By the late 1950s, producer Creed Taylor was growing restless. As ABC-Paramount's jazz producer since 1956, Creed had created a distinct sound for the label that projected optimism without robbing the music's intensity. Jazz albums produced by Creed combined his urbane taste and high musical standards with the artists' passion and creative energy. The results were sophisticated and savvy, not treacly or trite. [Photo of Quincy Jones with Creed by Chuck Stewart]
But while Creed's success at ABC-Paramount came with enormous say and freedom, his albums still had to conform to the company's outdated and rigid packaging model. Dissatisfied with the square way ABC's jazz albums looked and felt, Creed pushed for the creation of a new jazz label that would reflect his personal vision and design sensibilities. What he had in mind were bold colors, lamination and a gatefold so buyers could swing open the records, like a picture book or magazine.
In today's installment, Creed talks about the birth of Impulse Records, the problem that inadvertently led to the label's name, and the four-pronged strategy he used to launch the label and make it instantly significant in record stores:
JazzWax: If things were going so well at ABC-Paramount, why did you decide to start Impulse Records?
Creed Taylor: Many of the records I had produced for ABC were decent moneymakers. Albums like Lambert, Hendricks and Ross’ Sing a Song of Basie and Billy Taylor’s My Fair Lady Loves Jazz did well. But they didn't look like jazz albums. They were stiff and lacked a mood, a feeling. By 1959, I had become engrossed with album-packaging. I decided that the way to take producing jazz to the next level was to have my own label. ABC was a pop label, primarily. Jazz needed its own home.
JW: How did you get the ABC brass to greenlight your idea?
CT: It was easy. Remember, you didn’t have the office politics in companies back then that you have today. I just went to [company vice president] Harry Levine and told him I wanted to put together a label, and I wanted to call it Pulse. I told him which artists I was going to use to kick off the label and that I wanted each album to be packaged as a gatefold with glossy sheet lamination.
JW: Was Harry still standing after you told him all that?
CT: [Laughing] He loved the idea. My office was right next to his, and we talked every day. We were close. I told him specifically what I wanted to do. Harry asked me just one question: Did I think the label was going to be successful? I said yes, and Harry said he’d take care of the rest. Harry got Larry Newton to agree, and Sam Clark said OK. Remember, cost wasn’t that big a deal. ABC had a strong cash flow from Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, Paul Anka [pictured], Steve and Eydie, Johnny Nash, Lloyd Price and other pop artists. ABC also had enormous cash flow from the company’s vast theater chain.
JW: What exactly did you tell Harry to get him excited?
CT: I said I had been looking carefully at different ways to move records out of retail. I told him we had to put out jazz records that looked great and stood out from the other records in the store. I also told him that Fran Scott, my designer, and I had been talking about stand-out color combinations and that we were set on orange and black for the new label. I also wanted the jacket spines to be wider and bolder, so they would look good on the shelf and jump right out at you in stores and at home.
JW: What was the next step?
CT: I put through a trademark and copyright request for the Pulse name in New York State. But Pulse was taken. Some electronics company had it. As I was trying to figure out an alternative to Pulse in a meeting, I said, “My impulse is to…wait, hold it a second...Impulse, that’s even better than Pulse!” The Impulse name cleared in New York. If I had waited much longer, though, Impulse would have been taken, too, by a urinal valve company. [laughs]
JW: Did Sam or Harry make you do double duty on both labels or did they let you do what you wanted?
CT: They didn’t “let” me do anything. I just did it. You have to understand, the office scene back then wasn’t like it is today. Back then, you got out there, you hustled, you went to record distributorships and record dealers. So long as the dealers paid their bills, everything was great. If you had an idea and had proven yourself, you tried it. The people who made decisions were tough guys who rolled up their sleeves and operated on their gut. They knew the value of trying new things and taking risks, especially when the odds of it working out were pretty good.
JW: Which album did you decide to issue first on the Impulse label?
CT: One? I issued four records simultaneously. This was the only way to make a statement with the dealers and stores, to signal that our commitment was as strong as the look of the albums. We had to show that we were making a big, bold push.
JW: Did you record them all around the same time?
CT: They were recorded in a tight time frame between October and December. I’d mix one with Rudy [Van Gelder, pictured] and put it in the can and move on to the next one. When I got to the last one, we released all four in early 1961.
JW: What’s the back-story to Out of the Cool? The rumor has always been that the album, recorded in November and December of 1960, took a ton of time.
CT: It was Gil. You’d have to know Gil to understand. Deadlines never entered his mind. The track, La Nevada, for example, took forever. Gil and I drove out three different times to Rudy’s studio with the entire 15-piece band to try different arrangements, and nothing would happen. Finally, Gil was sitting at the piano playing this repetitive figure that became the song's theme. As the rhythm players vamped on the idea, Gil wrote chord changes on the inside of a book of matches. He went over to bass trombonist Tony Studd and whispered something in his ear. Then he pointed to the rest of the horn players for them to do something. It was made up along the way.
JW: That must have been murder on you.
CT: Stuff like that is tough on the producer because the clock is money. But I wasn’t going to rock the boat with Gil. It wasn’t that he was fooling around. He was waiting for the right creative moment. And when it happened, man, it was worth the wait. I had no problem with patience on that. This guy had written stuff like that for Claude Thornhill. He could take his time, however long it took.
Tomorrow, Creed talks in detail about Genius + Soul = Jazz, how Ray Charles wound up adding, "Just a little bit of soul, now" on One Mint Julep, what Rudy Van Gelder did to the organ Ray played to give it extra punch, and the recording of Oliver Nelson's Blues and the Abstract Truth.
JazzWax tracks: The Great Kai and J.J. featured just trombonists Kai Winding and J.J. Johnson backed by Bill Evans (piano), Paul Chambers (bass) and Roy Haynes (drums) on four tracks, with Tommy Williams (bass) and Art Taylor (drums) replacing Chambers and Haynes on the other seven. It was recorded October 3 and November 2, 4 and 9, 1960. The CD and download are available here.
The Incredible Kai Winding Trombones was recorded on November 17, 21, 23, and December 13, 1960. The first date featured Kai Winding and Eph Resnick (trombones), Tony Studd and Paul Faulise (bass trombones) Ross Tompkins (piano), Bob Cranshaw (bass) and Al Bendini (drums). On the second date, John Messner replaced Eph Resnick on trombone. In December most of the personnel was swapped out: Kai Winding and Jimmy Knepper (trombones), Dick Lieb and Paul Faulise (bass trombone), Bill Evans (piano), Ron Carter (bass) and Sticks Evans (drums). The album can be downloaded here.
Gil Evans Out of the Cool was recorded on November 18, 30 and December 10 and 15, 1960. The Gil Evans Orchestra featured Johnny Coles and Phil Sunkel (trumpets), Jimmy Knepper and Keg Johnson (trombones), Tony Studd (bass trombone), Bill Barber (tuba), Budd Johnson (tenor and soprano saxes), Eddie Caine (flute and alto sax), Bob Tricarico (bassoon, flute and piccolo), Gil Evans (piano), Ray Crawford (guitar), Ron Carter (bass) and Charlie Persip and Elvin Jones (drums). On the December dates, Ray Beckenstein replaced Eddie Caine on reeds. The CD is available from Creed Taylor's site here.
For more on Creed Taylor and to buy the albums he produced during his lengthy career at multiple jazz labels, go here.