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Creed Taylor

CT 1964 crop.jpg
Creed Taylor
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Creed Taylor, Wikimedia CC BY-SA 3.0
1964 Grammy Awards, left to right: Astrud Gilberto, Creed Taylor, Sammy Davis Jr., Monica Getz

Creed Taylor died this past summer at age 93, leaving behind a stunning legacy as a producer, a record label executive and a champion of some of the greatest names in jazz. Nick Morrison has this tribute.

One of the most familiar melodies in jazz “Desifinado,” was written by Antonio Carlos Jobim and recorded in 1962 by Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd. It’s one of those rare jazz recordings that crossed over into top 40 radio, and into the broader pop culture. It won a Grammy that year.

The producer of that record—arguably the record that introduced Brazilian bossa nova and its quiet cooking rhythms to America—was a man named Creed Taylor. Creed died this past summer at age 93, leaving a stunning legacy as a producer, a record label executive and a champion of some of the greatest names in jazz, including John Coltrane, Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, George Benson, Herbie Mann, Grover Washington, Jr, Jimmy Smith, Jimmy Giuffre, Stanley Turrentine.

Taylor began his producing career in 1954, working for Bethlehem Records and ABC-Paramount, until ABC gave Taylor a subsidiary label to oversee. Taylor called it Impulse Records. He wasn’t there long, but on his way through he signed Ray Charles and John Coltrane, and produced a true jazz mainstay: the Oliver Nelson album The Blues And The Abstract Truth which contains Nelson’s classic composition, “Stolen Moments.” But even with that, Creed Taylor hadn’t yet hit his stride.

He moved from Impulse to Verve Records where, in 1962, he produced an album by Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd called Jazz Samba which contained “Desafinado.” With the success of that song, Taylor and Getz continued to explore Brazilian melodies and rhythms, and in 1964 struck gold again with the album Getz/Gilberto which introduced “The Girl from Ipanema” to American listeners.

If Creed Taylor had stopped right there he’d have a place in jazz history, but he was far from done. In 1967, while working at A&M Records, he created Creed Taylor Incorporated and founded the CTI label.

His goal with CTI was to record excellent jazz musicians and to present them to a larger audience that the musicians—and the music itself—had not reached. Basically meaning he was aiming for young adults in the 1970s who were adventurous music listeners as rock music branched off into sub-genres like prog-rock, art-rock, roots rock, psychedelic rock and maybe most importantly, jazz-rock—where fans were going nuts for long, instrumental improvisations.

I imagine that Taylor saw that as an opportunity to bring jazz players more into the mainstream by attracting some of that audience with records that featured great playing, cool grooves and artistic, eye-catching packaging. In fact, for a few years there, CTI album covers seemed to be their own subgenre of art.

And it worked. From the late 1960s through the '70s, you could flip through the album collections of anybody between the ages of…say...20 and 30, and you’d find some CTI stuff.

Taylor’s first CTI outing was with pianist and composer, Antonio Carlos Jobim, which did alright, but was not met with the success Taylor was looking for. So next time out, Taylor went straight for the bulls-eye of his younger demographic with a George Benson album of jazz arrangements of Beatles songs called The Other Side Of Abbey Road, which Taylor and Benson started working on three weeks after The Beatles released their swan song album that would be this record’s source material.

The next five or six years produced a handful of CTI classics—saxophonist Grover Washington Jr.’s Mister Magic—Stanley Turrentine’s Sugar and Don’t Mess With Mr. T—Freddie Hubbard’s Red Clay—and the all-time, best-selling CTI album: Prelude by Brazilian pianist, Eumir Deodato—which contained the Grammy-award winning “Also Sprach Zarathustra,a classical tone poem by Richard Strauss. The opening fanfare was immortalized as the opening theme to the film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

By 1976, CTI had pretty much ended its run. Creed Taylor moved on to other projects, but CTI is really his legacy. His goal was to introduce some of the greatest jazz players on the planet to a broader market. And he did it.

So, thank you and Rest In Peace, Creed Taylor.

Nick began working at KNKX as a program host in the late 1980’s and, with the exception of a relatively brief hiatus, has been with the station ever since. Along with his work as a Midday Jazz host, Nick worked for several years as KNKX’s Music Director. He is now the station’s Production Manager and also serves as a fill-in host on KNKX’s jazz and blues programs.
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