MUSIC CLIP - OSCAR PETERSON, “MOONGLOW”
Welcome to Afterglow, a show of vocal jazz and popular song from the Great American Songbook, I’m your host, Mark Chilla.
On this episode, we’re paying tribute to one of the best known and most successful jazz record producers of the 20th century: Creed Taylor. Taylor passed away in August at age 93. Taylor started producing records at a young age, and later went on to found the very successful jazz record labels Impulse and CTI, while also producing some of the most popular jazz records of the century for Verve. While he mostly worked with instrumentals, this hour, we’ll focus on his work with vocalists, like Chris Connor, Astrud Gilberto, George Benson and more.
It’s Creed Taylor and the Singers, coming up next on Afterglow
MUSIC - STAN GETZ AND JOAO GILBERTO, “DESAFINADO”
Brazilian singer and guitarist Joao Gilberto with American saxophonist Stan Getz, featuring Antonio Carlos Jobim on piano. That was the Jobim song “Desafinado,” from the 1964 record Getz/Gilberto, one of the best-selling jazz records of all time, and a record produced by Creed Taylor. “Desafinado” first became a pop hit in America two years earlier in an instrumental recording by Stan Getz and guitarist Charlie Byrd, a record also produced by Creed Taylor.
MUSIC CLIP - STAN GETZ AND CHARLIE BYRD, “DESAFINADO”
MUSIC CLIP - STAN GETZ AND JOÃO GILBERTO, “DESAFINADO (OFF KEY)”
Mark Chilla here on Afterglow. On this show, we’re highlighting the multi-decade career of the famed jazz producer Creed Taylor [who passed away earlier this year at age 93], focusing on his work with various singers over the years.
Jazz was central to Creed Taylor’s life from an early age. He was an amateur trumpet player, and performed frequently in college as part of Duke University’s jazz ensemble. He was an avid listener and jazz record collector as well, and was up on all of the jazz trends. Shortly after college, and after a brief stint in the Marines, he moved to New York to try to embed himself in the bustling jazz scene.
It was 1954, and he soon found work at a struggling upstart jazz record label called Bethlehem Records. On the verge of collapse, it was Taylor’s idea to try to inject some new energy into the label’s sound by incorporating the new “West Coast” cool jazz style—hip, laid-back, small group jazz that was becoming increasingly popular with a younger audience.
He organized and produced a recording session with the smoky vocalist Chris Connor and pianist Ellis Larkins, turning it into the LP Chris Connor Sings Lullabies Of Birdland. The record was a surprise hit, selling over 20,000 copies and basically saving Bethlehem Records from bankruptcy. It was his first attempt at producing a jazz record, and it turned out to be a success. Despite being uncredited on the album, Taylor turned this initial success into many more for Bethlehem Records and beyond.
Let’s hear a track from that album now. This is Chris Connor and Ellis Larkins in 1954 with “Try A Little Tenderness,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - CHRIS CONNOR, “TRY A LITTLE TENDERNESS”
MUSIC - CHRIS CONNOR, “ALL DRESSED UP WITH A BROKEN HEART”
Two songs by singer Chris Connor recorded for the Bethlehem Record label, and both produced by an uncredited Creed Taylor. Just now, we heard the tune “All Dressed Up With A Broken Heart,” recorded in 1955 for the album This Is Chris. That featured Ralph Sharon on piano. Before that, we heard the standard “Try A Little Tenderness,” recorded in 1954 for the album Chris Connor Sings Lullabies of Birdland, featuring Ellis Larkins on piano.
Thanks to Creed Taylor’s keen ear, he was able to revive Bethlehem Records and keep them going strong for a while—producing more albums with Chris Connor, as well as albums with bassist Oscar Pettiford, trombonists J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding, and an artist he helped discover, flutist Herbie Mann. However, Taylor was destined for bigger things—and when he saw a job open up at the larger label ABC-Paramount in 1955, he took it. Taylor was involved in producing many records for the label, everything from novelty records, to Latin albums, to country albums. But when he could, he also produced jazz records, many of them with the same artists he worked with at Bethlehem.
He gained the reputation as being one of the hippest producers in jazz, more likely to understand the current trends than others. So, naturally, when jazz vocalists Jon Hendricks, Dave Lambert, and Annie Ross had the hairbrained idea to record an album of Count Basie tunes using a choir instead of horns, Creed Taylor was the one they approached.
The choir idea was scrapped, replaced with Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross overdubbing all of the vocals in the studio, which was a relatively new technique and required hours of studio time. Taylor believed in the idea, and the album Sing A Song Of Basie was released in 1958 to critical and commercial acclaim, popularizing the art of “vocalese,” adding new lyrics to existing jazz melodies. Creed Taylor was now truly making his mark on the jazz record scene—quite literally, in fact, because he was now adding an image of his signature each and every album jacket he produced.
