The In Crowd


Pianist Billy Taylor, who passed away last month, was a pioneer in jazz education as well as a player with an impressive performing history. I can't think of a better way to remember him than by picking up Live At MCG, a concert he co-lead with baritone sax legend Gerry Mulligan at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild.

Dr. Taylor's indefatigable activism on behalf of jazz outreach mistakenly overshadowed his playing. A protégé of Art Tatum, at 24 he was playing with Ben Webster. He later became the house pianist at Birdland, accompanying the biggest names of the era -- Miles, Dizzy, Billie Holiday and Charlie Parker. Gerry Mulligan ran with that crowd as well and, along with Serge Chaloff and Pepper Adams, brought the baritone sax out of the reed section onto center stage. His light, supple technique on the big, unwieldy horn created an eye-opening contrast to the bari's deep resonance.

The Manchester Craftsmen's Guild is a Pittsburgh institution that hosts and records stellar jazz concerts. The acoustics are so fantastic that, on ballads like "Laura" and "Body And Soul," you can hear bassist's Chip Jackson's fingers on the strings and every brushstroke of drummer Carl Allen.

Taylor and Mulligan shared a decades-long friendship and it shows in their playful musical interactions. There's joy and innovation in their playing and the two veterans breathe new life into beloved standards.