Saturday, July 04, 2015

Listening to Prestige Part 129: Billy Taylor

I may be forgetting something, but I think this is the first live album we've seen from Prestige. There was a Wardell Gray session recorded at the Bluebird, but never released.

The Billy Taylor trio is without regular drummer Charlie Smith. Percy Brice, the drummer on this session, did do quite a bit of work with Taylor.

We're starting to see the the generation of musicians who were born in the mid-Thirties, the Depression babies like Paul Chambers, on a more and more sessions, but Percy Brice is an old-timer, born in 1923, and already a veteran of a lot of jazz. A solid professional, he can be heard in this short interview, where he talks about following Max Roach as the drummer in Benny Carter's band. He played with a wide range of musicians, from Carter to George Shearing to Herbie Mann, and vocalists including Sarah Vaughan and Carmen MacRae, and especially Harry Belafonte, who he worked with for eight years.

Jazz in a concert hall was still a relatively rare phenomenon, and this set by Taylor was part of a larger program of jazz for that evening. For Taylor, one of the best things about was that he was able to play a 9-foot concert grand piano, which was not the standard fare for his club dates.

Taylor must have known that his Town Hall audience was going to want to hear some standards, so he mostly sticks with them. His one original on this set, "Theodora," fits right in with tunes like "A Foggy Day" and "I'll Remember April." "Theodora," dedicated to his wife, was written on the day of the concert and is basically unrehearsed.

"Sweet Georgia Brown" certainly was in 1954 most closely associated with the Harlem Globetrotters, and maybe still is. It's a staple of trad jazz, not so much of modern (although Charlie Parker recorded it), but Taylor makes it fit right in here. Taylor is mellifluous but always inventive, easy to listen to but definitely not easy listening.

Actually the odd tune out here is "How High the Moon." The others are all song length, three to five minutes. "Moon" tops 13, and features an extended drum solo by Brice. "How High the Moon" is probably most famous, in progressive jazz circles, as being the set of chord changes over which Charlie Parker fashioned "Ornithology."

All but "How High the Moon" were released on a 10-inch LP. The entire set is on the 1957 12-inch release.

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