AFRO-AMERICAN MUSIC INSTITUTE CELEBRATES 36 YEARS
Pain Relief Beyond Belief
There are two excellent pieces about Dr. Taylor. I had written a piece about him in the Courier but can't locate it at the moment. I'm also very surprised that no one up to this point has written anything about him on this Jazz Network. Shame on you all.
This following article was sent to me today by my friends Mr. Fred Logan and Mensah Wali. It is by Stanley Crouch who I usually don't agree with but I'm in agreement here.
Billy Taylor and the death of black culture
Monday, January 3rd 2011, 4:00 AM
When the jazz pianist Dr. Billy Taylor died last week at 89, he took with him something now symbolized by few black people in mass media or the academy.
Taylor was not a sellout to popular trends: He did not use the uninformed bad tastes of young people against them in order to become a famous musician or a prestigious scholar whose supposed importance is based on irresponsible hot air. Taylor was old school: He sustained a serious belief in quality as the best weapon a group can ever use against stereotypes.
As a black man raised in Washington, he grew up in the middle class. He picked Duke Ellington as a model because Ellington was always melting down the kinds of stereotypes of black people that BET and the imbecilic rappers it celebrates have been reestablishing in the name of "being real."
As an elegant, eloquent man, Taylor fought his battles by bringing the best that he could to his craft, his teaching and his public persona.
It was easier back then: When Taylor was a young man, the sort of compulsive vulgarity central to much of popular black culture was detested by blacks themselves most of all. That is why people like Ellington, Marian Anderson and Lena Horne were so important to black identity.
Taylor was a player of jazz piano who had a deep intellectual commitment to the art form, eventually attaining a Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts. And, yes, once upon a time, there were actually black people who could play instruments on a virtuoso level.
One of the things that jazz musicians learned when Taylor was coming up during the '40s was that when one is in the presence of real talent, artistic or otherwise, one has to absorb and nurture it, not exploit it as quickly as possible with videos full of writhing women and faked machismo.
Taylor moved to New York from Washington in the mid-'40s and was soon being hired by players across a range of styles. He was called to work by so many because of his professionalism and ongoing willingness to learn the nuances of different styles. And he consorted with Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday - icons of American culture who, like Taylor, could never thrive in a crass age like ours - at least not in the way they actually did.
Taylor was the first black person who had a serious presence in the arts on television. On the radio program "Jazz Alive" and elsewhere, he presented jazz tradition and jazz experimentation with lucid authority, never stooping to the intellectual lows displayed by "commentators" on MTV, BET and VH1 today.
As a longtime teacher, Taylor believed in the promotion of the very best of the idiom he loved. He was not the kind of academic who peddled popular ideas just because they would get him on television.
Out of the American tradition of innovation and dignity that produced Thomas Edison, the Wright Brothers, Louis Armstrong, Fred Astaire and Duke Ellingon, Dr. Billy Taylor rose to make his mark on our nation's identity. Unlike today's culture of shallow and decadent vulgarity, what he presented and helped make many aware of will remain with us as long as our culture maintains any actual vitality.
Stanley Crouch's column appears in the Daily News every Monday. Stanley, who has written for the paper since 1995, has received many awards for his writing, including a MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant. His books have been widely praised and he was recently inducted into the Academy of Arts and Sciences.