Reference: FSRCD 1670
Bar code: 8427328616706
The Ellingtonians present here were eager to explore eight Billy Taylor compositions, all arranged by bassist Johnnie Pate. Pianist Taylor wrote melancholy, lyrical, and elegant ballads, in the best and most enduring sense of the term ‘romantic’. His upand mid-tempo compositions have a rising quality, without ever becoming frantic; they are a more than adequate inspiration for the soloing horn man. Taylor was a sophisticate, and his music tastes were rich and contemporary, modern, soulful, and free of fads or clichés. The soloists are comfortable, the rhythm section is fully supported, and the tunes are delights. Johnny Hodges plays several absolutely beautiful solos on the ballads, and Clark Terry came out better than anyone outside of Ellington’s band. For his part, Gonsalves with his wide, punchy tone and distinctive harmonic approach outdoes himself on up-tempo tunes. It’s aTaylor-made session, all right.
"Duke Ellington had an uncanny knack for assembling smaller groups of bandmates (say, seven or eight) and scoring music for them that retained all the oomph of his full orchestra. And though this isn't one of those small Ellingtonian unit sessions, it's just about the next best thing. Having assembled several members of Duke's band and written eight definitely Duke-influenced tunes, pianist/composer Billy Taylor's "Taylor Made Jazz" would probably have been marketed as a 'tribute album' if it had been released recently. But given the recording's vintage (1957), there are two types of people who would be most interested in it: historical completists who want their collections to include a majority of the recording catalog pertinent to a certain musician (i.e., Taylor or Ellington), or Johnny Hodges fans.
"Biddy's Beat" swings; "Daddy-O"'s got a little spunk; "Cu-Blu" is (what else?) a cool blues. Clark Terry is as mellow as ever and there's even some solo room for Harry Carney. On one hand, "Taylor Made Jazz" is a great example of the standard mid-'50s studio sessions highlighted by clean solos, tight ensembles, and tasteful backing work from a bunch of veteran players. On the other hand, this session really seems like an opportunity Taylor had to try out some of his pretty ballad material with Hodges, Ellington's alto sax balladeer extraordinaire. Half of "Taylor Made Jazz" consists of slow solo tunes for Hodges, and despite the rest of the record's strong swinging, this material becomes the center of attention. Check out the versatility of his vibrato on "Day Dreaming" (different from the Billy Strayhorn-penned "Daydream," even though it sounds a lot like the work of Duke's alter ego) to hear how nearly classically perfect Hodges could be. Heck, he puts Marcel Mule to shame."
—John Uhl (All Music Guide)
"Between 1950 and 1960, jazz was dominated by elegant jazz pianists. The list is long and includes Oscar Peterson, Sonny Clark, Red Garland, Russ Freeman, Lou Levy, Ahmad Jamal and others. A pianist who belongs on this list but is often forgotten is Billy Taylor. Billy's technique was unrivaled in many ways because he covered so much ground effortlessly, from stride and swing to bop and Latin.
As bassist and manager John Levy told me in 2010, “Billy was naïve —in a good way. He was an innocent and the classiest musician around. He was strictly educational. He didn’t hang out, and he didn’t hit on women or any of that stuff. He married Teddi and that was it. Everyone loved him.”
Billy formed a trio in 1952 and didn't stop working and recording. Now, Fresh Sound Records has released three of Billy's rarest albums —Taylor Made Jazz (1957), Uptown (1960) and Custom Taylored (1960). Two of the albums —Taylor Made Jazz and Custom Taylored feature all originals by Billy. Uptown, an album recorded live at New York's Prelude, features three originals, and the rest were other jazz artist's songs.
On these three albums, we're reminded how spry and melodic Billy's compositions are and how good and warmly received he was in a club setting. His technique was always breathtaking and in the pocket. And his sidemen were top-notch. On Custom Taylored and Uptown, Billy worked with bassist Henry Grimes and drummer Ray Mosca. On Taylor Made Jazz, Billy was joined by bassist Earl May and drummer Ed Thigpen. The session also included a chunk of Duke Ellington's band: Clark Terry and Willie Cook (tp), Brit Woodman (tb), Johnny Hodges (as), Paul Gonsalves (ts) and Harry Carney (bs)."
—Marc Myers (January 24, 2010)
Ringer of the Week ★★★★★
"Better known for his educational work than his stellar playing, pianist Billy Taylor was one of the early boppers, playing with the likes of Ben Webster, Stuff Smith and Slam Stewart before focusing on his popular jazz radio program Jazz Alive. This release shows his classy touch and style, akin to Hank Jones, but maybe with a bit more muscle, but still baptized in the church and school of lyricism.
'Taylor Made' from 1957 has Taylor teamed with a rhythm section of Earl May/b and Ed Thigpen/dr. The real treat her is the inclusion of Ellingtonian alto saxist Johnny Hodges, who’s present on all the tracks, but featured on a drop dead gorgeous “Theodora”, “Day Dreaming” and “Can You Tell By Looking At Me”. Other Ducal guests are featured on the rest of the album, including Clark Terry/tp, Willie Cook/tp, Britt Woodman/tb, Paul Gonsalves/ts and Harry Carney/bs, for a swinging “Biddy’s Beat” velvety “Mood For Mendes” and fun “Tune For Tex”. Where has this been all my life?
As with all things from Fresh Sound Records, there are the original liner notes in the booklet as well as session material to put the records, and artist, in proper perspective."
—George W. Harris (December 15, 2022)