- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Pianist and educator “Dr.” Billy Taylor, 83, says he’s retiring … sort of. He’s abandoning life on the road, the arduous kind that involves a nonstop live performance schedule. However, his role as jazz’s elder statesman — and, of course, the music — will continue.

“I want to do some Jazzmobiles (a free concert series featuring performances by jazz greats that he co-founded in 1964),” Mr. Taylor says from his home in Riverdale, N.Y., where he commutes to the District tofulfill his longtime role as the Kennedy Center’s jazz impresario.

Tonight, he plays his final formal concert on the center’s stage, accompanied by drummer Winard Harper and bassist Chip Jackson, both members of his current trio. They will be joined on the program — a tribute to Dizzy Gillespie titled “Billy Taylor’s ‘Diz’” — by trumpeter Jon Faddis, whom Mr. Taylor calls “probably the best disciple of Dizzy’s work.”

The concert follows yesterday’s release of “Taylor Made at the Kennedy Center,” a special CD available on the Web and in Kennedy Center shops.

Mr. Taylor has led his own trio for nearly half a century and has recorded close to 50 albums. In 1948, he authored the first of his many books, “Basic Bebop Instruction,” the first book ever written on the revolutionary jazz genre.

What’s next? His immediate agenda includes the Kennedy Center’s 10th annual Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival (another program founded by Mr. Taylor) May 19 through 21. It was the first such event “in a major institution,” he says proudly.

There’s also talk of an autobiography, although Mr. Taylor says, “I’ve no idea where I will go with it.”

Content should be no problem, given Mr. Taylor’s long and varied list of accomplishments.

The work surely will touch on his early days growing up in the District, where he attended Dunbar High School; his graduation from Virginia State University; his experiences playing with such jazz legends as Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Billie Holiday and Mr. Gillespie; and his various educational forays.

Mr. Taylor earned master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst — hence the familiar Dr. honorific in front of his name. He still teaches there (among other places) on a part-time basis and also serves as a Duke Ellington Fellow at Yale University.

Mr. Taylor suffered a stroke a few years ago but rallied. “I may not [play] as fast,” he concedes, often mentioning how “fortunate” he has been in overcoming life’s challenges.

The conversation circles back to Mr. Gillespie, bebop’s creator and trumpeter extraordinaire, who died in 1993. Always the educator, Mr. Taylor weighs in on Mr. Gillespie’s musical contributions.

“He changed the way we play melody, harmony, rhythm. These things are different because of what Dizzy and the people gathered around him in the 1940s did,” Mr. Taylor says.

“Diz was very special to me.”

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