Jazz innovator Creed Taylor dies; produced John Coltrane, Ray Charles and Quincy Jones

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Creed Taylor, a prolific and innovative force in the development of jazz who collaborated with John Coltrane, Ray Charles and many others, and was a popularizer of Brazilian music who oversaw and helped record classics such as “The Girl From Ipanema”, Bossa to make nova, a worldwide phenomenon, has died at the age of 93.

John W. Taylor said his father died Monday in Winkelhaid, Germany. The cause was heart failure after he suffered a stroke, John Taylor said.

“Creed Taylor was one of the most incredible producers of our time,” legendary jazz guitarist George Benson said in a statement Wednesday. “Most of all he was my friend and I will miss him.”

Creed Taylor was a white man raised south of Jim Crow and had a broad musical influence – as a packer who helped introduce laminated and gatefold sleeves for LPs, a producer with an ear for emerging talent and new trends, and a founder of pulse and CTI recordings. He helped discover Herbie Mann, produced early music by Benson, Quincy Jones, and Grover Washington Jr., and produced or released albums by Coltrane, Charles, Bill Evans, and Wes Montgomery, among hundreds of artists.

Commercially, he had his greatest success with the recording of bossa nova, the toned-down, upscale variant of samba that emerged in Rio de Janeiro in the late 1950s. Taylor was executive producer at Verve Records when in 1961 he received a call from jazz guitarist Charlie Byrd, who had been touring for the State Department in Brazil, wanting Taylor to hear some tapes of the new sound. Taylor soon contacted his friend Stan Getz, the jazz saxophonist, and suggested that he and Byrd work on an album together.

“I knew right away that something new was happening there,” Taylor told JazzWax in 2008.

Their collaboration became the landmark Jazz Samba, produced by Taylor and featuring contributions from Brazilian songwriter and musician Antonio Carlos Jobim. Recorded in a matter of hours in a black church in Washington, DC, the album released in 1962 and garnered widespread attention, topping the Billboard pop chart the following year and selling more than 1 million copies. Getz won a Grammy for Best Jazz Performance with the song “Desafinado”.

In 1964, Taylor produced one of the most acclaimed and influential records of the decade, Getz/Gilberto, another million-selling record that stayed on the Billboard charts for almost two years, confirming the appeal of bossa nova. “Gilberto/Getz” featured Getz, Jobim and Brazilian guitarist João Gilberto, and included bossa nova standards like “Só Danço Samba” and “Corcovado (Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars)”. “Getz/Gilberto” received four Grammys, including Album of the Year and Record of the Year, for its most famous track, “The Girl From Ipanema,” the spare, wistful ballad with Jobim singing in Portuguese and a deadpan, English-language cameo by a little-known Brazilian artist, Astrud Gilberto, João Gilberto’s wife.

“Adding her voice to ‘The Girl From Ipanema’ was an afterthought by Stan,” Taylor told JazzWax. “No female voice was planned. I didn’t even know who she was until Jobim introduced her to me at the session. I think maybe Jobim and Joao were against her singing back then. She was simply seen as João’s wife and not a trained singer. I think they were afraid she would end the session or something. But Stan pushed.”

“Stan didn’t treat a lot of people well,” he said of the troubled and unpredictable Getz, who died in 1991. “But there was no tension in the studio that day. At the end of the session, Stan said, ‘Astrud, you’re going to be famous.’”

An abridged version of “The Girl From Ipanema” featuring only Astrud Gilberto’s vocals became a Top 10 hit. “The Girl From Ipanema” has since been covered by dozens of artists, including Frank Sinatra and Amy Winehouse, and is often ranked second only to “Yesterday” as the most-recorded pop song in the world.

Taylor worked with numerous labels, beginning with Bethlehem Records in the 1950s and eventually starting his own. He founded Impulse in 1960 as a subsidiary of ABC-Paramount Records and signed deals with Coltrane and Charles, among others, before joining Verve a year later. Impulse eventually released Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, one of the best-selling jazz albums of all time.

In 1967, Taylor formed CTI, first in partnership with A&M Records, then as an independent company. He has released albums from Freddie Hubbard’s soul jazz favorite Red Clay to Benson’s commercial breakthrough Bad Benson and records by Jobim, Montgomery, Herbie Hancock, Nina Simone, Milt Jackson and Chet Baker. Not only was CTI a leader in establishing “smooth jazz,” which mixed jazz with soul and funk and other sounds, but was also known for his album covers by photographer Peter Turner, which often used silhouettes, moody close-ups, and bold color designs.

Taylor struggled after the mid-1970s, particularly after a distribution deal with Motown ended with his filing for bankruptcy. He resurrected the label in the late 1980s and had some success with Larry Coryell’s Fallen Angel album. More recently, he has overseen the re-issue of dozens of CTI albums, including releases by Benson, Ron Carter and Esther Phillips.

Jazz critic and musician Leonard Feather praised Taylor in a 1988 article in the Los Angeles Times as “a man of unique vision who has an ear for both great talent and good sound quality.”

Taylor has been married twice, most recently to Harriet Schmidt. He had four children.

The son of a mill owner, Taylor was a musician himself, joining his high school marching band and playing trumpet in two jazz groups while studying psychology at Duke University. After graduating in 1951, he was drafted into the Marine Corps and served for a year as an artilleryman in the Korean War.

After the armistice in Korea in 1953, he first returned to Virginia. His father wanted him to be a doctor, but he soon moved to New York City and pursued his longtime passion – jazz. Growing up listening to bluegrass and country music, he was touched by the sounds he discovered with New York jazz DJ Sidney Torin, aka “Symphony Sid.”

“Everything he talked about was so cool and clear in my head, not only about the music, but also about the social environment of jazz musicians,” Taylor told JazzWax. “All I could think was, ‘Wow, this music is something else.’ I couldn’t wait to get to New York and meet the people Symphony Sid was talking about.”

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