NEW YORK — Creed Taylor, a prolific and pioneering force in the evolution of jazz who worked with John Caltrane, Ray Charles and many others, and a popularizer of Brazilian music who oversaw the recording of such classics as “The Girl from Ipanema,” which helped make bossanova, a global phenomenon, died. He was 93.
Taylor’s son, John W. Taylor, said he died Monday in Winkelheide, Germany. The cause was heart failure after a stroke.
“Creed Taylor was one of the most incredible producers of our time,” George Benson said in a statement Wednesday. “More than anything, he was my friend and I will miss him.”
Creed Taylor was a white man who grew up in the Jim Crow South, Lynchburg, Virginia, and had a wide range of musical influences—as a packager who helped introduce laminated covers and designs for records, as a producer who heard new talent and new trends, and as a founder Impulse! and CTI Records.
He helped discover Herbie Mann, produced early music by Benson, Quincy Jones, and Grover Washington Jr., and produced or produced albums by Caltrane, Charles, Bill Evans, and Wes Montgomery, among hundreds of artists.
Commercially, he achieved his greatest success by recording bossanova, a toned-down, high-class type of samba that emerged in Rio de Janeiro in the late 1950s.
Taylor was the lead producer for Verve Records when he got a call in 1961 from jazz guitarist Charlie Byrd, who was touring Brazil for the State Department and wanted Taylor to hear some new-sounding records. Taylor soon contacted his friend Stan Goetz, a jazz saxophonist, and suggested that he and Byrd work together on an album.
“I immediately knew there was something new going on,” Taylor told Mark Myers JazzWax in 2008.
Their collaboration became the iconic “Jazz Samba”, produced by Taylor and featuring two compositions by the talented Brazilian songwriter and musician Antonio Carlos Jobim: “Desafinado” (Off Key or Out of Tune) and “Samba de Uma Nota Só”. Recorded in a few hours at a black church in Washington, D.C., the album was released in 1962 and continued to garner attention, topping the Billboard pop chart the following year and selling more than a million copies. Getz won a Grammy for Best Jazz Performance for “Desafinado.”
In 1964, Taylor released one of the most famous and influential records of the decade, “Getz/Gilberto,” another million-seller that stayed on the Billboard charts for nearly two years and confirmed the appeal of bossa nova. “Gilberto/Getz” featured Getz, Jobim and Brazilian guitarist João Gilberto, along with bossa nova standards such as “Só Danço Samba” and “Corcovado (Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars)”. “Getz/Gilberto” won four Grammys, including album of the year and record of the year, for its most famous track, “The Girl from Ipanema,” a low-key, wistful ballad that features Jobim singing in Portuguese and an obscure English-language cameo from a little-known Brazilian artist Astrud Gilberto, wife of Joao Gilberto.
“Including her vocals on ‘The Girl From Ipanema’ was Stan’s afterthought,” Taylor told JazzWax. “Female vocals were not planned. I didn’t even know who she was until Jobim introduced me to her at a session. I think Jobim and João might have been against her singing at the time. She was seen simply as Joao’s wife, not a trained singer. I think they were afraid she was going to crash the session or something. But Stan pressed on.’
“Stan treated a lot of people badly,” he said of the troubled and unpredictable Goetz, 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.”
A shortened version of “The Girl from Ipanema”, featuring only Astrud Gilbert’s vocals, entered the top 10. Since then, “The Girl From Ipanema” has been covered by everyone from Frank Sinatra to Amy Winehouse, and is often ranked behind “Yesterday” as the world’s most recorded pop song.
Taylor worked with numerous labels, starting with Bethlehem Records in the 1950s and eventually starting his own. He started Impulse! in 1960 as a subsidiary of ABC-Paramount Records and landed deals with Coltrane and Charles, among others, before leaving for the 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 launched CTI, first in partnership with A&M Records, then as an independent company. He released albums ranging from Freddie Hubbard’s soul-jazz favorite “Red Clay” to George Benson’s commercial breakthrough “Bad Benson” and recorded Jobim, Montgomery, Herbie Hancock, Nina Simone, Milt Jackson and Chet Baker. CTI was not only a leader in the creation of “smooth jazz”, which combines jazz with soul, funk and other sounds, but was known for the album covers of photographer Peter Turner, which often use silhouettes, moody close-ups and strong colors.
After the mid-1970s, Taylor struggled, especially after a distribution deal with Motown ended with his filing for bankruptcy. He revived the label in the late 1980s and had some success with Larry Coryall’s Fallen Angel album. Most recently, he oversaw the reissues of dozens of CTI albums, including releases by Benson, Ron Carter and Esther Phillips.
Jazz music critic Leonard Feather, writing in the Los Angeles Times in 1988, praised Taylor as “a man of unique vision who hears great talent as well as good sound quality.”
Taylor was married twice, most recently to Harriet Schmidt. He had four children.
The son of a mill owner, Taylor was a musician himself, joining the high school marching band and playing trumpet in two jazz bands while studying psychology at Duke University. After graduating in 1951, he was drafted into the Marine Corps and saw combat for a year as a gunner in the Korean War.
After the armistice in Korea in 1953, he first returned to Virginia. His father wanted him to become a doctor, but he soon moved to New York, which became his home before he saw him, and pursued what had long been his passion, jazz. Even as he grew up on bluegrass and country, he was transfixed by the sounds he discovered listening to New York jazz DJ Sidney Thorin, aka “Symphony Sid,” on WJZ (later WABC).
“In my head, everything he was talking about was so cool and clear, not only about the music, but also about the social environment of jazz artists,” he told JazzWax. “All I could think was, ‘Wow, this music is something else.’ I couldn’t wait to get to New York and start meeting the people Symphony Sid was talking about.”
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