Dr. Billy Taylor (1921-2010)

I had only two opportunities to chat with Dr. Billy Taylor.  The first time I called him about 821 Sixth Avenue.  I asked him if he knew Hall Overton and he said, “Of course.”  He didn’t remember taking part in any jam sessions at the loft but he fondly remembered Overton as a congenial colleague and comrade.  The second time I called him was in regard to my research on Thelonious Monk’s background in North Carolina’s coastal plains, a background Taylor shared.  Taylor was born in Greenville, Monk forty miles away in Rocky Mount.  Taylor told me that even though he and Monk moved north as kids (Monk to New York, Taylor to Washington, DC), they often acknowledged that they were “fellow Tar Heels,” sometimes mockingly, sometimes dead serious.  They knew North Carolina was an umbilical part of their heritage and make up, in a manner not unlike, say, Italy for Martin Scorsese or Russia for Bernard Malamud, two great artists born in Manhattan and Brooklyn, respectively.  I always wondered if Taylor and Charles Kuralt talked much about their shared North Carolina roots when they were doing the CBS Sunday Morning show.  If anybody knows if that is part of a public record somewhere, I’d like to know about it.

A Blog Supreme has a number of pertinent Taylor links, and Ethan Iverson of The Bad Plus has a thoughtful comment plus a link.

-Sam Stephenson

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