Coincidentally, when I started turning my curiosity about Creed Taylor and his producing career into research, it was because I thought it would be fun to cover the event’s of 50-years ago, and the first releases of the startup of the independent CTI Records by Creed Taylor International.
The juxtaposition of today and tomorrow’s posts couldn’t be more stark though. Today’s post deals with Rhythmstick, a release that came about in 1990, after the settlement between CTI and Warner Brothers over the end of George Bensons contract with CTI. In tomorrows, I’ll just touch on the bankruptcy of CTI.
What was/is Rhythmstick ?
Filmed and recorded in the summer of 1989, the first reference I was able to find about it was in the August 12 issue of Cash Box Magazine.
When back in 2016, I had a copy of the CD, but had no idea there was an “HD” movie. I set out to see what I could find out, and was fortunate to get a complete copy of the original box set Japanese marketing release of a laserdisc, Gold CD and 12-page booklet. From the booklet we can also learn that it was digitally recorded on Sony 24-track equipment and videotaped in High Definition on location at Van Gelder Studio (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey), June 19-21, 1989, and released in October 1990.
CTI IS BACK!
Indeed, CTI was back from problems with distribution, disputes with Motown over distribution, Grover Washington, Jr. contract, the loss of Bob James to CBS/Tappan Zee, and long running legal case with Warner Brothers over George Benson, the loss of Stanley Turrentine, Freddie Hubbard and more. Notwithstanding that, Creed was able to muster a “CTI All Star” band almost 2nd to none at the time, from the field of jazz.
Apparently the laserdisc, being the novelty and the premium part of the product, was released in Japan before the CD. The November 23rd issue of The Gavin Report carried this advert on page-35. It appears to have been the opposite in the USA, with the laserdisc not released until 1991/2.
The films were also listed to be released on VHS tape, but there seem to be very few copies available anywhere. The video is far from HD, as we’ve come to understand it now, but has likely aged much better on laserdisc than any VHS tapes still around. It is an amazing time capsule featuring some great playing and tracks. I was able to acquire a Pioneer laserdisc player, and after some experimentation, convert this and other CTI laserdiscs. See “Rhythmstick 2000” for brief discussion on more recent versions.
I was hoping to talk to John W. Taylor, one of Creed’s sons about this and the other laserdiscs. I’m still hoping I can and if John does talk to me, I’ll write that up separately.
Wilson Lindsey, noted on the advert, was a prior CTI employee. In 1974, Lindsey was working at CTI in promotions. By 1987 he had been appointed National Director/Urban Promotion at Polygram, a Polydor company, who were handling the promotion/marketing and distribution of CTI products at the time. There are lot’s a press listings that cover Lindsey’s career, none that show he left Polygram and went back to CTI.
Laserdisc technical details
The laserdisc is a single sided constant linear velocity (CLV, variable rpm) disc. The video runs continuously for 58:53 – so just under the hour. While laserdiscs are often single sided, they can be dual/double sided. The interesting thing about laserdics, is that the picture is effectively analog, stored in digital format, and the audio is true 24-bit digital. Meaning the sound quality exceeds the picture quality. This became obvious as I attempted to convert the movie into 720p, and then 1040i. It didn’t really improve in quality and in some respect, degraded.
It was the first CTI project recorded on multi-track digital equipment, as well as the first multi-track digital session recorded by Rudy Van Gelder.
I’ve posted a full copy of the movie on youtube. While YouTube make some changes to the format and other aspects of the film, it is pretty representative of my copy when played in HD fullscreen. The film contains many interesting interludes, including Charlie Hayden and Dizzy Gillespie talking direct to camera, and in unscripted moments between the musicians.
Laserisc Marketing and Distribution
The CTI movies, came about as a result of venture funding following a $3.3 million jury award to CTI in 1988. The damages were assessed against Warner Bros. Records in a long running civil suit over contract agreements regarding George Benson. Also in the mix for CTI (the 3rd) were PolyGram with whom Taylor signed a worldwide distribution and licensing deal. The bulk of the funding came from CTI Wave, A Tokyo-based subsidiary of the Saison Group, At the time, Saison owned Intercontinental Hotels, department stores, a supermarket chain, Discoport Records, and the Wave Records retail chain.
They initially planned six audio/visual projects filmed using high-definition technology and available on laserdisc, videocassette(VHS?), CD, LP and cassette. Pioneer one of the originators of the laserdisc, and a dominant supplier of the players would issue the video-discs and PolyGram would handle the digitally recorded audio releases.
The first of the venture’s six planned audio/visual projects, called “Rhythmstick,” features 18 jazz acts, including Dizzy Gillespie, Art Farmer, Tito Puente, Bob Berg, Charlie Haden, Flora Purim, Airto Moreira, John Scofield, and Phil Woods.Billboard Magazine, Page-75, November 24th, 1990.
Following “Rhythmstick” will be “Song Of The Sun” by Jim Beard, featuring contributions from Wayne Shorter, Michael Brecker, and Toots Thielemans. Also in the can are recently filmed Tokyo concerts by the CTI Super Band, which includes Randy Brecker, Jim Beard, Bob Berg, and Mark Redford. All of the planned projects have been or will be shot in hi-def and released in all formats.
