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Creed Taylor, Incorporated: The AAJ Interview, Part 1-3

By Published: July 5, 2004
When I went to high school I was listening to the Birdland broadcasts, etc., and occasionally being able to find a jazz ten-inch LP. I started playing trumpet in the marching band and the symphony. And I had a small band myself before I left Virginia to go to Duke. The reason I went to Duke was from hearing Les Brown and all the history of the bands who went through Duke. This was really a great jazz band—I call it a jazz band, it was a jazz dance band, or whatever—and the book was handed down from one class to the next, you had to audition and all the best players who came to Duke got on the band. Each year there would be new arrangements created and the band kept developing. I had a ball when I was there. A couple of summers I played at a club called Bop City in Virginia Beach with a quintet called The Five Dukes.

Then I graduated from Duke. I went into the Marine Corps for two years (I was drafted), spent a glorious one year in combat in Korea. When I came back, I went back to Duke to take some graduate courses. I did that a year and then I decided I'd just bite the bullet and come to New York to see what Birdland was really like. So I just moved up to New York and inundated myself with 52nd Street and all the jazz that was going on. You know the history of 52nd Street, from Sixth Avenue to Fifth Avenue was just lined with clubs at street level. They were all brownstones and every building had Dizzy, Sarah Vaughan, Oscar Pettiford, etc. I had a ball.

Then I met somebody who had started a record company, Bethlehem. The guy I knew actually had started the company. He was struggling and they were about to go out of business. I said, "I think I'd like to produce a couple albums. I'll do a small group and see how it works out." So I did Chris Connor, Sings Lullabys of Birdland , and it was a huge hit, considering the times. I don't know how many units it sold but it was quite a successful record.

Then I recorded Mingus and Oscar Pettiford. Oscar and I became very good friends. That's about the time I met Quincy Jones. Quincy had moved from Chicago to New York about the time I moved up. We were peers, about the same age. The first arrangement he did was for me, for Oscar Pettiford's big band. We became friends and were in constant contact. Then I sort of lost touch with him after he moved to California and got involved with movie scoring, but I am still in touch with him. He called me as a matter of fact a couple of weeks ago to ask me if I was coming to the Olympics. He's handling the music for the Olympics this year. Quincy a year ago was in Bangkok, he's just all over the place. He's just got a very healthy philosophy: "Hey, look, there's always another train coming. We miss this one, we'll get the next one."

AAJ: So about this time Impulse! is sort of coming together?

CT: No. It went this way: I had a great deal of success with Bethlehem, and then I read about ABC-Paramount starting a record company, American Broadcasting and Paramount Theaters decided they wanted to start a record company. I read about it in Billboard , went over to see the new president of the new company and I said, "I'm very good at producing jazz records, I think you should hire me." And he did.

I was producing all kinds of records other than jazz, too. I guess I was there about five years and at one point I decided that the thing to do is to start a separate label and use gatefold albums and high-gloss lamination and really dress the albums up so that they look distinctive in the marketplace.

I founded Impulse!. I look back on it and think, I didn't know that it was going to be around that long. At first, I wanted to call it "pulse." I tried to clear the name "pulse" and it was already taken, somebody had "pulse" in the entertainment business. So then I put in Impulse! and Impulse! went through.

It's very simple: I formed Impulse! but I couldn't have formed it if the number two man at ABC-Paramount had not been very much on my side all the way. His name was Harry Levine. Harry Levine's background was as the booker for the Paramount Theater so he knew all the people—he booked Sinatra and Benny Goodman and all those great entertainment acts into the Paramount. He dealt with the idiosyncrasies of the musicians' show business type personalities and he was always up for a new idea.

You know Sing a Song of Basie? That was to say the least kind of an oddball album. But I went to Harry Levine and said, "Look, I've got these three—Lambert, Hendricks and Ross—and I tell you, we already tried session singers and they simply didn't swing, so I've got to go in and spend some time in the studio overdubbing these three singers with the Basie rhythm section." Without a budget or anything, Harry Levine covered for me and supported me. The Impulse! situation, he was all behind that.

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