Billy Taylor is best known ñ at least in Britain ñ for his trio's recording of his composition I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to be Free, which has been popularized as the signature tune for BBC Television's long-running "Film" programme. But, of course, Billy Taylor has done much more than that, as Jessica Williams's sleeve-note reminds us: playing with the likes of Ben Webster, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker; acting as house pianist at Birdland and as musical director and presenter for numerous radio and TV shows; and constantly involved in jazz education.
Jessica's affection for Billy finds expression in this tribute album, recorded at Jessica's home studio. She says she wanted to capture the feel of the concert hall, and the recording achieves a wonderfully sonorous ambience. She also says "I took the ëless is more' approach and prefer it to the ëflying fingers' style so popular in this competitive age". Jessica is quite capable of playing a hundred notes per second but she here adopts an unshowy approach which is nevertheless eloquent.
When I saw Jessica in concert a few years ago, it seemed as if the piano was an instrument designed expressly for her, as she had such a rapport with it (and she appears particularly fond of the tinkling high notes). Her playing has echoes of Erroll Garner, Gershwin, Debussy and many other pianists, but her style is entirely her own. She composes instantaneously at the piano, producing rhapsodic melodies which provide worthy tributes to Billy Taylor. The word is often misused, but this is a truly beautiful album.