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The place in jazz history held by Creed Taylor is impeccable, stylish, and essential. He produced some of the best music for some of the best labels dedicated to jazz, then formed his own label and with meticulous preparation and his musician’s ear kept on making great jazz records.
Taylor began as a producer for Bethlehem Records, where his work with Charles Mingus stands among the label’s best. In 1960, he founded Impulse! which released under his leadership such classic Taylor productions as Coltrane’s Africa/Brass and Blues and the Abstract Truth with Oliver Nelson.
Taylor moved on to serve as General Manager and Producer for Verve Records, where his work with Antonio Carlos Jobim, Stan Getz, João Gilberto, Charlie Byrd and others fueled the international musical wave of “bossa nova.” The Girl From Ipanema won the 1964 Record of the Year Grammy Award and the album from which it came, Getz/Gilbertowon four more Grammy Awards, including Best Jazz Album and Album of the Year.
After Verve, Taylor teamed with Herb Albert and Jerry Moss to produce Grammy Award-winning sets with Wes Montgomery for A&M/CTI.
Taylor became his own boss in 1968, forming CTI Records—Creed Taylor, Inc. Producer/arranger Don Sebesky, a stalwart from Taylor’s Verve and A&M days, was among his first recruits. They shared a resolute gift for creating lush, soft arrangements that simply sound more beautiful than most other jazz records. Their orchestras of originals, jazz and pop standards, and pop and rock hits, helped define the 1970s fusion genre.
Taylor’s CTI roster includes some of the greatest jazz musicians of the time, including Chet Baker, Paul Desmond, Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, Milt Jackson and bassist Ron Carter, whose refined sense of rhythm and melody has graced a significant portion of CTI’s output.
CTI Records also provided artists the opportunity to explore music with a freedom that larger, industrial-sized labels might not have granted, such as The Rite of Spring, Hubert Laws’ treatment of work by Stravinsky, Debussy, Bach and Fauré. CTI sets by Hubbard (Red Clayand jacksonSunflower and Goodbyewith Laws) in a particular stand among the best work of their considerable careers.
Stan Getz: Getz / Gilberto (1963)
Saxophone’s ballad master shares the spotlight with Brazil’s two most influential and enduring composers, guitarist João Gilberto and pianist Antonio Carlos Jobim, intertwining three individual solo styles into a single, soft romantic voice. “The Girl From Ipanema was the very first time that João’s wife Astrud Gilberto sang outside of her own home, good enough to claim the Grammy Award for Record of the Year. Also claimed the Jazz Album of the Year AND Album of the Year Grammy Awards and is enshrined in the NARAS Hall of Fame for recordings.
Jim Hall: Concierto (1975)
Cast by Sebesky amidst soloists Baker, Desmond and pianist Roland Hanna, Hall characteristically them room to sparkle—especially Baker and Hannah, who prances through Ellington’s “Rock Skippin’ and both versions of Cole Porter’s “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home” To. Hall sounds profoundly serene gliding through “Concierto de Arunjuez, the set’s centerpiece, with Desmond; as Baker assumes Desmond’s spotlight the contemplative mood shifts but remains seamlessly perfect. You can hear these guitarists’ guitarist connect the dots between Wes Montgomery and Pat Metheny here .
Freddie Hubbard: Red Clay (1970)
Red Clay stands among Hubbard’s personal favorite AND his best-selling titles, a volcanic blast of bebop and jazz funk. Thank saxophonist Joe Henderson and pianist Hancock for the bebop and jazz; Carter and especially drummer Lenny White, whose sound shimmers and crackles, for the funk; and Hubbard for blowing equal parts hard bop, bebop, and molten lava. The title track has proven to be one of Hubbard’s most enduring works and demonstrates how to rock jazz HARD withOUT fusing it with rock and roll.
Freddie Hubbard: First Light (1970)
First Light expands upon the success of Red Clay in terms of both personnel (with larger enembles of flutes, strings, brass, vibes, percussion and piano augmenting Hubbard, Carter, DeJohnette and Benson) and repertoire (Hubbard’s adventurous title track spacewalk then songs by Paul McCartney, Mancini-Mercer and Leonard Bernstein ), all couched in trademark plush Sebesky arrangements. The results claimed the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Performance by a Group and prompted Hubbard to remark: “I put more feeling into that album than any other before.
