When Creed Taylor last spoke with JazzWax in July (Parts 5-9), the legendary record producer and I talked about his years at ABC Paramount from 1956 to 1961. His many jazz coups at the label included launching Impulse Records, signing and recording John Coltrane, and establishing a design formula that revolutionized album packaging. Such innovations included laminated covers, gallery-quality cover photography and gatefolds, which let covers swing open to reveal liner notes and more photography. Gatefolds not only further engaged consumers, they also widened Impulse LP spines so albums would stand out on retailers' and consumers' shelves.
Soon after joining Verve Records in 1961, Creed sensed the commercial power of contemporary pop and used the genre as a hunting ground for new jazz standards. He also set to work transitioning the careers of leading jazz artists into the 1960s. In five short years, Creed helped popularize the bossa nova with tenor saxophonist Stan Getz and other artists, developed a more erudite and contemporary image for pianist Bill Evans, and created a new adult- pop-jazz genre with guitarist Wes Montgomery. For his efforts, Creed and the albums he produced won nine Grammy awards during this period, adding four more in later years when the albums entered the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Today, in Part 1 of my five-part interview with Creed on his years at Verve Records, from 1961 to 1966, the esteemed producer talks about joining Verve, recording saxophonists Sonny Stitt and Gene Ammons, working with Stan Getz on Focus, and recording the ground-breaking Jazz Samba with Getz and guitarist Charlie Byrd:
JazzWax: When you joined Verve Records in 1961, how did you hit the ground running, recording artists you had not recorded before at Bethlehem, ABC Paramount or Impulse?
Creed Taylor: Actually, many of the people I eventually signed at Verve I first met in San Francisco in 1952, when I was stationed at Treasure Island [pictured] just before being discharged from the Marine Corps. Within that short two-week period back in 1952, I was at the Blackhawk Club every night. That’s where I first met and spoke at length to Paul Desmond, Dave Brubeck, Cal Tjader, Chet Baker and many other artists.
JW: Were there any other reasons why you jumped from Impulse to Verve, besides the opportunity and a deeper artist roster?
CT: Yes, Stan Getz. I had thought about Stan for years and how much I wanted to record him. When I was at Duke University, in 1950, I had heard Stan on Early Autumn, when he was on Woody Herman’s band. Ralph Burns' arrangement was beautiful. And then came Stan’s solo. Man, that was something. From that moment on, I kept telling myself that I had to find some way to get the guy into a studio.
JW: Did you meet Stan in the 1950s?
CT: Yes, in San Francisco, when I was being mustered out of the Marines. He was playing at a club with Jimmy Raney [pictured], and I spoke with him there over several nights.
JW: When did you have your first professional conversation with him?
CT: Not until I was at Verve.
JW: So from 1950 to 1961, you’re thinking about recording Getz?
CT: Yes. The entire time I wanted to record Stan but couldn’t because he was signed to Verve when I was at Bethlehem and ABC/Impulse. At Verve, I knew I’d finally get the chance. Before I arrived, he had been cranking out album after album of mostly standards. All great stuff, but he was weary of the format.
JW: What did you have in mind for him?
CT: The first album I wanted to record with Stan was an unusual concept that eventually became Focus. It was Stan with just a full string ensemble. John Neves on bass and Roy Haynes on drums were added for I'm Late, I'm Late.
JW: What did Stan say?
CT: I mentioned the idea to him, and he discussed the concept in detail with arranger Eddie Sauter [pictured]. Stan was familiar with the Sauter-Finegan orchestra and wanted to record with Eddie. I knew if I did this album for Stan, he’d be on my side for whatever I wanted to do with him going forward. We recorded Focus in July 1961. There were no rehearsals except at the studio the day of the recording. That’s how Stan liked to work. Hershy Kay was the conductor. Kay chose the string section and knew the nuances of all the players. Kay had the score from Eddie, and Stan just played. Kay conducted the strings and was doing rhythmic accents you wouldn’t hear from a symphonic conductor. The album won a Grammy, so I guess it turned out all right.
JW: You released two singles from the album, I’m Late, I’m Late and I Remember When. How did they do?
CT: They weren’t huge hits, but they made enough jukebox appearances that they became an “in” thing to listen to.
JW: In August 1961 you produced Boss Tenors, with tenor saxophonists Sonny Stitt and Gene Ammons. How were they to record?
CT: Great. They just took their horns out and played. We recorded in Chicago, where they were working with their rhythm section. Nobody played like either one of them and no tenor duo played like both of them together.
