Within three short years after joining Verve Records in 1961, Creed Taylor produced a series of albums that altered the direction of jazz recordings in the 1960s. These included Stan Getz's Getz/Gilberto; Jimmy Smith's Bashin', featuring Walk on the Wild Side; Kai Winding's More; and Bill Evans' Conversations With Myself. Each LP was a case study of how jazz artists could dip into commercial trends and survive the rock era without skimping on production standards or artistic excellence. Jazz producers at other labels were quick to adapt Creed's approach and marketing strategies, but many weren't nearly as sophisticated or successful. [Pictured: Jimmy Smith and Creed; photo by Chuck Stewart]
In addition to recording jazz-pop crossover hits, Creed was largely responsible for transforming Bill Evans from an insider's favorite to a pianist of much wider acclaim and stature. Albums such as Trio '64, Trio '65, With the Symphony Orchestra, At Town Hall, Intermodulation, A Simple Matter of Conviction and others were packaged as high-end jazz recordings designed to enhance and popularize the artist's persona and mystique. The same was true of Creed's work with Wes Montgomery both at Verve and later at A&M. [Photo: Chuck Stewart]
Today, in Part 4 of my five-part interview series with Creed on his Verve years, the legendary producer talks about Bill Evans, the pianist's sessions with Stan Getz, and recording Wes Montgomery's Movin' Wes and Bumpin'.
JazzWax: After the V.I.P.s session, the next album you recorded with Bill Evans was Trio '64, which becomes the model you wound up using for him. How did you finally determine how you would record Bill at Verve?
Creed Taylor: I didn’t think about it that way. We looked at each album differently, as a separate project. But the goal was to showcase Bill and expose him to as many new listeners as possible.
JW: Was his recording of Santa Claus Is Coming to Town planned for Trio '64, which was recorded in December 1963?
CT: No. That was Bill’s sense of humor. He just threw it in. The same was true of The Washington Twist on Empathy, his first album for me at Verve in 1962. It just happened on the spot. That song was really a reworking of Frankie and Johnny. Bill just came up with Santa Claus in the studio and we captured it.
JW: How about the Stan Getz & Bill Evans dates in May 1964? The pairing doesn’t feel completely comfortable.
CT: How so?
CT: There wasn’t enough juxtaposition there. They both had a similar feel. I'll just say that Bill was Bill, and Stan was Stan. That’s probably what you sense there. In retrospect, I think your view is pretty accurate subjective analysis.
JW: The late Peter Pettinger, author of Bill Evans: How My Heart Sings, wrote that the piano on the Verve dates sound "curiously dry and boxy." What did he mean?
CT: I read that, too and I have no idea what he was talking about. It sounds a little pompous to me. I think that’s his little idiosyncrasy. I can tell you that all of the recordings were carefully set up and carefully done. The writer simply didn’t agree with the reverb quality and how Rudy [Van Gelder, the engineer] was recording the attack. It’s not the purest sound, but I happen to think it sounds better. What is pure anyway?
JW: Did Rudy set up the mikes differently for Bill than for other pianists?
CT: He always miked the piano like he saw it. I had nothing to do with it and would never have said anything about where someone of Rudy's stature should put a mike.
JW: What’s your favorite Bill Evans album?
CT: Conversations with Myself. I can hear that album over and over again.
JW: When you listen to it, are you hearing one or three Bills?
CT: Three. It’s a fabulous album and it won a Grammy. A lot of people might not have the patience to stay with it because of the seemingly complex nature of the music. But that’s not the case. If in your mind’s eye you can envision three piano players, it’s not that difficult when listening to the album.
JW: What were your interactions with Bill like during this period at Verve?
CT: I frequently picked Bill up on the West Side when we'd drive out to Rudy Van Gelder’s in Englewood Cliffs, N.J. Bill lived around 90th St. and Riverside Drive. With Bill in the car, I would take the Henry Hudson Parkway up to the George Washington Bridge and then across to New Jersey and Rudy's studio. That would give us about 20 minutes of conversation going and 20 minutes coming back.
JW: Do you remember what you'd talk about?
CT: Bill would talk about current events and philosophy. He was extremely well read and was a very thoughtful guy. And I always enjoyed talking with him. He’d give me ideas for sessions that I had coming up, and I’d run ideas by him. Bill always had great feedback. Unfortunately my association and memory of Bill is not divided by different albums. It was strictly about the music.
JW: When did Helen Keane start appearing on Bill’s albums as the producer?
CT: After I left for A&M Records in 1966. Helen participated more as Bill's manager than his technical producer.
JW: Movin’ Wes in November 1964 was your first album with guitarist Wes Montgomery, a big band session with Johnny Pate arrangements.
CT: Wes was very comfortable with this date. It was big band jazz stuff that Wes could play along with.
JW: Was Bumpin’ in March 1965 with arranger Don Sebesky different?
CT: I remember we had a little trouble there. One of the tracks with strings had a tricky turning point, and Wes couldn’t read music. It got Wes down. He was sitting there looking depressed. Don went over and asked him what was wrong. Wes said, “All these cats are sitting around with music on their stands. I don’t know what to do.”
JW: How did you resolve the problem?
CT: I stopped the date. From that point on, Don [pictured] made a guide track using a Fender Rhodes electric piano for Wes. Don would record it onto a tape. Then he’d give the tape to Wes, who would take it and rehearse on the road. Using the recording, Wes would get the songs down pat. He’d nail all the turnarounds and everything else. This way he’d know everything that was going to happen in the score. He was back in control of his environment. Even after that, we’d overdub the strings to minimize issues. The tapes got us through the problem with relatively complex arrangements. [Photos: Chuck Stewart]
Tomorrow, Creed talks about how he convinced a reluctant Wes Montgomery to record the career-changing Goin' Out of My Head, Brazilian organist Walter Wanderley's hit Summer Samba, who produced Oscar Peterson and Count Basie at Verve, and the events that led to Creed's departure in 1966 to A&M Records.
JazzWax tracks: All of Bill Evans' albums are available as downloads at iTunes. The same is true of Wes Montgomery's Movin' Wes and Bumpin'. Montgomery's CDs are available at Creed's site, CTIJazz.com.
To hear how hip Walk on the Wild Side still is with Oliver Nelson's swinging rock arrangement, go here. To hear a clip of Bill Evans playing the haunting waltz, Elsa, a song that appeared on Trio '65, go here. And here's a 1965 clip of Wes Montgomery playing Here's That Rainy Day, a song recorded for Bumpin'. Who's the pianist who gives Wes a run for his money? It's Harold Mabern. Tasty, right? Arthur Harper is on bass and Jimmy Lovelace is on drums.