Milt Jackson: Sunflower (1972)
“Bags, the groove machine propelling the Modern Jazz Quartet, leads a quintessential ’70s quintet—Hancock, Hubbard, Carter and Cobham—cushioned by Sebesky’s arrangements and strings, guitar and horns, swinging as one through familiar pop and soul selections and Hubbard’s challenging , multi-hued title track (shifting between blues and bop and Latin), bookended by two Jackson tunes. Hancock and Jackson playfully roughhouse the middle section of “People Make the World Go Round into a shout of blissful funk.
Antonio Carlos Jobim: Stone Flower (1970)
An understated yet no less brilliant gem from this critically AND popularly-acclaimed master. Arrangements by Deodato—who also strums acoustic guitar as warm and inviting as the tropical dawn—feature Hubert Laws’ flute and Joe Farrell’s saxophone as the primary solo voices, while Jobim layers like soft flannel acoustic guitar, acoustic and electric piano, and vocals. Characteristically tender in rhythm and romantic in melody, the hushed instrumentation and whispered vocals positively SCREAM “Jobim!
Wes Montgomery with the Wynton Kelly Trio: Smokin’ at the Half Note (1965)
Jam session appropriately opens with Miles Davis’ “No Blues, since Kelly’s trio with Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb served as Miles’ rhythm section from 1959 through ’63 (including the seminal Kind of Blue sessions). From this opening through the closing “What’s New, a studious ballad, Montgomery seems to casually toss off guitar licks that amaze everyone except him, while Kelly’s piano improvisations catapult him to the first line of post-Bud Powell pianists.
Oliver Nelson: Blues & The Abstract Truth (1961)
The leader’s own annotations explain: “The blues, which is a twelve-bar form, and the form and chord structure of ‘I’ve Got Rhythm,’ being 32 measures in length, was my material for all of the compositions on this album An amazing accomplishment of equal parts arrangements (by Nelson), compositions (including Nelson’s classic “Stolen Moments), and performances—especially by the Paul Chambers / Roy Haynes rhythm section, the luminous Eric Dolphy / Freddie Hubbard frontline, and pianist Bill Evans , particularly well suited to Nelson’s articulate gentleness.
Nina Simone: Baltimore (1978)
Taylor’s only recording of Simone (her first sessions in four years) is a relatively brief but typically mixed set of originals, covers, and spirituals forged in the dark molten iron of Simone’s unmistakable piano and vocal soul. Her proud voice resounds more vulnerable than defiant but proves no less powerful on music by Judy Collins, Randy Newman, and Hall & Oates, plus the timeless “Everything Must Change. Her voice might float like a butterfly on the lilting reggae rhythms of the two spirituals, but the impact of closing that voice still kicks like a mule.
Jimmy Smith / Wes Montgomery: Jimmy & Wes: The Dynamic Duo (1966)
Taylor pairs two of the times’ best jazz players on organ and guitar; Smith plays hot to Montgomery’s cool in leading Clark Terry, Phil Woods, Ray Barretto, and the rock-solid rhythm section of Richard Davis and Grady Tate through a tasty old-school jazz-funk jam arranged and conducted by Oliver Nelson. Thick as taffy, the duo meshes and matches so perfectly they might have been better called “the funk brothers.
Stanley Turrentine: Sugar (1970)
Mr. T’s languid sound pours like syrup through thick, sweet funk: This soulful tenor man’s CTI debut reunites him with Carter and Hubbard, with whom he played on sessions for Blue Note, plus pulls in Benson and organist Lonnie Liston-Smith. Hubbard was blowing apart nearly everything he played during this period and breathes fire in the title cut and the Latin boogaloo “Sunshine Alley, which grooves hard on Smith’s Hammond and Pablo Landrum’s congas; Turrentine and Benson adventurously explore Coltrane’s “Impressions to close.”