Creed Taylor, Jazz Giant And Impulse! Founder Has Passed Away At The Age of 93

The visionary jazz record producer and founder of the Impulse! and CTI labels, brought bossa nova to the global market.

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Creed Taylor
Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Creed Taylor, the visionary jazz record producer and founder of the Impulse! and CTI labels, who brought bossa nova to the global market, passed away this morning at the age of 93.

Over a 50-year career that yielded almost 300 albums, Creed Taylor’s gift as a record producer was getting the best out of jazz musicians in the recording studio. He created musical settings that enhanced their talents, and possessed an unerring ability to broaden an artist’s commercial appeal without sacrificing their creative needs.

Following the news of Taylor’s passing, a number of his friends and colleagues shared statements about this music industry legend.

“From his visionary ear for talent to his singular skills as a producer, Creed Taylor’s impact on jazz can’t be overstated,” shared Jamie Krents, President of Verve, Impulse! and Verve Forecast Records.

“Whether it was signing John Coltrane to Impulse! Records or helping to introduce Bossa Nova music to the world via his work with Charlie Byrd, Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto for Verve, Creed’s integrity and innovative, open-minded approach to music have made him an inspiration in perpetuity to everyone at these labels and he will be dearly missed.”

Bruce Resnikoff, President & CEO of UMe, also added: “Creed Taylor founded one of the most important jazz labels of all time with Impulse! and was a vital figure in the growth and success of UMG for decades. Through Impulse!, Verve Records, and CTI, he was instrumental in releasing and producing so many incredible and timeless albums that continue to be loved today. More than just music, Impulse! was a cultural beacon of progressivism, spiritualism, and activism throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Creed was one of the great record executives and his contributions to the world of music will forever be remembered and enjoyed.”

Starting at the U.S. indie label Bethlehem in the 1950s, Taylor went on to make his mark at ABC/Paramount, where he founded the iconic jazz label Impulse! in 1960 before taking the helm at Verve Records. In 1967 he started his own company, CTI.

Taylor wanted to develop jazz’s allure beyond its core audience. He created a remarkable catalog of albums that raised the bar for jazz through impeccable sound quality, clever concepts, and eye-catching covers. He often persuaded jazz musicians to expand their repertoires by interpreting pop songs and classical music. “I wanted to make a musician sound good to people who may not be that sophisticated about jazz or improvising,” he told Record Collector in 2008.

Not everyone – especially jazz purists – appreciated the smooth, pop-oriented chart hits that Taylor masterminded at Verve in the 60s, for artists such as Stan Getz, Wes Montgomery, and Jimmy Smith. But the controversial crossover approach brought these musicians, and others, widespread attention that vindicated his instincts – and made them household names. Pianist Bob James worked with Taylor at CTI in the 70s, and described him as “a great casting agent,” with a knack for finding the right personnel for projects. “He really had the foresight and taste to bring great musicians together in the studio,” James told this writer in 2018.

Creed Taylor was born in Lynchburg, Virginia, on May 13 in 1929. He was raised on a farm near White Gate, a small town under the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Though bluegrass music dominated the local airwaves when Taylor was young, he was drawn to the more exotic sonics of big band jazz. At the age of 10, he began tuning into late-night live broadcasts from New York’s Birdland venue, hosted by jazz radio personality Sid “Symphony Sid” Torin. “I heard everything that was coming out of Birdland and made it a point to listen to two or three o’clock (in the morning) and then get up and get the bus to school,” he told Shook in 2008.

Taylor’s passion for the music of trumpeters Harry James and Dizzy Gillespie led him to pick up the horn in high school, where he played in local jazz bands. Taylor’s obsession with jazz was such that he would hitchhike to Roanoke, a town 75 miles away, just to catch Benny Goodman, Woody Herman, and Cab Calloway playing live.

After leaving high school, Taylor spent four years studying psychology at Duke University in North Carolina and continued to play trumpet in a band called The Five Dukes. In 1951 he was drafted into the Marine Corps and, a year later, went to the frontlines in the Korean War. After completing military service, Taylor headed to New York City – the center of the jazz world.

In New York, jazz’s bebop revolution was in full swing led by the innovations of virtuoso musicians like saxophonist Charlie Parker and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. Taylor knew his horn-playing couldn’t match people like the technically dazzling Gillespie, so he shifted his focus to producing records. At that time, in the early 1950s, the modus operandi of jazz labels was to record jam sessions. Taylor had no production experience, but he did have youthful bravado, a psychology degree, as well as an instinctive feeling about incorporating a more focused and conceptual approach to jazz records. “I was just convinced I could do it,” he told Jazzwax in 2008. “It was a mix of naiveté and positive thinking.”

That’s how 25-year-old Taylor talked his way into working at a struggling label called Bethlehem in 1954. His first task was getting loose in the studio with singer Chris Connor, whose previous big band recordings had been unsuccessful. Taylor felt she would thrive in a more intimate setting, and put her with pianist Ellis Larkins’ trio to make Lullaby Of Birdland, Bethlehem’s first 10″ LP. As well as producing the record, Taylor was also involved in the promotion and marketing, including the artwork. The album was a roaring success.

