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Creed Taylor, Incorporated: The AAJ Interview, Part 2-3


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So we had the first shot on 'Let It Be.' It happened to be Hubert Laws who was in the right place at the right time.
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3


Without the contributions of producer and entrepreneur Creed Taylor, the past, present and future of jazz would be differently written.

Five decades ago, Creed Taylor produced some of Bethlehem Records' best albums, including sets by Charles Mingus, Kai Winding with J.J. Johnson, and singer Chris Connor. He became known for his meticulous preparation and musicians' ear (Taylor also plays trumpet), and in 1960 formed the Impulse! jazz subsidiary of ABC-Paramount Records. The Impulse! label quickly became synonymous with great music, releasing such jazz classics as John Coltrane's landmark A Love Supreme and Oliver Nelson's Blues and the Abstract Truth. Then, when Verve Records was sold to MGM, Taylor moved on to serve as head of Verve.

At Verve, Taylor directed nothing less than a worldwide musical revolution, fueling the international wave of "bossa nova" through collaborations with Antonio Carlos Jobim, Stan Getz, Charlie Byrd, and others. "The Girl From Ipanema" won the 1964 Record of the Year Grammy Award and the album from which it came, Getz / Gilberto, won four more Grammys including Best Jazz Album and Album of the Year.

That "Girl" remains a rare almost inexplicable moment of musical magic: Taylor, saxophonist Getz and Brazilian guitarist / vocalist Joao Gilberto romantically dance through a Jobim program, but it was Gilberto's wife Astrud whose unaffected, slightly unsure voice breathed life into "The Girl." It was her first professional performance.

Stop his story there, and Taylor's musical legacy would be secure. But he moved on to team with Jerry Moss and Herb Albert and produce albums for A&M, claiming more Grammys and gold for his work with Wes Montgomery, then in 1968 he became his own boss, forming CTI Records—Creed Taylor, Inc.

Along with the Les McCann, Eddie Harris, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk albums Joel Dorn was making for Atlantic Records, CTI Records typified the 1970s fusion decade. But while Dorn often seemed intent on making gutbucket soul records, Taylor's explored lush orchestral arrangements of originals, pop and jazz standards, and contemporary pop and rock hits with a fluid jazz roster that included Freddie Hubbard, George Benson, Stanley Turrentine, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Milt Jackson, and Hubert Laws easily trading lead and sideman roles.

After a hiatus due to financial circumstances, CTI Records returned in the 1990s. Taylor still has not stopped, releasing Summerflood by Jurgen Friedrich (piano) and Kenny Wheeler (flugelhorn) in 2003 to critical acclaim. Taylor is also raising his internet profile through an active role in www.ctirecords.com. "We need all the support we can possibly get compiling links to our internet presence because the competition is just so heavy," he explains. "I'd like certainly to be very clear about the fact that this is the means of distribution of the jazz that I'm involved with now." Half a century from his Bethlehem days, forty years after striking artistic and commercial gold with "The Girl From Ipanema," Taylor continues with his body of work. His story and jazz his-tory seem forever intertwined.

Part 2: CTI—Creed Taylor, Incorporated

CT: So that was the beginning of it. Then the last project I did was getting Coltrane on Impulse! before I left for the Verve situation. After the first four albums, Norman Granz sold Verve to MGM and MGM didn't have anybody to take Norman's place and Norman didn't want to continue after he sold the label. So I simply went across the street—literally right across the street to MGM's office—and opened up the Verve situation.

AAJ: Where your "bossa nova" records help create a worldwide phenomenon. Did you ever work with Jobim in the studio, and when did you realize what a worldwide craze your Verve music helped ignite?

CT: I produced everything. He was the nicest, most naive person you could ever meet. I went down to Brazil a few times and spent some time at his house and met all the players down there. Then of course after "Desifinado" (ed. note: from the Charlie Byrd / Stan Getz album Jazz Samba) became a hit, Jobim wanted to come up and see what New York was like, so he came in to see me right off the bat. That started a long friendship and series of albums.

AAJ: Did you know how big "The Girl from Ipanema" (from the album Getz / Gilberto) was going to blow up?

CT: Oh, Stan Getz and I did, right off the bat but Astrud (Gilberto) didn't. She wasn't sophisticated enough to know what she had done, you know? Besides, before that, we had the first guy who came up with the material from Brazil, of course, Charlie Byrd. He came to my office and he talked to Stan and Stan and I went down and recorded with Byrd's well-rehearsed rhythm section. Stan had never seen this music before, you know? Out of that came "Desifinado" amongst some other good stuff.

