Creed Taylor: Impulse Years


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The founding of Impulse Records in 1960 by Creed Taylor is a fascinating story. My interview with Creed in today's Wall Street Journal here looks at how he came up with the Impulse name while working as the jazz producer at ABC-Paramount. He also talks about the branding strategy behind Impulse's signature orange and black color scheme, the laminated covers and the gatefolds—covers that swung open to reveal liner notes and photos.

Creed has always been first and foremost a jazz fan with a keen sense of the listener. Fidelity was and is paramount for Creed, as was the look and feel of the LPs he produced. He has always fully grasped the jazz mystique and that to survive the lean years, jazz must find a way to incorporate pop, rock and soul without giving up the qualities that make jazz special.

Now, the first six albums that Creed produced for Impulse have been remastered and are being released on a new four-CD set called First Impulse: The Creed Taylor Collection 50th Anniversary. It will be available on April 19 here.

Looking back on the first six albums, you immediately notice that the mix of styles and jazz quality are quite remarkable. Two of the albums are now classics (John Coltrane's Africa/Brass and Oliver Nelson's Blues and the Abstract Truth), one is a fascinating orchestral exploration (Gil Evans' Out of the Cool), one is a jazz-soul experiment (Ray Charles' Genius + Soul = Jazz) and two are trombone albums that still hold up pretty well (The Great Kai and J.J. and The Incredible Kai Winding Trombones).

Creed released the first four all at once in February 1961 to make a big bang at the retail level, followed by the issuing of Nelson's and Coltrane's albums. Through these six albums, Creed created a winning formula that he would use again and again for Verve, CTI at A&M and then CTI as a standalone enterprise.

In just a year and a half�-61—Creed had established one of jazz's most significant labels. By mid 1961, Creed left to become Verve's top producer. It was an offer he couldn't refuse. But while his run at Impulse was relatively short, what he assembled was remarkable. What's more, I'm not sure how many people around today can say that they met with John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy in their office to discuss an album concept.

When I asked Creed recently how he managed to get his bosses at ABC-Paramount to agree to what he wanted to do with Impulse, his answer was matter of fact: “I didn't report to anyone. They let me operate independently. It was an era when people who had established themselves were given the ball to run with it—and were supported until they succeeded."

Those were the days, indeed.

For my 19-part interview series with Creed, click on his name under “JazzWax Interviews" in the right-hand column at JazzWax. Each of the five “Creed Taylor" links contains four or five parts. To access additional parts, simply go to the top of the post on your screen, above the red date. There you'll find a link to the next part.

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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