Night Lights Classic Jazz

Billy Taylor and Charles Mingus at Storyville

Billy TaylorPianist Billy Taylor’s website has posted audio of a half-hour set at Boston’s Storyville club in 1951, featuring Charles Mingus on bass and Marquis Foster on drums, with Nat Hentoff doing between-song stage announcements. The sound is crystal-clear by 1951 radio-broadcast standards, with good playing from both Taylor and Mingus. The set includes “What Is This Thing Called Love,” “I’m Beginning to See the Light,” “Laura,” “Lady Bird,” “Tea for Two,” and “Three Little Words.” Here’s the Jazz Promo Services press release with more background on the performance (UPDATE: also see Doug Ramsey’s knowledgeable take on Mr. Taylor):

Writer Nat Hentoff, then a Staff Announcer a WMEX, regularly hosted remote broadcasts from two Boston clubs, the Savoy, and Storyville, run by impresario George Wein in the early 50s, before he founded the Newport Jazz Festival.

Hentoff remembers the gig because “it was the first time I heard Charles Mingus. I’d heard Jimmy Blanton, of course, but Mingus, his sound and his technique were really a revelation. Of course I knew Billy’s work, having interviewed him on the radio. He was then, as now, such a master of the piano that it was effortless.”

In 1949 Billy got a call to sub for Al Haig with Charlie Parker and Strings at Birdland. This was the beginning of a two-year stint as house pianist at that legendary jazz club, an unbroken continuum as soloist with all-star groups which included Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Jo Jones, Lester Young, Stan Getz, Milt Jackson and Art Blakey.

It was Billy’s mentor, Jo Jones, who set up the Storyville gig, and lined up the personnel, with Charles Mingus on bass and Marcus Foster on drums. Billy was so busy at Birdland that he didn’t think he could get the time off. “Jo came to me and said, I’ve got a gig for you,” Billy remembers, some fifty seven years after the fact. “I told him, I’ve got a gig at the moment and he told me that he talked to Monte Kay, who had hired me at Birdland and because Jo spoke with him, Monte said it was okay.”

It was Billy’s first encounter with Charles Mingus and Marcus Foster, a Boston-based drummer that Jones favored. “I never argued with Jo,” Billy explains. Shortly after the discussion with Papa Jo, he found himself on a train bound for Boston with Mingus. “We talked non-stop for nearly four hours. That was the first of many lively discussions I had with Mingus. We disagreed on our approach to many different things and argued about them, quite passionately. I’d run into Mingus on the street and could easily spend a half hour just standing there, arguing. He was a remarkable man and bassist.”

At the time, Mingus had just completed a run with the Red Norvo Trio, featuring Tal Farlow on guitar. “He was really ripe for my trio and I gave him lots of space. No bassist before or after has that kind of approach for playing melodies. We also recorded together with the Metronome All-Stars,” Billy recalls, “as well as several other sessions. In fact, we were friends right up until the time he passed away, in 1978 and I really miss playing and arguing with him.”

David Brent Johnson

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, David Brent Johnson moved to Bloomington in 1991. He is an alumnus of Indiana University, and began working with WFIU in 2002. Currently, David serves as jazz producer and systems coordinator at the station. His interests include literature, history, music, writing, and movies.

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  • Jon Foley

    In spite of the spelling on the Youtube clip, Billy Taylor’s drummer was *Marquis* Foster, not Marcus.

  • http://nightlights.blogs.wfiu.org/ David Brent Johnson

    Duly noted and fixed, Jon–thanks for the catch.

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