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Creed Taylor, Legendary Jazz Label Executive and Producer, Dies at 92

Taylor helped usher in the U.S. bossa nova craze of the early 1960s after producing and releasing the Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd album "Jazz Samba."

Creed Taylor, a legendary record producer and label executive best known for founding jazz imprints Impulse! and CTI Records and introducing bossa nova to a mainstream audience in the U.S., died Tuesday (Aug. 23) at age 92, Impulse distributor Verve Records announced.

“For over 60 years, Creed Taylor expanded the horizons of jazz, from signing John Coltrane to Impulse! Records to introducing Bossa Nova music to the world via his work with Charlie Byrd, Stan Getz, and Astrud Gilberto,” reads Verve’s post on Instagram. “He was a genius when it came to finding new and special music that would stay with listeners forever, and his signature was his personal stamp of approval. He will be missed greatly, and our sympathy goes out to his family.”


Born May 13, 1929, in Lynchburg, Virginia, Taylor formed a love of jazz early on, inspired by artists including Dizzy Gillespie and Harry James while playing trumpet in his high school marching band. After graduating from Duke University — where he played in student jazz ensembles the Duke Ambassadors and the Five Dukes — Taylor landed in New York City in 1954 with dreams of becoming a record producer despite knowing “nothing” about what that entailed, he said in a 2008 interview with JazzWax: “I was just convinced I could do it. I had this drive. It was a mix of naivete and positive thinking. I’ve always looked at possibilities that way.”

In New York, Taylor soon linked up with a fellow Duke graduate who had started the jazz label Bethlehem Records with Gus Wildi, convincing them to let him produce the Chris Connor album Chris Connor Sings Lullabys of Birdland with the backing of the Ellis Larkins Trio. When the album sold well for the label, thanks in part to Taylor’s savvy promotional efforts, he was made head of A&R at the label and went on to record artists including Herbie Mann, Oscar Pettiford, Carmen McRae, Charlie Shavers and Jack Teagarden.

In an effort to heighten his profile, Taylor departed Bethlehem in 1956 for the recently-launched ABC-Paramount Records, where he would start the Impulse! label four years later. During his tenure at Impulse, he demonstrated a savvy for melding jazz and pop — recording and overseeing releases for artists including John Coltrane, Ray Charles, Gil Evans and Oliver Nelson — and became intently focused on album packaging thanks to an innate understanding of the potential of a record’s visual appeal to boost sales. During this period, Taylor also released a number of albums with his own group, The Creed Taylor Orchestra.

In 1961, Taylor left Impulse! to join Verve in an A&R capacity. While there, he signed Bill Evans and enjoyed his greatest commercial success after producing the 1962 album Jazz Samba for Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd.

The album reached No. 1 on what is now called the Billboard 200 in March 1963, becoming one of the few jazz albums ever to top the all-genre chart. Jazz Samba helped kick off a bossa nova craze in the U.S. thanks to the massive popularity of tracks like “Desafinado,” for which Getz would go on to win a Grammy for best jazz performance.

Taylor went on to produce another bossa nova smash, the Getz and Joao Gilberto album Getz/Gilberto, which won the Grammy for album of the year in 1965, while its smash single “The Girl From Ipanema” (on which Getz teamed with Astrud Gilberto, João Gilberto’s wife at the time) won for record of the year. Unfortunately, Taylor didn’t share in the Grammy haul. The Recording Academy didn’t award Grammys to the producers of album and record of the year winners until the following year.

Taylor’s stint at Verve ended in 1966 when Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss wooed him to A&M with the promise of starting his own imprint and exercising complete creative control: “I had been working toward that level of creative independence my entire career,” he told JazzWax. While leading the resulting imprint, CTI Records, Taylor went on to produce and/or release albums by Wes Montgomery, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Nina Simone, Freddie Hubbard, Eumir Deodato, Grover Washington Jr., George Benson and Stanley Turrentine, among others.

Three years after starting the label, Taylor left A&M and took CTI independent, but was forced into bankruptcy in 1978 due to various legal and financial issues caused in part by CTI’s ill-fated expansion into distribution several years prior; the label’s catalog subsequently went to its then-distributor Columbia under the terms of a loan agreement. Aside from launching a short-lived revamp of CTI beginning in the late 1980s, Taylor’s profile in the music business dimmed considerably, though in 2009, following a surge of CTI reissues, he helped put together (and performed as part of) CTI All-Stars 2009, a European tour that brought together a number of the label’s legacy artists with a group of younger players.