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Hawaii’s ‘First Lady of Jazz’ dies

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    Jazz pianist Betty Loo Taylor performs in Manoa in 2015.

Pianist Betty Loo Taylor — widely recognized by local musicians as Hawaii’s “First Lady of Jazz” — died early today at Palolo Chinese Home, her husband confirmed.

Ken Taylor said his wife had been fighting pneumonia after suffering a stroke about six months ago. She was found unresponsive by nurses during a routine check around 1 a.m. today.

Taylor, 87, was a child prodigy who became a classically trained pianist and left Hawaii in the 1940s to attend school and play music in New York City. After returning home in the 1950s, she continued to perform regularly in Waikiki, including extended residencies at Trappers in the 1970s and ‘80s with singer Jimmy Borges before moving on to the Kahala Resort, where she played in the 1990s and 2000s. (Borges died May 30 at the age of 80.)

In 2003, Taylor was the subject of a documentary, “They Call Her Lady Fingers: The Betty Loo Taylor Story.” She won a Na Hoku Hanohano award in 2008 for jazz album of the year with Joy Abbott, followed by a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012.

Betty Loo Taylor is survived by her husband and daughter, Karen Lindsey. Services are pending.

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  • Aloha oe, Betty. Jimmy and Steve needed you to complete the band in heaven. Tom Moffat is the MC! Will miss you and the music you made with Jimmy. Love to Betty’s family.

  • Bettye Loo was an extraordinary and inventive pianist. Not only that, she had a remarkably warm heart (in spite of a sometimes gruff manner). Sorry to say, but her accompanist role to Jimmy stole from the recognition that her creative talent as a pianist deserved…my opinion as a fellow jazz pianist. Her harmonics were in realm of luminaries…especially Bill Evans. She was truly a GIANT amongst pianists. Rest in peace, dear friend.

    • You are entitled to your opinion, but Jimmy always considered Betty a partner, never as his “accompanist.” He never, never, never introduced her that way. Besides, if she wanted to strike out on her own, that was totally up to her…which they both did eventually. How can you explain a 40-year relationship that they had? Jimmy didn’t “force her” to play with him! She ENJOYED playing music with him. They created great music together. Jimmy always gave her her due and respect. Jimmy didn’t “steal” anything from her. SHe enjoyed pops and jazz. You obviously didn’t know either of them very well.

      Jimmy always gave her solos and always introduced her with the most respect. THis is not the place to air your sour grape opinions after they both have died this year.

      By the way, you spelled her name wrong.

  • Hawaii and the world have lost a legendary jazz artist in her own right. Those who were happy to listen to her solo performances or those with vocalists such as Jimmy Borges at Trappers and Rachel Gonzales at The Kahala were blessed to hear outstanding artistry. Bless her for all that she shared with the jazz world in Hawaii and abroad.

  • No mention of Walter Loo? Her first husband and gifted architect, albeit building frequent repair requiring houses. As a chain smoker he died many years ago from throat cancer.

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