07/19/11 By Walter Johns
University of Massachusetts pays tribute to Dr. Billy Taylor for 'Jazz in July'
The legacy of jazz pianist Dr. Billy Taylor makes its presence known in Amherst, Massachusetts each July. The University of Massachusetts’ Amherst campus is paying homage to Dr. Taylor this Wednesday; it’s one of the highlights of this year’s “Jazz in July” program. Taylor was on the initial advisory board for “Jazz in July,” which is UMass’ annual celebration of jazz music. Since 1981, UMass has reached out to students, educators, and regional and national jazz acts to share their knowledge and ideas through lectures, one-on-one sessions, group clinics, improvisation training, and live performances.
Marking its 30th anniversary, the two-week program wasn’t without its growing pains. “I know there were some struggles to get the university behind the program,” explained Administrative Director L. Frank Newton. “Jazz was still fairly new to the music department in those days and there was not a lot of funding for such an endeavor. Unfortunately, I cannot speak on the specific struggles that ‘Jazz in July’ faced in its infancy.”
In addition to the late Dr. Taylor, the founding advisory board for “Jazz in July” reads like a who’s who of jazz icons: Max Roach, Artie Shepp, Sheila Jordan, and Yusef Lateef, among others. Rooted in such star-studded talent, it’s no surprise that “Jazz in July” has been able to not only solidify credibility in the jazz world but flourish as well. “‘Jazz in July’ has gained a fine reputation along the East Coast and around the nation as a top-notch summer jazz program,” Newton revealed. “For the past 20 years we have averaged approximately 70 participants per summer.”
“Jazz in July” started July 11th and will conclude on the 22nd. “I hope students will grow as musicians and take some useful techniques from our outstanding faculty members. I would like students to understand that they are part of something larger than just ‘Jazz in July.’ They are a part of the entire jazz culture, history, community, and future,” Newton added. “I hope they leave with an understanding that being a part of such a legacy is not something to be taken lightly. If they leave with a healthy respect for the past artists who have come before, the art that is inherent in jazz music, and prepared to join whatever talents they have in the future of jazz music, then we are doing our job.”
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