Billy Taylor

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The great jazz pianist and teacher Billy Taylor died yesterday, at age 89. Several months ago I wrote about the late-1950s TV show "The Subject is Jazz," which included this appearance by Taylor. He's at the piano throughout the clip and discusses the history of cool jazz with the host, Gilbert Seldes, starting around time 7:30.



A very nice collection of other Billy Taylor clips on YouTube is here, assembled by Bret Primack, aka "JazzVideoGuy." I like the Seldes one, above, because it shows something amazingly constant about Taylor -- recognizably the same guy in his 30s on that show as he was in appearances in his 70s and 80s, often at the Kennedy Center -- and something amazingly transformed about American culture and American TV, as I think you'll see if you watch even a little of the clip (and as I tried to explain in the earlier post). He was a talented man, with a gracious and charming public presence.

Update: reader TC highlights this offhand observation in the clip, and what it shows about Taylor.

>>"Fundamentally our musicians play modern jazz, and they play it hot or cool as the occasion demands." -- Billy Taylor, quoted by Gilbert Seldes

We should all aspire to such elegance and versatility!<<
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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