by Phil Schaap
No fewer than three Billy Taylors have their place in Jazz annals and it’s confusing who is who. It’s a bit more complex in that they all hale from Washington, D. C., two of them were born there.
The most famous is the pianist, Dr. Billy Taylor. The good Doctor was raised in D. C., though born in North Carolina. Pianist Taylor was not related to the other two, both bassists, who were father and son, and both born in the nation’s capital.
Billy Taylor, Sr. - b. 4/3/1906 - d. 9/2/1986 age 80 BASSIST
This bass playing Billy Taylor is most famous for playing in the Duke Ellington Orchestra during the 2nd half of the 1930s. He left The Maestro in November 1939, explaining to Duke that with Jimmie Blanton now in the band, there was no longer a need for two bass players.
Billy Taylor - b. 7/24/1921 - d. 12/28/2010 age 89 PIANIST
Pianist doesn’t fully cover the achievements of the good Doctor Billy Taylor. He wrote about and taught jazz. Taylor pioneered Jazzmobile. Billy was big on TV, for years a featured music commentator on CBS Sunday Morning, and previous to that, playing for the Dick Cavett Show on ABC.
Billy “Pickles” Taylor, Jr. - b. 12/31/1925 - d. November 1977 (as per discogs.com)
age 51 BASSIST
Billy “Pickles” Taylor was the son of the Ellington bassist. The same name and instrument has caused their activities to be crisscrossed or for Pickles Taylor’s legacy to be totally subsumed and assigned to the father as though there was only one bassist Billy Taylor. Billy Taylor, Jr. is the bassist Billy Taylor who worked at Minton’s and played with Mary Lou Williams in the early 1950s.
Discographically, the obvious perplexity is that there are some recordings with two Billy Taylors. Pianist Billy Taylor recorded with bassist Billy Taylor, Sr. on March 19, 1945 for Cozy Cole on Guild. They might both still be present on Cole’s follow-up date for Guild in April 1945. Both these musicians recorded as leaders for HRS (Hot Record Society) but neither used the other on their own sessions.
Might they have recorded together again on February 28, 1952?
This complexity concerns Johnny Hartman’s recordings for RCA Victor done on February 28, 1952. Here, the pianist is the good Doctor, Billy Taylor, and the bassist is listed as Billy Taylor.
BUT WHICH ONE?
The greater weight must be given to it being Pickles, Billy Taylor, Jr. By 1952, his father had moved back to Washington, D. C. from New York City. It seems unlikely that he would have made a special trip to the Big Apple for a pick-up session.
BUT WHO KNOWS FOR SURE?
The 2/28/1952 is part of the most sizeable difficulty in sorting out which bassist named Billy Taylor is on which record, once Billy “Pickles” Taylor, Jr. was of age.
These findings are confirmed:
Billy “Pickles” Taylor, Jr. is the bassist on Sarah Vaughan’s recordings for Columbia done May 18 & 19, 1950.
Billy “Pickles” Taylor, Jr. is the bassist on Mary Lou Williams’ recordings for Circle done June 11 & 15, 1951.
Billy Taylor, Sr. is the bassist on banjoist and vocalist Clancy Hayes’ album “Mr. Hayes Goes To Washington” recorded in late 1971 or early 1972.
Finally, it is known that both bassists Billy Taylor recorded with Mary Lou Williams.
On February 25, 1946, Mary Lou Williams recorded for Continental as “Mary Lou Williams Girl Stars” (Continental 6032) and “MARY OSBORNE with Mary Lou Williams’ Girl Stars” (Continental 6021). These were presented as recordings by an all-female Jazz band. But the bassist was Billy Taylor, Sr., who is listed on the 78RPM Continental labels as “Bea Taylor”, masking the gender misstep to an all-women’s group.
Again, the June 1951 Mary Lou Williams’ recordings for Circle have Billy “Pickles” Taylor, Jr. on bass.
slightly revised 2/19/21 from February 5, 2021