If you’re into jazz piano, do yourself a favor and get a copy of Billy Taylor’s book Jazz Piano: A Jazz History.
I first got the book back in the 1980s when I was studying piano with Dr. Taylor. Since I can’t locate that copy anymore (I probably loaned it out years ago!), I bought it again, from Amazon. As far as I can tell it’s out-of-print but there are some used copies available. My copy arrived in pristine condition.
The book is a survey of jazz pianists and styles from the beginnings of jazz through the avant garde. There are many short musical examples and lots that you won’t find anywhere else. (Have you ever heard of the harmonic genius Clarence Profit?) All this is topped off with Taylor’s priceless anecdotes and personal recollections which he’s sprinkled throughout. When Taylor mentions the bebop pianist/composer Tadd Dameron, for instance, he can give us a unique insight because he was there: he knew Dameron and all the other greats!
My favorite story from the book appears on p.199. In it, Taylor relates an incident that happened when he visited New York as a teenager, from his hometown of Washington, D.C. (Probably in the early 1940s) His father knew the manager of a nightclub and asked if his son could play a piece during the intermission. Billy played “Lullaby in Rhythm,” displaying all his pianistic “tricks.” The house pianist complimented the young man and asked him to come to a nearby apartment and play for his friends. In the apartment were a few men playing cards and a piano. Billy played the song again and, in his own words, “Soon one of the men sidled up to me and said, “Is this what you are trying to do?” One by one, the four men card players outclassed me and taught me a lesson. I soon found out that the house pianist was none other than the composer of the piece I had selected to play at the club – Clarence Profit!”
I love this story, and by the way, one of the other pianists was none other than a young Thelonious Monk!!!
I loved listening to Billy speak about the great pianists of the past. (He also had the ability to play piano in each pianists’ style.) He put a great deal of his knowledge and experience into his book to pass it along to you and I. Enjoy!
Billy Taylor used to tell me that jazz is learned the same way we learn language. Here are a few jazz piano lessons from my video course.
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