Billy Taylor

Taylor Made Jazz

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Duke Ellington had an uncanny knack for assembling smaller groups of bandmates (say, seven or eight) and scoring music for them that retained all the oomph of his full orchestra. And though this isn't one of those small Ellingtonian unit sessions, it's just about the next best thing. Having assembled several members of Duke's band and written eight definitely Duke-influenced tunes, pianist/composer Billy Taylor's Taylor Made Jazz would probably have been marketed as a "tribute album" if it had been released recently. But given the recording's vintage (1957), there are two types of people who would be most interested in it: historical completists who want their collections to include a majority of the recording catalog pertinent to a certain musician (i.e., Taylor or Ellington), or Johnny Hodges fans. "Biddy's Beat" swings; "Daddy-O"'s got a little spunk; "Cu-Bu" is (what else?) a cool blues. Clark Taylor is as mellow as ever and there's even some solo room for Harry Carney. On one hand, Taylor Made Jazz is a great example of the standard mid-'50s studio sessions highlighted by clean solos, tight ensembles, and tasteful accompaniment work from a bunch of veteran players. On the other hand, this session really seems like an opportunity Taylor had to try out some of his pretty ballad material with Hodges, Ellington's alto sax balladeer extraordinaire. Half of Taylor Made Jazz consists of slow n' syrupy solo tunes for Hodges, and despite the rest of the record's strong swinging, this gushier material becomes the center of attention. Check out the versatility of his rigid vibrato on "Day Dreaming" (different from the Billy Strayhorn-penned "Daydream," even though it sounds a lot like the work of Duke's alter ego) to hear how nearly classically perfect Hodges could be. Heck, he puts Marcel Mule to shame.

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