But that (Jazz Samba) was all one or at the most two takes, and we did the whole album in four hours, not in a recording studio but in nice acoustics in a black church in Washington. It was done on a 7.5 IPS portable tape machine. I must tell you, when I left, we took the shuttle back to New York and I was concerned because I thought the bass was awfully "boom-y" because we didn't have really a tight mike on the bass. I didn't know what we had until I got back and then I was just enamored with Getz' fantastic playing. He could have been playing "The Star Spangled Banner" as far as I'm concerned.

AAJ: Those records always come back to the rhythm for me. "Lilting" is an overused word that nobody uses anymore, but...

CT: It's back, it's behind the beat, that's the charm. At the same time, it has the clave pattern with it, though.

AAJ: Did you move from Verve to A&M specifically to work with Wes Montgomery, or... ?

CT: No, I met John Levy, the bassist who was Wes' manager, who brought Wes to me at Verve. I did all his first stuff with Verve before I went to A&M. No, he was not signed to A&M, he came with me when I went to A&M.

The sequence of the whole thing as far as Wes was concerned was: In 1964 we won all those Grammys, Record of the Year, presented to Creed Taylor as producer of Record of the Year for "The Girl from Ipanema." Jerry Moss and Herb Alpert of course attended that event; keep in mind that the Grammys were just a small affair, no television broadcast or anything like that. Jerry and Herb asked me if I'd be interested in forming a partnership. So I got together with them and it was a joint venture with the A&M and CTI labels. That lasted two years and I just decided to start CTI after that. That was 1964—it went to 1966, '67, and then I started CTI in '68 I believe.

AAJ: You were about how old in 1968?

CT: I don't know, I try not to... I'm sure it's all over the place anyway, but I'd rather think about how I feel and not count the years.

AAJ: Do you remember what the first standalone CTI title was, or the first batch of titles?

CT: The first title, believe it or not, was a group called Flow and it had the nucleus of The Eagles in it. Flow played the Fillmore East when Miles Davis played. It happened! I think maybe it was a little before Bitches Brew, I'm not sure.

The first album was Sugar , Stanley Turrentine. Nope, actually, it wasn't! It was Hubert Laws' Crying Song. On that album, I booked a studio in Memphis specifically to get a jazz player, it was supposed to have been Stanley Turrentine, down to play with Elvis Presley's rhythm section as backup. His rhythm section was sort of the house rhythm section for American recording studios, I think it was called, in Memphis. I arrived there the night before and the next morning I hear that Stanley can't come down. So I pick up the phone and call Hubert, Hubert's on the next plane to Memphis, and he came in and recorded Crying Song.

I think that also had "Let It Be" in it. Paul McCartney sent me a tape because he had heard A Day in the Life and liked it so much that he sent it and said, "You're welcome to it. Our record isn't released yet. If Wes would like it, that would be great with me." So we had the first shot on "Let It Be." It happened to be Hubert Laws who was in the right place at the right time.

AAJ: Do you have any specific recollections about Freddie Hubbard's Red Clay or Yusef Lateef's Autophysiopsychic ? Certainly that was a very unusual record for Dr. Lateef.

CT: Well, sure, if you think about it or listen to it, it's really kind of a laid-back rap record.

Red Clay, I know I've said this before about the Getz project, but that was a one take. Might have done one to cover, but you look at Lenny White, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter—that was not a rehearsed date, that was just the right kindred spirits in the right place at the same time.

AAJ: Personal recollections about Milt Jackson, a regular contributor to CTI and perhaps the single most underrated soloist in jazz?

CT: Traveling in the circles that I travel in, he is much revered. When asked how he happened to pick the vibraphone, he said because I can control it like a human voice. I think it has soul, and I am basically a gospel singer. And he was. He sang gospel with his family. The way he has that vibrato going, many guys have tried to get his sound. But I maintain that anybody who can get his own sound on basically an electronic instrument like that has got to have something real genius going.

AAJ: Moving forward to more recent CTI releases, how did Jurgen Friedrich's Summerflood and your compilation Absolute Brass come about?

CT: I didn't produce Summerflood, Jurgen brought it to me from Germany. He just showed up at the office because he had been listening to Gil Evans and I happened to produce a lot of Gil Evans stuff and so he thought he had something, certainly compositionally, that would appeal to me, and he knew the CTI label. The irony of the thing is that around this same time he won the annual Gil Evans composer award.

As for Absolute Brass, it was the availability of those particular rights of compilation. I just thought, wow, here we've got Art Farmer, Chet Baker, Wynton Marsalis, even though the more popular he gets with society in general the farther away he seems to get from what he started from, his jazz base. But I enjoy listening to him.

Continue: Part 3



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