Cross Section // Billy Taylor (Prestige 7071)

I’ve given up on trying to do series and themes. Whenever I try, I get into an artist or a type of music and that’s that. So from now on, I’m just writing about whatever I happen to be feeling at the time, and right now I’m feeling piano trios. Specifically, I’ve been digging Billy Taylor. To be specifically specific, I’ve been spinning this album almost nonstop since I got it. It’s something of a personal grail. Look at that, this post is still on point with the ‘grail’ theme. How about that? To the music!

The Music

The Tune: “Eddie’s Theme”

The Tune: “Lullaby of Birdland”

Recorded: 30 July, 1954 in Hackensack, New Jersey

  • Billy Taylor – Piano
  • Earl May – Bass
  • Charlie Smith – Drums
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This album is a perfect example of why Billy Taylor was one of the most consistently tasty pianists who ever touched the keys. His sense of space, his dense, rich chords, and his logic make for an enjoyable listening experience. The two tunes I chose to highlight above illustrate this perfectly. “Eddie’s Theme” opens up the album and sets a jaunty mood from the beginning. The rather serious-sounding fanfare gives way to a cheerful little ditty voiced by Taylor in some chime-like chords. Taylor’s solo is showcases one of Taylor’s hallmark devices, and that’s his penchant for playing long, flowing lines that last unbroken for a whole chorus, occasionally punctuated and accented with a left-handed chord. With lesser pianists (and musicians in general), this technique can get tiresome fast. With Taylor, it just works.

“Lullaby Of Birdland” is another perfect example of why Billy Taylor is tops with me. It’s also the main reason why I bought this album in the first place. The intro is dark, moody, and most importantly, brief. Taylor plays the classic melody in harmonically rich chords with some improvising in the bridge, then goes about his way. He perfectly builds his solo, chorus by chorus. He first employs his flowing lines, then moves to playing counterpoint with himself, his left hand moving independently and complimentary to his right. Having satisfied his Bach-esque kick, he sails right back to jazz land (or Birdland…) with those tasty chords, seguing right to the outro. Billy Taylor isn’t the first jazz musician that comes to mind when people think of hip jazz guys, but he has my vote, as his playing is effortlessly cool. Clean, breezy, easy, Taylor’s piano is just the most.

The rest of the music on the album is in much of the same vein. The first eight tracks are swinging trio numbers, all recorded in July of 1954. The last four tracks are from 1953 Latin session with Machito on maracas, José Mangual on congas, and Ubaldo Nieto on timbales. They simmer along, with some punchy percussion work to keep things interesting. Their inclusion on the record is where the album’s title comes from (clever!). All in all, a solid album of piano jazz from one of the best to ever do it. If Sunday mornings had a soundtrack, this album would be on it.

The Cover

Raggy Waltz Rating: A

56% of the reason why I wanted this album was because of his version of “Lullaby of Birdland”. 44% of the reason why I wanted this album was because of this cover. I mean, come on. Billy Taylor’s effortless cool extends from his music to his style. The tassel loafers are still a clean look in 2019, and if we’re being honest, his large horn-rim glasses were the inspiration behind the glasses I currently have. He never really looked like a jazz musician, instead seeming more like a college physics professor or the geeky student in that college physics class. Geek chique.

Of course, a large part of what makes this cover awesome and classic is that record console behind him, in all of its mid-century modern glory. Just as we start getting starry-eyed over the furniture, we notice that there’s a receiver powered by TUBES! In the mid-1950’s when this cover was taken, tubes weren’t uncommon at all, but still. It’s a beautiful thing to see. Then there’s the record player on the bottom shelf, stacked with records. Ah, the days of components. And of course, there’s all of those records on that shelf. I don’t know where this picture was taken, or who owned the records and equipment and console, but I’d love to know what those records are.

As for the typography and fonts, it’s all great. Classy, minimalist, with the right pop of color. The typewriter font used for the ‘Prestige HI-FI’ and catalog number is a nice touch. A well-earned ‘A’ grade all-around.

The Back

Liner notes by Ira Gitler, a frequent denizen of Prestige album’s liner notes and recording sessions. Frustratingly, the tunes aren’t listed in order; they’re just listed. At least we know who supervised the recordings and who recorded/engineered them (good old Rudy Van Gelder).

The Vinyl

Pressed on deep groove vinyl with the ‘NYC’ labels, this record is an original pressing from 1957 (Gitler said so in the liner notes). Van Gelder’s handwritten ‘RVG’ in the deadwax, another indicator of its originality, is always a cool bit of authenticity. I respect an engineer who valued his work enough to autograph it. RVG’s engineering is impeccable on this album, particularly with the 1954 trio date. The drums are crisp, the bass clean, and the piano punchy and vivacious- all spectacular accomplishments given that 1954 was the infancy of hifi recording. Rudy Van Gelder strikes again!

The Place of Acquisition

Me at the back of the record store with my Billy Taylor glasses.

On a recent trip to Orlando, Florida back in July, I made a point to look up the local record stores and check them out. Being as I was with my sister for her birthday, my time was limited, so I ended up only going to one record store. Numerous Googles told me that the record store to go to if you were looking for jazz was a place called, naturally enough, Uncle Tony’s Donut Shoppe. Located in downtown Orlando, Uncle Tony’s is famous not just for the colorful mural painted on the outside of its store, but for the unbelievable amount of jazz vinyl gold in its shelves. Like, there was heat everywhere, from original Blue Notes to Prestiges to Riversides to… you get the idea.

The albums had prices to match though. To make a long story short, I found this album along with others in the shelves, and yada yada yada, I set a personal record for money spent on records. In between the discovery of the records and the parting of a significant amount of my funds, I had a long conversation with the owner of the store. An affable guy, he showed me records behind the counter, and after an hour of conversation, pulled a random record out and told me I’d like it. I did, and I’ll write about it soon. As for this record, I found it while digging in the shelves, and audibly expressed my shock (“nigga what?!”) when I saw it. I repeated my audible shock again when I saw the price tag, but I held onto it anyhow. Normally, I don’t mind saying how much I paid for my records, but this trip was wild. Graduating from college and getting a job was a bad idea. College Jazz Collector Tarik is hanging his head in shame at what Real Job With Real Money Tarik is now doing. Hopefully, this won’t be a habit!

3 thoughts on “Cross Section // Billy Taylor (Prestige 7071)

  1. That IS a nice version of Lullaby of Birdland, although may favorite is probably still Sarah Vaughan’s.

    I’ve always loved the cover art for this one for the reasons you mentioned, however the remaining songs (i.e. other than Lullaby) fall a little flat for me.

    Last, but not least, congrats on the purchase and the dark rabbit hole you’re about to be sucked in to 😉

    1. My personal favorite is Cal Tjader’s, but this one definitely grooves along! I agree that the rest of the tracks are hit and miss though. As for the dark rabbit hole, I’m trying to fight it!

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