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Billy's Themes: A Tribute to Billy Taylor by Jessica Williams

This CD represents the fine pianist, Jessica Williams', solo tribute to her mentor and friend, Dr. Billy Taylor. She wrote all the songs, and they show her impressive range and ability.

Honoree Taylor began his piano career with Ben Webster in the '40s and went on to lead his own groups through the decades. From the beginning, Taylor also became involved with jazz education and publication. Over the years he also had his own radio program on NPR.

In the ‘90s he became an artistic adviser for the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. In his many roles, he has become one of jazz's most articulate spokesmen. All the while he has kept his hand in performing and composing. Taylor is a genuine jazz Renaissance man.

Williams recorded this exceptional album in her home studio, placing the mikes to give the music a rich, full concert-hall sound. In the writing, she states she had a "less is more" attitude, giving the music a spare, sensitive quality that always swings.

Art Tatum, a great favorite and teacher of Taylor, was also a big influence on Williams, herself. You can hear this in the first cut, "Finally Free," with its stride-like style and keyboard filigrees, certainly suggesting master Tatum.

"Billy’s Theme. No. 1," is a majestic melodic progression to the end (hints of "April in Paris" can be heard). "Blues for BT" comes back to earth, living up to its name with a quiet, rolling, bluesy feel, before building into a real down-home groove. "Taylor’s Triumph," indeed, has a triumphant feel about it; its bouncy, subdued lyricism suggests Bill Evans with whom Williams has been compared.

Her two "Spontaneous Composition and Improvisation" numbers are most impressive. In "No. 1," again, her Tatumesque left hand rhythm provides a wonderfully rocking rhythm, while "No. 2" has an effective dark, moody, impressionistic feel about it.

Indeed, this tribute to Taylor is supreme, and displays Williams as one of the country’s best solo talents.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Jessica Williams
  • CD Title: Billy's Themes: A Tribute to Billy Taylor
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 2006
  • Record Label: Origin Records
  • Rating: Four Stars
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