A rare radio transcription featuring pianist the Billy Taylor Trio with Charles Mingus live at George Wein’s Storyville in 1951 is now available for listening at BillyTaylorJazz.net.
JazzTimescolumnist 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 Wein 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 Taylor 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 the club, an unbroken continuum as soloist with all-star groups which included Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Jo Jones, Lester Young, Stan Getz, Milt Jackson and Art Blakey.
It was Taylor’s mentor, Jo Jones, who set up the Storyville gig, and lined up the personnel, with Mingus on bass and Marcus Foster on drums. Taylor 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,'” Taylor remembers, some 57 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 Taylor’s first encounter with Mingus and Foster, a Boston-based drummer that Jones favored. “I never argued with Jo,” Taylor explains. Shortly after the discussion with Jones, Taylor 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,” Taylor 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.”