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Washington's Jazz Artists

Billy Eckstine was born on July 8, 1914 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but moved to Washington, D.C. during his childhood. Like Duke Ellington, Eckstine attended Armstrong High School. He was also enrolled at Howard University, but after only one year of college, he won an amateur music contest at the Howard Theater and consequently decided to become a singer. In 1939, he became famously successful as the soloist for the Earl Hines Orchestra. Eckstine formed his own ensemble in 1943 that included many talented artists such as Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Sarah Vaughan, Art Blakey, and Dizzy Gillespie. Johnny Malachi, a famous accompanist, sometimes worked with Eckstine.

Buck Hill was born in Washington, D.C. in 1928. Like Duke Ellington, he attended Armstrong High School, where the two had a teacher in common. Hill began playing as a professional saxophonist in 1943. He is a rare example of a musician who has chosen to remain in his hometown, rather than touring, working a day job as a cab driver and later a postal worker. At night, Hill performed at a variety of Washington, D.C. venues. In 1958, he recorded with guitarist Charlie Byrd and again in 1973 with local trumpeter Allan Houser. It was not until 1978, at the age of fifty, that Hill released his first independent album on the Steeplechase label. The album includes pianist Kenny Baron, bassist Buster Williams and drummer Billy Hart. Buck Hill still resides in Washington, D.C.

Shirley Horn is a native of Washington and has lived here throughout much of her career. She was born on May 1, 1934. As a pianist and vocalist she studied music at Howard University. In 1954, Horn formed her own trio. Beginning in 1959 she was the resident artist at the club Bohemian Caverns on 11th and U Streets, and remained there for the next two years. She recorded her first two albums in 1963 with the encouragement of Miles Davis and Quincy Jones. Recently, she has become a renown international performer traveling from Tokyo to Paris, but she still plays every New Year’s Eve at Washington’s One Step Down. n 1999, Horn won the Grammy for the Best Jazz Vocal Performer.

Billy Taylor Jr., jazz bassist, was born in Washington, D.C. on December 31, 1925. He is the son of accomplished jazz bassist Billy Taylor Sr., a member of the Duke Ellington Orchestra. From 1956 to 1964 Taylor was a member of the house band at the Howard Theater. In the late sixties and through the seventies, Taylor was a musician at various supper clubs. He was also a member of many local bands including the Eddie Phyfe Trio at the Old Cafe Lounge on Connecticut Avenue, The Frank Hinton Trio at Club Embers, and The John Phillips aggregation at Blues Alley. Taylor was an employee at the Department of the Interior as well. He died in February of 1977 at the age of 51 in Fairfax, Virginia.

Billy Taylor Sr., famous double bass and tuba player was born on April 3, 1906 in Washington, D.C. Taylor began playing the tuba as a teenager. With early instruction from his policeman neighbor, Taylor began doing local gigs. In 1924, he moved to New York where he joined Duke Ellington’s ensemble from 1935 to 1940. Taylor eventually returned to Washington, D.C. and performed in various clubs. He died in Fairfax, Virginia on September 2, 1986.

Tony Taylor, born in Northwest Washington on November 16, 1927, was a very active figure in the Washington, D.C. jazz community. He attended Armstrong High School and graduated from Dunbar High School in 1948. He later studied at The Corcoran School of Arts for five years. In the late 1940’s he became known as a fine singer and performed in clubs around Washington. For nine years beginning in 1959, Taylor along with Angelo Alvino was the owner of the club Bohemian Caverns at 11th and U Streets. There Taylor booked many of the leading jazz musicians of the 1960’s. After the club closed due to U Street District's civil disturbances sparked by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King in 1968, Taylor set his sights on new projects. In 1971 he managed Washington performers Bill Seigman, Archie Stewart, Mayfield Smalls, and Richie Cole. In 1975, Taylor embarked upon beginning a mail order record company, Chang-a-dang, designed to record Washington jazz musicians, among them, Buck Hill, Alan Houser, Reuben Brown, and Richie Cole.

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