First time I heard Billy Taylor, I was sneaking through my uncle's jazz collection. He had a personal compilation, kind of favorite traveler's mate, with a dozen track from 1954-55 Taylor/Earl May/Percy Brice sessions. Surely I fell in love with him. At that time I had two convincing reason to really dig him: 1) Practically he could play anything and anybody, from smoky ballads to up-tempo bebop pieces, from Basie-type swing manifestations to Ellington oriented tunes. 2) He reminded me of another unsung hero of jazz piano, Hank Jones. Hank is my yardstick for this instrument. Anything close to him, or feel like close to him, worth listener's attention. And of course, a sheer musical joy is always guaranteed.
Later, I returned to his early works (I wrote about it today, just before this post. Read it here) And then my expedition moved me forward to 1960s. At that point one of the best moments I had with Billy's music came with his gospely I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free (1967), accompanied with bassist Ben Tucker and drummer Grady Tate.
Marc Myers in his obituary on Jazzwax defines Billy as "the jazz-musician stereotypes found in pulp fiction and film of the 1950s. He was gregarious and courtly, well-spoken and approachable—and oddly devoid of the simmering anger, anti-social behavior, bad habits and hipster persona that made the jazz life at once alluring and dangerous." Read the rest of his splendid piece, here.
Check this old post of a 1958 video of Billy Taylor, performing his own composition Early Bird with Tony Scott on clarinet, Doc Seversen on trumpet, Mundel Lowe on guitar, Jimmy Cleveland on trombone, Earl May on bass, and Ed Thigpen on drums. More videos are available here.