Here’s a bit of that record now. This is Lambert, Hedricks, and Ross in 1958 with the Count Basie tune “Down For The Count,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - LAMBERT, HENDRICKS, AND ROSS, “DOWN FOR THE COUNT”
MUSIC - PATRICIA SCOT, “MAD ABOUT THE BOY”
Singer Patricia Scott in 1959 with the Noel Coward song “Mad About The Boy.” That comes from her 1958 ABC-Paramount album titled Once Around The Clock, featuring the Creed Taylor Orchestra. Fun fact, Patricia Scot was married to famed comedian (and later film director) Mike Nicols at the time of this recording, although they got divorced shortly after. Before that, we heard a landmark recording from the jazz vocal group Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, a vocalese version of the Count Basie song “Down For The Count,” from their 1958 ABC-Paramount album Sing A Song Of Basie. That album was produced by Creed Taylor.
With Creed Taylor continuing to pursue jazz recordings for ABC-Paramount, and with jazz becoming more and more popular among listeners, the time was right for the label to create a subsidiary jazz label, dedicated to jazz, with Taylor as the leader. He decided on the name “Impulse,” and Taylor produced its first few records. One of those was an album led by one of ABC-Paramount’s newest artists, Ray Charles. Charles had already made a name for himself as a soul icon in the 1950s for Atlantic Records, and now on ABC, he was pursuing different creative avenues, including recording jazz standards like “Georgia on My Mind.”
His album for Impulse was titled Genius + Soul = Jazz, and features the R&B artist stretching his jazz chops. While it was mostly an instrumental album, featuring Hammond organ work from Charles and many of the players from Count Basie’s band, Charles did sing on a few of the tunes, and let’s hear one now.
This is Ray Charles in 1960 with the blues tune “I’m Gonna Move To The Outskirts of Town,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - RAY CHARLES, “I’M GONNA MOVE TO THE OUTSKIRTS OF TOWN”
Ray Charles on vocals and organ with “I’m Gonna Move To The Outskirts of Town,” a track off of his 1961 Impulse Record Genius + Soul = Jazz, produced by Creed Taylor.
Shortly after founding Impulse Records as a jazz subsidiary to ABC-Paramount, bringing on board such jazz luminaries as John Coltrane to the label, Creed Taylor left the label to accept a job at Verve Records. The label’s founder (and one of Taylor’s idols) Norman Granz had sold Verve to MGM, so the bosses at MGM poached Taylor, one of jazz’s most promising young producers, to lead Verve into its next chapter.
It was a wise move, because some of Taylor’s biggest successes were still to come. But first, I want to feature some of the early vocal jazz records he helped produce for Verve, featuring the iconic jazz vocalist Anita O’Day. In many ways, this was familiar territory for Taylor. His first records as a producer were with singer Chris Connor, who was a cool jazz alumnus of Stan Kenton’s Orchestra, as was Anita O’Day.
Let’s hear two songs from O’Day now. We’ll start with a tune from her 1962 album All The Sad Young Men, recorded at the famous Rudy Van Gelder Studio in Englewood, New Jersey (as were many records produced by Creed Taylor). This is Anita O’Day with “Boogie Blues,” on Afterglow
MUSIC - ANITA O’DAY, “BOOGIE BLUES”
MUSIC - ANITA O’DAY, “WHISPER NOT”
Anita O’Day and the piano trio known as The Three Sounds in 1962 with the jazz standard “Whisper Not,” written by Benny Golson and Leonard Feather. Before that, we heard her a year earlier with the tune “Boogie Blues,” written by Gene Krupa and Remo Biondi. Both of those records were from the Verve label, produced by Creed Taylor.
MUSIC CLIP - RAY CHARLES, “ONE MINT JULEP”
A little more Creed Taylor-produced music behind me right now… and we’ll have more from producer Creed Taylor in just a bit. Stay with us.
I’m Mark Chilla, and you’re listening to Afterglow
MUSIC CLIP - STAN GETZ, “NIGHT RIDER”
MUSIC CLIP - STAN GETZ AND CHARLIE BYRD, “E LUXO SO”
Welcome back to Afterglow, I’m Mark Chilla. We’ve been exploring the career of jazz producer Creed Taylor this hour, focusing on his work with singers. [Taylor passed away at age 93 back in August]. And as we’ve heard so far, he seemed to always have his finger on the pulse of what was hot in jazz. Taylor helped save Bethlehem Records by recording cool jazz in 1954; he popularized the vocalese trend, recording the first Lambert, Hendricks and Ross album for ABC-Paramount in 1958; and then he added soul to jazz by recording with Ray Charles for his brand new label Impulse in 1960.
It should come as no surprise then when Brazilian bossa nova music became the jazz music trend in the early 1960s, Creed Taylor was again at the center of it. As critic and lyricist Gene Lees put it, [quote], “Were it not for Creed Taylor, I am convinced, bossa nova and Brazilian music generally would have retreated into itself, gone back to Brazil . . . instead of the worldwide music and the tremendous influence on jazz itself that it in fact became.” [end quote]
In the late 1950s, several American jazz musicians, like guitarist Charlie Byrd and saxophonist Stan Getz, became hip to this jazz-inspired samba variant coming out of Rio de Janeiro by artists like Joao Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim. Byrd and Getz approached Taylor about recording an album of this “bossa nova” or “new style” of Brazilian jazz, and together they produced the number 1 album Jazz Samba in 1962.
