In 1956, Creed Tylor quit his first gig as a record business executive at Bethlehem and moved over to ABC-Paramount, which would later become ABC Records, and had earlier been called AM-PAR. These were specialty recording years of Creed Taylor productions.
The Specialty Years
Creed Taylor arrived in New York City in 1954, aged 24-years old, with no experience or history recording and producing records. Within a few weeks he’d land a job as head of artist and repertoire for Bethlehem records. Within two years, he’d produced a amazing set of artists, including Oscar Pettiford, Carmen McRae, Charlie Mingus, Herbie Mann, Charlie Shavers, and the J.J. Johnson-Kai Winding Quintet and famously, Chris Conner, and her albums Sings “Lullabys Of Birdland”, “Lullabys For Lovers” and “This is Chris”.
In 1956, still only 26-years old, he’d move to ABC-Paramount. The next four years would prove to be a phenomenally productive period, full of album releases, which today you wouldn’t recognize, with music styles, and music you’d never associate with Creed. However, it was the baptism of record production fire that Taylor needed, to later become a multi-GRAMMY award winning producer. Arguably a period that would teach him the skills and market awareness that would allow him to be one of the producers that would redefine jazz and drive jazz forward in the seventies.
The albums covered by this period, outside of the jazz recordings, can be grouped together, in genre/culture groups. There were the college, marching and military albums including the Four Sergeants; the drinking songs featuring the Blazers; the Cowboy/folk/country recordings featuring Elton Britt and Pete Brady; the travel albums primarily featuring the Kenyon Hopkins “Sound Tour” series but also the “Sing Along” and Hawaiian guitar recordings of Roy Smeck and the flamenco albums featuring Sabicas; and finally from this period, probably the best known of the specialty period, the Shock, Horror albums.
Many of the skills Taylor would learn during this period would serve him well for the rest of his career. Using a core arranger to develop a music style and approach; using a common recording studios, design for album sleeves, and photographer as part of a process to make recording and production as frictionless as possible.
While Creed was producing these popular mass market albums, he would also continue recording jazz musicians and new talent. Some of these artists, Jackie and Roy, Urbie Green, Kai Winding, Quincy Jones and others would become recurring artists in the Creed Taylor pantheon.
Cashing In On Popular Culture
In definitely the most expansive interview Creed has ever given, Marc Myers of JazzWax, and the Wall St Journal, covered this period with Creed. Marc did so I suspect, as most jazz fans would have, open, but slightly skeptical questions.
JazzWax: When you joined ABC-Paramount Records in 1956, were you pressured to produce pop records?Marc Myers Interview with Creed Taylor, Interview: Creed Taylor (Part 5) – JazzWax – July 14th, 2008
Creed Taylor: No pressure at all. You have to remember, ABC-Paramount was a startup even though a major corporation owned it. The label began in 1955, a year before I arrived. I knew as much or more about the record business as everyone else who was there. Sam Clark was the label’s president and Larry Newton was in charge of sales. Both had been in the record distribution business and knew virtually nothing about producing.
It’s important to remember that music, especially popular and thus profitable music, typically follows culture, it doesn’t lead it. The post war baby boom had begun; the Korean War had started, US troops were still coming home from Europe after the signing of the Warsaw pact, and the Vietnam War started; the soviets put Sputnick into space, and Alaska became part of the USA. Musically while jazz was strong in this period, rock and roll was on the rise. Almost two decades of war years bought a big demand for nostalgia; by the 1960’s, affluence, specially on the east and west coast, was on the rise.
JazzWax: But you recorded more than just jazz, yes?Marc Myers Interview with Creed Taylor, Interview: Creed Taylor (Part 5) – JazzWax – July 14th, 2008
Creed Taylor: Sure. I had a daily pattern of visiting record shops, particularly the one across the street from my office, to see what was selling and how we could take advantage of the trends. I didn’t arrive at ABC and tell them, “Hey, I‘m not producing anything but jazz records.” I kept jazz going along with other things that I thought had a place in the market and could sell well.
Set against this, with the G.I. only expiring in 1956, most of the albums Creed would produce made perfect sense. They were the “pop” music of their day.
JazzWax: How did you rationalize producing albums like More College Drinking Songs along with albums by Oscar Pettiford?Marc Myers Interview with Creed Taylor, Interview: Creed Taylor (Part 5) – JazzWax – July 14th, 2008
Creed Taylor: I produced what I liked. While I was never a fan of barbershop quartets, I was familiar with that kind of music. Having graduated from Duke a few years earlier, I fully understood the appeal of drinking songs and the audience for the records. And they sold well.
By 1961, Creed had started to have real success with his jazz albums, and arguably, the final specialty recording released that was produced by Creed Taylor was Roy Smeck His Singing Guitar And Paradise Serenaders “For Your Listening And Dancing Pleasure“. Creed would go on to record Ray Charles seminal “Genius + Soul = Jazz” , Bob Thiel woud typically manage the more soul productions, and Sid Feller would handle popular music as well as Ray Charles.
And with that as a background, it’s time to look at many of Creed Taylor’s specialty recording period artists and albums. You can follow along using the tag Specialty Recordings – Creed Taylor Produced (ctproduced.com)