Gentleman at the Keyboard

This post was inspired by my recent purchase of the Billy Taylor CD Warming Up, which is actually a combo of two vinyl albums, Warming Up (1960), tracks 1-12 and Interlude (1961) tracks 13-21. The latter selections are my favorite, comprising fragments of a jazz symphony in which Taylor traces the beginning, middle and end of a love affair. The opening piece “You Tempt Me” is particularly evocative (and tastefully provocative) in a way typical of Taylor. One can imagine the furtive glances and bashful smiles of a couple getting to know each other in some quiet venue. To put the musician’s style in context, the the original liner notes record that

Billy Taylor is not “fashionable” at the moment. But that doesn’t seem to bother him in the least. “I have no use for fads,” he says and persists in going his own way. “Music,” he says, “is like conversation. It’s not necessary to scream everything.” And then, on further reflection, “I guess I’m a romantic. I have two children to prove I’m a man.”

The music journalist adds that Taylor’s approach was “an indictment of many of the young pianists who seem to be playing with their fists rather than their fingers.” It isn’t just that his style was frequently understated. The life and demeanor of this talented family man exuded a sense of gentle strength. It’s a point that I made in an earlier post on Taylor, who persistently refused to “scream” about his personal accomplishments or his philosophical views. His musical heritage is a reminder that it is possible for celebrities to conduct themselves without the exhibitionism that is so typical today (see “Praising Quiet Heroes“).

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