Creed Taylor revolutionized the respectability and popularity of jazz with CTI Records. In fact, some of the most significant jazz of the last half of the 20th century has been fashioned under Taylor's guidance and supervision.
Taylor has been especially influential in the packaging of music. His records are as much art to see as they are to hear. With heavy, glossy, gatefold covers featuring stark design and striking photography, his records have the sound and feel of something bearing unusual class and great quality.
After earning a degree in psychology in the early 1950s, Taylor played trumpet in clubs around Virginia Beach. He relocated to New York and secured a venerable post as head of artists and repertoire at Bethlehem Records. He produced a wide variety of jazz for Bethlehem before he took a higher profile position with ABC Paramount during the late fifties. At ABC, he produced some jazz and a great many more vocal recordings that enjoyed popular success. ABC also issued several records at the time under Taylor's name (Ping Pang Pong and Lonelyville) with music and orchestral guidance by the great film and TV composer Kenyon Hopkins, one of Taylor's first "house" arrangers.
When ABC Records sought to form a jazz subsidiary in 1960, Taylor was recruited to oversee it all. He called the company "Impulse!" (connoting the spontaneous feeling of jazz), conceived its distinctive black and orange label and spine design, brought in photographer Pete Turner for elegant, vivid cover art and initiated heavy cardboard, gatefold sleeves (to convey substance). Taylor, however, stayed with Impulse for only a few months. But during this short time, he recorded historically significant music by John Coltrane, Gil Evans, Cecil Taylor (under Gil Evans' name), Oliver Nelson and Ray Charles.
Taylor jumped ship to accept a lucrative offer to run Verve Records, the jazz label Norman Granz sold to MGM in 1961. Here was a company that had solid name recognition in the jazz community as well as a rich parent company to fund many of Taylor's lavish goals. Taylor almost immediately began attracting the biggest names in jazz to Verve. Bill Evans, Lee Konitz, Stan Getz and Jimmy Smith were signed right away. Not too long after, Taylor attracted other jazz greats like Gil Evans, Wes Montgomery and Antonio Carlos Jobim, helping them achieve some of the greatest recorded work of their careers.
Verve's big budgets and Creed Taylor's proven ability to turn jazz into hits (starting in 1962 with Jimmy Smith's "Walk On The Wild Side" and Stan Getz's "The Girl From Ipanema") afforded limitless opportunities to employ the cream of the crop in studio musicians for these records. Taylor was also able to record his jazz stars in a wide variety of beautifully devised orchestral settings arranged by such first-call arrangers as Oliver Nelson, Lalo Schifrin, Gary McFarland, Don Sebesky and Claus Ogerman.