- The Washington Times - Friday, March 29, 2002

Music was in the air everywhere Monday night at the D.C. Young Audiences benefit at the Four Seasons Hotel. The Duke Ellington School of the Arts' Small Jazz Ensemble played during the reception, and a quintet of top-drawer performers, peers of pianist, composer and educator Billy Taylor, the evening's honoree, entertained after dinner.

One 80-year-old remembered another when trumpeter Joe Wilder talked informally about Mr. Taylor while pianist John Bunch, also 80, listened. "He has improved the status of jazz in the country and by his own behavior and deportment," said Mr. Wilder, who first saw "Billy" in Manhattan long ago, at the old Mintons' jazz club on 52nd Street, "where different musicians would go in and jam."

The instrumentalists, who call themselves the All Star Jazz Quintet and are part of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, also included Keter Betts on bass, Chuck Redd on drums and saxophonist Charles Young. The group, all of whom knew or had worked with Mr. Taylor at one time or another, played Louis Armstrong's "It's a Wonderful World" and the Duke Ellington favorite "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" before finishing with a rousing version of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."

Mr. Taylor, a member of the Young Audiences advisory board for many years, was too ill to attend but sent an upbeat video with a message about the value of arts education for the young that was played for the crowd which in turn sang "Happy Birthday" for a return video. It was the first time in 16 years that the evening's honoree could not be present, according to Young Audiences Executive Director Marie Barksdale.

The event, a low-key, formal affair, also featured a special presentation to retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Julius W. Becton Jr. and his wife, Louise, for their longtime support of education, especially Young Audiences programs to ensure that the performing arts are included in the public schools' curriculum.

Gen. Becton made it quite clear that his musical contribution to the world came entirely from the sidelines. "They tried to teach me how to play the clarinet in elementary school," he said with a laugh, "but it didn't work."


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