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Jazzman Billy Taylor, music teacher to the millions

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Jazz pianist Billy Taylor is probably the best-known and most generous jazz educator around today.

To list just a few of his many accomplishments: Taylor founded New York's jazz outreach program, the Jazzmobile; he is a correspondent on CBS-TV's ''Sunday Morning'' show; he conducts workshops, performs, and gives lectures in more than 30 universities every year. In addition to the PhD in education that he earned from the University of Massachusetts, he also has six honorary doctorates.

Over the years, he has shared his knowledge of the idiom with countless aspiring musicians and jazz listeners. At the moment, Taylor is busily involved in yet another project to help bring and explain jazz to an ever wider audience. This time it's a 13-part weekly program on National Public Radio entitled ''Taylor Made Piano: A Jazz History With Dr. Billy Taylor'' (check local listings for times).

Talking about jazz on NPR is hardly new to Taylor: he has just completed five years as host on that network's popular show ''Jazz Alive,'' which has just celebrated its fifth anniversary. On his new show he centers his discussion of jazz - what he calls ''America's classical music'' - on more than 60 jazz pianists. Taylor traces the history of styles in jazz, using the piano as his focus, and incorporating many important recordings.

It's a fascinating journey through this country's indigenous music, and Taylor embodies just the right balance of didacticism and relaxed conversation to bring the most technical points to his casual listeners without being condescending to more musically sophisticated ears.

Taylor remarked in a recent interview, ''I'm best at explaining something which is relatively technical to someone who is not oriented toward the technique that I'm describing.''


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