Top 10 Favorite Billy Taylor Tracks

If the great pianist/composer/educator Dr. Billy Taylor had only one of those “angles” to lean on, he’d still be a “hall of fame” level force in jazz, and the sum of the three (and the fascinating ways they’re interwoven) make him an extraordinary figure in the music’s history, something that itself belies the delightfully positive energy that radiated through any space he entered. He championed jazz on network television, he was a committed educator and wrote a book on the history of jazz piano that hasn’t aged, and he generally worked to help the music reach wider audiences without diluting any of the substance. His determination to help jazz earn the respect it deserves is consistent with this being the guy who wrote “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free” (perhaps best known via Nina Simone’s interpretation), just one of his many noteworthy compositions. And yet when I was first exposed to his music I literally didn’t know any of this, I just knew he was charming and played the bejeezus out of the piano.

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15 Albums That Moved Me in 2021

Is music getting better every year or am I just getting more sentimental about the artistry and courage and persistence that being a musician requires? I don’t know, but it was literally painful to assemble this list, knowing how much truly excellent music I had to omit, even with the loophole of these honorable mentions. Take this not as a ranking (much less a referendum on quality through some claiming-to-be-objective lens) but as a series of shout-outs and an invitation to dig some (or if you’re ambitious all) of the wonderful music cited below.

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Leave No Griever Behind

It’s no secret that American society does a lousy job of allowing grief its proper place in everyday discourse. Or maybe it is a secret in the sense that with so few people talking about it, it’s not even sufficiently part of most folks’ consciousness to even form an opinion about it. And yet humankind is nothing if not a potpourri of grievers. There are folks in states of intense grief, folks for whom the sting of grief has abated over time or for whom the grief was more distant in the first place, and folks in the “not-yet-griever” category who are going about their lives without thought to or preparation for the inevitability of grief brought about by the inconvenient fact of human mortality. Literally everyone who has another human in their life is impacted, and yet so few are inclined to talk about it. It doesn’t have to be that way and there are things we can do as individuals and as a society to open our eyes and thereby share the load more equitably.

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Top 10 favorite Barry Harris tracks

The last of the forefathers of Detroit jazz piano has gone on to join his honorary brothers Hank Jones, Tommy Flanagan, and Sir Roland Hanna as an ancestor. No one can question that he was one of the greatest bebop pianists who ever lived (a case could be made that he was THE greatest, but I don’t want to get in any fights here) and nobody has done more to keep the pianistic flames of Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk alight. Even if he hadn’t been much of a player, his legacy would be secure from his pioneering work as one of the most influential of all jazz educators – I could go on for pages about that, but will leave it to the many who studied with him more formally and extensively. I didn’t know him well, but I my one cherished opportunity to have lunch with him back in 1997 confirmed what I have heard from everyone who knew him, that he was a class act through and through. Put all of this together and you get one heck of a high-impact life.

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Top 10 Favorite Slide Hampton Tracks

I’m among the many saddened by Slide Hampton’s departure at age 89, but what a life and what a career. I’d been putting a list together anyway, and so I’ll rush this out to provide some earfood for the curious/uninitiated and to invite other Slide-lovers to chime in. This one specifically revolves around currently-in-print sides, though crate-diggers will find a good bit more to enjoy as well. I was first introduced to Slide’s genius by a colleague of his (and teacher of mine), William Fielder, aka “Prof.” Slide embodied the word “virtuoso” both with his trombone and with his pen (I’m excluding tracks he didn’t play on from this list, but that’s another very large and impressive can of worms).

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Top 10 Favorite George Cables Tracks

I’m a day late for acknowledging the 77th birthday of the wonderful, important pianist George Cables, but still wanted to take the opportunity to shine a light on a few of the many wonderful moments in his discography. This was not an easy list to narrow down, and I strived for variety, both musical and chronological. Please feel free to spotlight some of your own favorites in the comments.

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Top 10 Favorite Pat Martino Tracks

If Pat Martino’s career had ended with his brain hemorrhage in 1980, when he was in his mid-30s, he would have still secured his place in history through dozens of recordings documenting the jaw-dropping technique that impressed people so much that it almost obscured the extraordinary depth of his authority with soulful blues playing. That he managed to defy the odds and relearn how to play from that point is the stuff of legend, a story that has been widely documented in the world of neuroscientific medicine but is one of the most underrated heroic stories in the jazz canon. Though he is now no longer with us, his second act was also remarkable and I’ll always be grateful for his inspiration and for the fact that he got to enjoy so many additional years of playing and corresponding accolades.

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Top 10 Favorite Kale Dishes

It’s National Kale Day (apparently that’s really a thing) and since kale has gone from bane of my childhood existence to possibly the most important plant in my life, I figured I’d give all my fellow kale lovers (and or the kale-curious) a sense of some of the ways we use it in our household,…

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Top 10 Favorite Dr. Lonnie Smith Tracks

The world is a less soulful, interesting, and spirited place without Dr. Lonnie Smith walking among us. I will leave the broader personal eulogizing to others better-suited, but since I’d already been working on this list I wanted to share it, both for some balm, hopefully, for the Turbanator’s fans and as a point of entry for this towering figure, NEA Jazz Master, and one of the greatest organists ever to walk the planet.

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