Bossa nova fever began to sweep the nation, and soon Creed Taylor was behind the idea of actually incorporating some of these Brazilian musicians, like Gilberto and Jobim, into an American jazz session. That’s how the 1963 recording session for the Verve album Getz/Gilberto came about. The surprise of the session turned out to be Joao Gilberto’s wife Astrud, who was simply along for the journey.
As the team started working out English translations to the Portuguese lyrics, it was discovered that Astrud could sing, with a slightly out-of-tune, yet captivating sound. She was not a professional singer, and despite protests from her husband, her English language vocals appear on the lead single, “The Girl From Ipanema.” The recording, produced by Creed Taylor, became a massive international hit, winning a Grammy Award, and becoming one of the most famous songs of the 20th century. Astrud Gilberto was now thrown into the spotlight, and Taylor helped produce most of her albums for the next decade.
Let’s hear that legendary single now. This is Astrud Gilberto, with husband Joao and saxophonist Stan Getz, with the song “The Girl From Ipanema,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - ASTRUD GILBERTO, “THE GIRL FROM IPANEMA”
MUSIC - ASTRUD GILBERTO, “A FELICIDADE”
Singer Astrud Gilberto from her 1967 album Look To The Rainbow with the Antonio Carlos Jobim song “A Felicidade.” Before that, we heard the song that made her famous, “The Girl From Ipanema” from the 1964 album Getz/Gilberto. Both of those records were produced by Creed Taylor for the label Verve.
After his success with Verve, Creed Taylor made another move in 1966, this time to A&M Records, co-owned by jazz-pop artist Herb Alpert. Just like he did at ABC-Paramount, Taylor helped create a jazz subsidiary label for A&M called “CTI” (based on his own initials). Taylor had full creative control at CTI, helping to push jazz in new directions with artists like Wes Montgomery and Antonio Carlos Jobim, and later George Benson and Freddie Hubbard, who each blended jazz, pop, Latin and R&B in their own unique way. By 1969, Taylor left A&M, taking CTI with him, and helped to further define the sound of jazz and jazz fusion into the 1970s.
During this period, he did not work with many vocalists. He was focused more on instrumental records, helping to produce such landmark instrumental jazz works as George Benson’s Shape of Things To Come, Freddie Hubbard’s Red Clay, and Stanley Turrentine’s Sugar.
Even on the few vocal records that were produced at CTI, they still pushed the boundaries of jazz and pop into new directions, and we’ll hear a few of them now. We’ll start with a record by guitarist George Benson. This was before his smooth jazz years—still during his soul jazz years. In 1969, just weeks after the Beatles had released their famous album Abbey Road, Benson and Taylor headed into the studio with musicians like Bob James, Herbie Hancock, and Freddie Hubbard to record a jazz suite interpretation of the record.
Here’s an excerpt, this is George Benson with “I Want You (She’s So Heavy),” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - GEORGE BENSON, “I WANT YOU (SHE’S SO HEAVY)”
MUSIC - JACKIE AND ROY, “WALTZ FOR DANA”
A couple of excerpts of some of the vocal jazz Creed Taylor helped produce for CTI Records in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Just now, we heard the jazz duo Jackie Cain and Roy Kral, from their 1973 album A Wilder Alias, with their original wordless song “Waltz For Dana.” Before that, we heard guitarist and singer George Benson (along with some trumpet work from Freddie Hubbard) on the Beatles’ song “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” from Benson’s 1970 album The Other Side of Abbey Road.
As the jazz record industry began to shift towards the late 1970s, Creed Taylor’s CTI Records ran into some financial trouble, and eventually stopped active operation in the 1980s. Taylor spent the twilight of his career producing live jazz concerts with a group of CTI All Stars, like Randy Brecker and John McLaughlin. This continued all the way until the 2010s. Taylor passed away at age 93 on August 22, 2022.
I’ll play one of his last vocal jazz albums he produced for CTI in the late 1970s. This was actually a sort-of infamous session with singer Nina Simone, who had taken a four-year hiatus from recording. Creed Taylor was the one who convinced Simone to return to the studio, and the two butted heads of choice of material and some of Taylor’s musical choices. But the resulting album, titled Baltimore, still contained some excellent performances from Simone.
To close off this Creed Taylor tribute, here is Nina Simone in 1978 from her album Baltimore, with the song “Everything Must Change,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - NINA SIMONE, “EVERYTHING MUST CHANGE”
Nina Simone in 1978 with the Benard Ighner song “Everything Must Change,” from the album Baltimore, produced by the legendary jazz produced Creed Taylor
Thanks for tuning in to this Creed Taylor tribute edition of Afterglow.
MUSIC CLIP - FREDDIE HUBBARD, “RED CLAY“