Film and Album Reception
Rhythmstick signals the triumphant return of Creed Taylor and his partnership with studio ace Rudy Van Gelder. It packs a royal cast inside the brassy, bouncy and roomy open air environment of Van Gelder Studios.
The best news is Taylor’s repertoire is solidly up to date. Rhythmstick puts new composing
talents like Michel Camilo, Bob Berg and Toninho Horta alongside vets like Bird, Benny Golson and Oscar Hammerstein II. Current stars Berg, Hilton Ruiz, John Scofield and Robben Ford face off with (as opposed to against) stalwarts like Art Farmer, Phil Woods, Jimmy McGriff and the set’s honoree, Dizzy Gillespie, whose crushed bottle cap shaker stick inspired the name for the sessions.
Standout MVPs on ‘Stick include the pearly vocalist Flora Purim, the sassy Phil Woods and the parched musings of Art Farmer. Each track rings and sings, but the lethal swing of “Friday Night At The Cadillac Club” is nothing short of tremendous. Released just in time to make this year’s top ten best!December 7th, 1990 – The Gavin Report – P47
The same issue of The Gavin Report, also listed Rhythmstick as it’s #2 Most Added Jazz album for radio stations.
A WORD TO REMEMBER: “Rhythmstick,” this year’s high- definition film produced by veteran label executive Creed Taylor, offered a number of performance sequences that were inspired. However, the movie’s most memorable segment was a talking head of Dizzy Gillespie describing the trumpet play of comrade Art Farmer:
“His notes are so …, ” Dizzy sifts the air, searching for the precise word. “So …, ” he’s close to finding it. “So … so … , ” and here’s where his eyes brighten, as if someone has switched on that proverbial light bulb inside his head. “PRETTY’ His notes are so pretty. “End of discussion.
(Earlier in the film, Farmer is sitting in the recording studio studying a score, when Dizzy sneaks in, leans over his shoulder, and settles in cheek to cheek while mocking the man’s concentration. It takes Farmer a second, but when he realizes who’s messing with him, he unleashes a milewide smile, reaches back, and hooks Dizzy around the neck. The two crack up and smooch. Not a word is spoken.)Jazz Blue Notes by Jeff Levenson. Billboard December 22, 1990 P72
By February 1991, the CD Album had reached #5 in the Jazz charts, made #2 on February 8th. It never quite made it to #1 in the Jazz charts.
Notes on the recording
(1) Jim Beard is credited as organist on “Friday Night At The Cadillac Club” on LP and CD issues of RHYTHMSTICK while Jimmy McGriff is seen playing organ in the video film of the recording. This is due to the fact that producer Creed Taylor was dissatisfied with McGriff’s solo on this song and later overdubbed Beard’s on top of it (detail courtesy of Arnaldo DeSouteiro).
(2) Jim Beard indicates that some issues of this recording incorrectly credit (a) Hilton Ruiz (p) and Benny Golson (synth) on “Nana” (Beard plays all keyboards on this title) and (b) Beard (synth) on “Palisades In Blue” (the “fake organ” synthesizer – added due to Taylor’s dissatisfaction with McGriff’s performance outside of his solo on this title – is probably played by the song’s composer, Benny Golson) (detail courtesy of Jim Beard).
It’s not at all clear what other post production work was done on the sound, but certainly on “Friday Night” it seems much bigger than it appears. Art Farmer appears to be playing a different tune, but that may just be editing. There are some that feel that the overall sound, typical of Rudy Van Gelder at the time, ruins the recording. For myself as a casual observer, I don’t agree, and feel it stands the test of time, remarkably well.
Rhythmstick 2000 and beyond
Sadly Rhythmstick seems to have fallen by the wayside. This could be due to licensing and ownership issues, or it could just be forgotten. It was listed for a 2010 DVD release by independent distributor, BeanBag1 in California, as well as digital licensing rights, I’ve not seen any examples of it released though, see More Information for a link.
Membran in Europe did this 2009 release on double vinyl. It doesn’t list what masters it was made from. I have a copy, the sound is good, and doesn’t sound like a cheap vinyl rip of the CD. It was issued with new artwork, a gatefold sleeve and on 180g vinyl. As of writing there are copies for sale in the US, still sealed, for less than $30.
There are no streaming versions available. There is a user ripped CD, music only version on youtube, and obviously the laserdisc film I created.
Rhythmstick – [the discogs master release page]
Rhythmstick CD Streaming [via youtube.com]
Rhythmstick Laserdisc streaming [via youtube.com]
Rythmstick [via Doug Payne’s CTI Records discography]
Tangorine – Dizzy & Titoproposed DVD release [via beanbag1.com]
12/08/20: Reset published date to 12/07 as I worked after midnight. Completed detail on Lindsey. Added vinyl image group, details about proposed DVD release. Changed feature image to the general release cover, rearranged some paragraphs for readability.
4/29/2023: Minor edits and typos.