NEW YORK (AP) — Creed Taylor, a prolific and innovative force in the evolution of jazz who worked with John Coltrane, Ray Charles and many others and a popularizer of Brazilian music who oversaw the recording of such classics as “The Girl from Ipanema” that helped made bossa nova a worldwide phenomenon, has died. He was 93.
Taylor’s son John W. Taylor said he died Monday in Winkelhaid, Germany. The cause was heart failure, after he had suffered a stroke.
“Creed Taylor was one of the most incredible producers of our time,” 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 in the Jim Crow South, Lynchburg, Virginia, who had a broad musical impact — as a packager who helped introduce laminated covers and gatefold sleeves for LPs, as a producer with an ear for emerging talent and new trends and as the founder of Impulse! and CTI Records. 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 recording bossa nova, the softened, upscale variation of samba which had emerged in Rio de Janeiro in the late 1950s. Taylor was lead producer at Verve Records when he got a phone call in 1961 from the jazz guitarist Charlie Byrd, who had been on tour in Brazil for the State Department and wanted Taylor to hear some tapes of the new sound. Taylor soon contacted his friend Stan Getz, the jazz saxophonist, and suggested he and Byrd work on an album together.
“I knew instantly that something new was happening there,” Taylor told Marc Myers of JazzWax in 2008.
Their collaboration became the landmark “Jazz Samba,” produced by Taylor and featuring two contributions from the gifted 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 came out in 1962 and kept gaining attention, topping the Billboard pop chart the following year and selling more than 1 million copies. Getz won a Grammy for best jazz performance on “Desafinado.”
In 1964, Taylor produced one of the decade’s most acclaimed and influential records, “Getz/Gilberto,” another million seller that stayed on the Billboard charts for nearly two years and confirmed bossa nova’s appeal. “Gilberto/Getz” featured Getz, Jobim and Brazilian guitarist João Gilberto, and included such bossa nova standards as “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 featuring Jobim singing in Portuguese and a deadpan, English language cameo by a little known Brazilian performer, Astrud Gilberto, João Gilberto’s wife.
“Including her vocal on ‘The Girl from Ipanema’ was an afterthought by Stan,” Taylor told JazzWax. “No female vocal had been planned. I didn’t even know who she was until Jobim introduced me to her at the session. I think at the time, Jobim and Joao may have been against her singing. She was viewed simply as João’s wife and not a trained singer. I think they were afraid she was going to bring the session down or something. But Stan pushed.”
“Stan treated a lot of people not well,” he said of the troubled and unpredictable Getz, who died in 1991. ”(But) there was no tension in the studio that day whatsoever. At the end of the session, Stan said, ‘Astrud, you’re going to be famous.’”
A shortened version of “The Girl from Ipanema,” with only Astrud Gilberto’s vocals, became a top 10 hit. “The Girl from Ipanema” has since been covered by everyone from Frank Sinatra to Amy Winehouse and is often ranked just behind “Yesterday” as the world’s most recorded pop song.
Taylor worked with numerous labels, beginning with Bethlehem Records in the 1950s, and eventually formed his own. He started Impulse! in 1960 as a subsidiary of ABC-Paramount Records, and reached deals with Coltrane and Charles among others before leaving for Verve a year later. Impulse! would eventually release Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme,” one of the top selling jazz albums of all time.
In 1967, Taylor launched CTI, initially 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 records by Jobim, Montgomery, Herbie Hancock, Nina Simone, Milt Jackson and Chet Baker. CTI was not only a leader in establishing “smooth jazz,” blending jazz with soul and funk and other sounds, but was recognizable for its album covers by photographer Peter Turner, often using silhouettes, moody closeups and stark color designs.
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Taylor struggled after the mid-1970s, especially after a distribution deal with Motown ended with his filing for bankruptcy. He did resurrect the label in the late 1980s and had some success with Larry Coryell’s “Fallen Angel” album. More recently, he presided over the reissue of dozens of CTI albums, including releases by Benson, Ron Carter and Esther Phillips.
Jazz critic-musician Leonard Feather, writing in the Los Angeles Times in 1988, praised Taylor as “a man of unique vision, with an ear for great talent as well as for good sound quality.”
Taylor was married twice, most recently to Harriet Schmidt. He had four children.
A mill owner’s son, Taylor was a musician himself who joined his high school’s marching band and played trumpet in two jazz groups while majoring in psychology at Duke University. Upon graduation, in 1951, he was drafted into the Marines Corps and for a year served in combat as an artilleryman in the Korean War.
After the 1953 armistice in Korea, he initially returned to Virginia. His father wanted him to become a doctor, but he soon moved to what had become his home before he had even seen it — New York City — and pursued what had long been his passion — jazz. Even as he grew up around blue grass and country music, he was moved by the sounds he had discovered through listening to New York jazz DJ Sidney Torin, aka “Symphony Sid,” on WJZ (later WABC).
“Everything he talked about was so cool and clear in my head, not just about the music but also the social surroundings of the jazz players,” he told JazzWax. “All I could think of was, “Wow, this music is something else.” I couldn’t wait to get up to New York and start meeting the people Symphony Sid was talking about.”