JW: As you watched them from the booth, how did they interact?
CT: I don’t know. I was listening. We were making a recording. It wasn’t a movie. [laughs]
JW: What makes the album a favorite of yours?
CT: It’s so real, so true to what was going on or ever will be going on with jazz. Each one could read the other guy’s mind before he finished a phrase. They were trading stuff all the time. It was like two extremely intelligent people talking to each other. They never stepped on each other's toes.
JW: You recorded Ammons and Stitt again in August 1962, which became Boss Tenors in Orbit.
CT: I especially love the ballad on there, Long Ago and Far Away. It was a great track because it had all those spaces in the melody, allowing them to comment musically on each other’s lines. They were playing with and against each other there.
JW: What came next for Stan?
CT: After Focus we recorded an album with Bob Brookmeyer in September 1961. Around this time I got a call from guitarist Charlie Byrd. He wanted to play some records for me over the phone.
JW: Over the phone?
CT: Charlie [pictured] said the music was new, from Brazil. He knew I liked Latin stuff. As soon as I finished listening to the songs Charlie played through the phone, I called Stan and told him about what I had heard. Then I had Charlie play the music over the phone for Stan.
JW: What did Stan say?
CT: Stan also liked what Charlie played. I told Stan he should record a Brazilian music album with Charlie. Stan said great. Charlie and his rhythm section were based in Washington, D.C., so it was easier for me and Stan to go down there from New York. In February 1962, Stan and I flew down to record with Charlie at a small black church Charlie had found called All Souls Unitarian [pictured]. It wasn’t an official studio or anything, but the church's auditorium had good acoustics. Charlie’s rhythm section knew the material and was well rehearsed. He had taken the group with him to Brazil months earlier.
JW: What happened?
CT: Stan and I arrived in D.C. at 2 pm and left at 6 pm. The album was recorded in that short a period of time. The engineer, Ed Green, set up this little 2-track, 7½-ips Ampex tape recorder with three microphones. There was one solo mike, one on the group, and one on the bass. I hadn’t heard Stan play these Brazilian melodies before but I knew he could play Jingle Bells and it would sound fantastic.
CT: As the album’s producer, you were essentially the first person to hear Stan play what would eventually be called bossa nova. How did it sound?
JW: Stan played the first song, Desafinado, and I said, “Wow, what a weird sounding thing.” As I was listening, I started to realize that the song had a flatted 5th, which is what Dizzy Gillespie had come up with in his song Bebop.
JW: What's the connection?
CT: In the months that followed, I spoke to Antonio Carlos Jobim, Desafinado's composer, about that flatted 5th. He told me about all the American jazz artists he had listened to in Rio [pictured]. Of course, the title of Desafinado translated means “slightly out of tune.” He had used the flatted 5th in Desafinado, and I found that intriguing.
JT: Were you happy with the Stan Getz-Charlie Byrd date?
CT: Overjoyed. The only thing that bothered me a little was the rhythm section. They were playing more on the beat rather than laid back Brazilian. But all the songs on the date sounded wow.
JW: But as a producer, you hedged your bets a little, didn’t you?
CT: It’s funny. I asked Stan to record Bahia, a standard written by Brazilian composer Ary Barroso that had been recorded by jazz artists since the early 1950s. I asked Stan and Charlie to record the composition so there would be at least one song on the album in this new Brazilian idiom that listeners would recognize. Lo and behold, the song that hit was Desafinado, the very first track on the album.
JW: On the plane back to New York, did Stan realize how big a deal the album was?
CT: I don’t think so. It was just another date for him. I think he said it was fun. [laughs] Stan was always pretty low key. I think I said, “Yeah, I enjoyed it, too.” At the time, I may have mentioned that I wasn’t 100% happy with how we captured the audio on the bass. It was a little boomy. But we exchanged casual comments about it. Neither one of us said “Wow, what just happened?” It took a little while to sink in.
Tomorrow, Creed reflects on how Verve's marketing executives reacted to his name for the new Stan Getz-Charlie Byrd album, the role that Stan Getz's wife, Monica, played in helping to make Getz/Gilberto happen, who pushed to have Astrud Gilberto sing The Girl From Ipanema, and how The Composer of Desafinado Plays was recorded.
JazzWax tracks: Sonny Stitt and Gene Ammons' Boss Tenors and Boss Tenors in Orbit and Stan Getz's Focus can all be found as downloads at iTunes or as CDs at Creed's site, CTIJazz.com.