Monday, June 01, 2015

Listening to Prestige Part 116: Billy Taylor

Billy Taylor meshed well with his longtime trio (there seems to be some disagreement as to whether Charlie Smith or Percy Brice was the drummer, but either knew how to play with Taylor), and knew the material he was working with, so it's not surprising that he was able to get about twice as much recording into a single session as the average leader. He did eight tunes here, three standards, a sem-standard (Gordon Jenkins' "Goodbye'), and four originals, all of which were dedicated to disc jockeys and became the theme music for their shows -- Taylor estimated that by the end of the 1950s, he had written themes for at least 15 DJs. Joseph "Tex" Gathings was on WOOK in Washington, DC--primarily a rhythm and blues station, but Tex was strictly a jazz man, although later, in the early 60s, he hosted an all-black teenage dance party on a Washington TV station. Biddy Wood was DJing a jazz show in Philadelphia when Taylor dedicated this song to him, but he was mostly known as a music promoter in Baltimore, and the husband of jazz singer Damita Jo. Eddie Newman was another Philadelphia DJ who also opened his own jazz club. Jim Mendes was perhaps the first black DJ in the Providence-Hartford area, and also hosted a public affairs show for emigres from his native Cape Verde.

As with most of Taylor's early Prestige sessions,
these are hard to find. Nothing on Spotify. "Goodbye." "Lullabye of Birdland" and "Moonlight in Vermont" are all on YouTube. Each features a lush, measured head embellished with plenty of sustain, then moving into bright and increasingly complex right-hand work on the solos.

"Eddie's Tune" and "Goodbye" were the only single release, on both 78 and 45.  You'd think they would have released the others, at least regionally, for fans of the DJs. There was a 10-inch LP called Billy Taylor Plays for DJs (the standards were all used as themes by jazz DJs, as well), and the tunes were included on a 12-inch called Cross Section.

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