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Creed Taylor: Shades of Green

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Today is Creed Taylor's birthday. He's 92. The fabled producer had a significant influence over the direction of jazz from the mid-1950s on. His first job was at Bethlehem Records in New York in the summer of 1954, attracting talent and overseeing the recording of jazz singers and instrumentalists on the East Coast. Creed's vision was to get Bethlehem to start releasing 12-inch records, which he felt was the future of the LP.

A year later he moved to ABC-Paramount, where he exploited the surging demand for albums of all kinds, with an emphasis on jazz that he loved. Part of the deal was that Creed's signature could appear on the backs of albums he produced. Am-Par, as the label was known, was fine with that. If an album tanked, he'd take the heat. 

But Creed focused on the up-side—if the album did well, no one could steal credit from him. He simply went after top New York artists he liked and encouraged them to be themselves. The result was a bonanza of superb recordings. Creed then pushed to start his own imprint at Am-Par. Given the green light in 1960, he called the label Impulse. Six releases later, Creed was given the top A&R job at Verve, which had a much bigger jazz footprint. There, he repeated his success on a much bigger scale.

By the mid-1960s, Creed was at A&M, where his success with Wes Montgomery led to his own in-house imprint, CTI. When Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss decided to move the entire operation to Los Angeles, Creed struck a deal to go off on his own with CTI, where he created a new style of FM jazz that wasn't acoustic or fusion. At the height of component stereo systems, albums covers on CTI and its subsidiaries were notable for their richly colorful photography by Pete Turner and glossy-wet reflective surfaces.

On Creed's birthday, I thought I'd focus on his first album for Am-Par—trombonist Urbie Green's Blues and Other Shades of Green, a brilliant title that was pure Creed (Blues and the Abstract Truth also was Creed's, among many others). Green had recorded for Creed at Bethlehem as a leader and sideman. The album was the second issued by Am-Par, #101. The first (#100) was Alec Templeton's Smart Alec, produced by Sid Feller.

Recorded on October 12, 1955, Green was backed by Dave McKenna (p), Jimmy Raney (g), Percy Heath (b) and Kenny Clarke (d). Instead of sitting in his ivory tower, like so many jazz producers at major labels, Creed knew New York held a wealth of special jazz talent that was eager to record as leaders. Creed also needed the volume, since he had production quotas to fill in terms of new albums rolling out of Am-Par's printing plants.

So during the day, he'd visit the many Midtown watering holes, like Charlie's Tavern, where musicians hung out between recording sessions as sidemen. By befriending them, Creed was able to build trust and harvest enormous talent for Am-Par recording sessions. They were relationships that lasted his entire career, no matter where he was producing.   

Creed loved Green's aggressive but velvety trombone playing. On thid album, the quintet recorded Reminiscent Blues, Thou Swell, You Are Too Beautiful, Paradise, Frankie and johnny, One for Dee, Am I Blue? Dirty Dan, It's Too Late Now, Warm Valley and Limehouse Blues. He also got DJ Al “Jazzbo" Collins at NBC to write the liner notes. As Creed told me during our many conversations, “I was just recording jazz I wanted to listen to in my home, without the 15-minute jam-session solos favored by other producers."

Happy Birthday, Creed!

JazzWax clip: Here's the entire album in individual tracks. An incredible quintet...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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