and hands in rhythm to the knockout performances onstage.

Billed as an 80th-birthday celebration for the center's artistic adviser on jazz, the evening became a "this is your life" montage in sound minus the famous man himself, who was recovering from an undisclosed ailment at home in New York. National Public Radio arranged for a live audio feed so Mr. Taylor, who prefers the honorific of Dr., could listen in with his wife, Theodora, by his side.

Substituting for him was their daughter Kimberly Taylor-Thompson, a professor of law at New York University, who noted at the reception afterward how the occasion seemed like "old home week" because so many of the celebrity entertainers taking part "were people I grew up with, people I listened to and my father played with." With such friends as Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, how could you miss?

Backed frequently by the Frank Wess Big Band, performer-friends included Jimmy Owens on fluegelhorn, Steve Turre on trombone, Arturo Sandoval on trumpet, Cyrus Chestnut on piano and Phil Woods on saxophone. It was the women, however, who hit the highest emotional keys singers Cleo Laine, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Nancy Wilson; pianist Marian McPartland; jazz violinist Regina Carter. That was capped at the finale by a slightly bowedLuther Henderson directing the cast, which included the WPAS Men and Women of the Gospel Choir in Mr. Henderson's version of Mr. Taylor's signature composition, "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to be Free."

Charles Osgood of the "CBS News Sunday Morning" TV show on which Mr. Taylor frequently appears was the upbeat host, saying at one point how "the beauty of jazz is that it is always regenerating itself." True enough. Just like the honoree who was presented, in absentia, with a Department of State Certificate of Appreciation by Alma Powell, wife of Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and a Kennedy Center trustee, who hailed Mr. Taylor's cultural outreach abroad.

Ann Geracimos

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