Chris Connor - Lullaby of birdland

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Taylor’s subsequent successes with Carmen McRae, Charles Mingus, and Herbie Mann for Bethlehem, caught the attention of ABC/Paramount. In 1956, he was hired as a staff producer at the film company’s fledgling record label. He initially put themed concept albums together before building up the label’s jazz catalog. One record, in particular, brought him notoriety: the 1958 LP Sing A Song Of Basie by vocal trio Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. It was groundbreaking because the singers overdubbed their voices to create intricate vocal versions of Count Basie tunes. It was also the first album with Taylor’s signature inscribed on the back cover, a feature of every album he produced thereafter. “I wanted to put my stamp on something that I did, so there would be no backing away,” he told Record Collector in 2008.

Taylor’s reputation was growing, not simply for his production but also his contributions to the way records looked. At ABC/Paramount, he revolutionized LP cover art by introducing high quality laminated sleeves featuring cover photos by Pete Turner, whose stunning shots would grace many of Taylor’s LPs over the next 20 years.

Despite the noise his records made in the jazz world, Taylor was a quiet person, bordering on shy. “He was a real introvert,” said Don Sebesky, Taylor’s go-to arranger in the 1970s, in a 2009 interview with Shook magazine. “He used me as his mediator between himself and all the musicians in the room because he felt a little bit reticent about telling them what to do. He would ask me to convey his thoughts to them in a musician’s way.”

The late Claus Ogerman, an arranger who worked with Taylor in the 60s on albums for pianist Bill Evans and singer/songwriter Antonio Carlos Jobim, remembered him as “very smart” and having “great taste.” He told Wax Poetics in 2010: “Creed was a very easy-going, no-problem producer, which was very unusual. Many producers stopped you in the midst of your work but he would never do that … If he wanted to change something he mentioned it while we were listening back to the tape.”

In 1960, Taylor convinced ABC/Paramount to launch a new, dedicated jazz imprint called Impulse! He brought A-list artists to the new label, including John Coltrane and Ray Charles, and established the company’s identity by pairing high quality recordings with eye-catching, heavy-duty gatefold sleeves.

Within six months of Impulse’s launch in 1961, Taylor had moved on. He joined MGM’s Verve label where his production of 1962’s Jazz Samba by saxophonist Stan Getz and guitarist Charlie Byrd sparked America’s love affair with Brazilian bossa nova. Taylor was also responsible for Getz/Gilberto, Getz’s influential 1964 collaboration with singer/guitarist João Gilberto, which introduced the world to the Brazilian maestro’s wife, Astrud. Her wispy vocals on “The Girl From Ipanema,” transformed bossa nova into an international phenomenon.

Stan Getz feat. Astrud Gilberto - The Girl From Ipanema (Official Video)

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In 1967, Taylor left Verve to start his own label, CTI (Creed Taylor Incorporated) as an imprint of A&M Records. The label’s early LP successes included Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Wave and George Benson’s The Other Side Of Abbey Road, a jazz interpretation of the iconic Beatles album, which epitomized Taylor’s desire to reach wider audiences.

Artistic differences with A&M prompted him to independently re-launch CTI in 1970 with marquee signings like virtuoso trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, saxophonist Stanley Turrentine, and flautist Hubert Laws. But it was an obscure Brazilian pianist, Deodato, who broke the label into the mainstream: “Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001),” an edgy jazz-funk retooling of classical composer Richard Strauss’ music from the sci-fi film 2001: A Space Odyssey, was a U.S. No. 2 hit single. Taylor then convinced other artists to reinterpret classical pieces, including pianist Bob James who was one of CTI’s best-selling artists in the mid-’70s.

Also sprach Zarathustra

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Taylor expanded CTI by creating a sister label, Kudu, dedicated to soul jazz. The roster included saxophonists Grover Washington Jr. and Hank Crawford, as well as singer Esther Phillips, who brought the label a disco hit with the 1975 single, “What A Diff’rence A Day Makes.”

What a Diff'rence a Day Makes

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But CTI’s sudden success sowed the seeds for its downfall. Warner Bros. and Columbia lured many top CTI musicians with the promise of big money, and soon the fast-expanding label was crippled by debt. After filing bankruptcy in 1978, Taylor reluctantly sold the catalogue to Columbia, where it remained.

In 1989, Taylor briefly resurrected CTI as an independent entity until 1996. Signings included jazz-rock fretboardist Larry Coryell, bassist/composer Charles Fambrough, and veteran guitarist Jim Hall. Taylor faded from view, but in 2009 a host of reissues re-ignited interest in his back catalog. At age 79, he put together a CTI All-Stars Band that toured Europe and recorded a live album under his supervision. With its harmonious marriage of sound, concept, and image, Taylor’s final recording stayed true to the values he brought to jazz back in the 1950s.



  1. Maher Younsi

    August 23, 2022 at 8:37 pm

    R.I.P , Creed Taylor .

  2. Ken Siegmann

    August 24, 2022 at 12:44 am

    A giant has fallen…

  3. Mark Cathcart

    August 26, 2022 at 12:30 am

    FYI Taylor died Monday in Germany, not Tuesday morning.

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