Throughout his six-decade career, Creed Taylor's oversized signature has appeared on the backs of LPs that he has produced. At ABC Paramount, Impulse and Verve, Creed's John Hancock was a personal stamp of approval and a guarantee of the album's contents. Record companies liked the signature because it added a human touch and had cachet. It also sent a message to the record buyer—that a faceless company didn't produce the album, a master craftsman named Creed Taylor did. [Photo by Chuck Stewart]
So by the time Creed moved to Verve in 1961, his name had become an established brand. After Getz/Gilberto and Bill Evans' Conversations with Myself won Grammys, the Creed Taylor signature also stood for hit-maker. Offered an opportunity to join A&M Records in 1966, Creed viewed the job as a chance to further leverage his vision and name. His A&M contract called for the creation of CTI Records, placing him in charge of a boutique jazz label within the larger corporate entity. So when Creed left A&M records in 1969, he took CTI Records with him.
In Part 2 of my conversation with Creed about CTI Records, the legendary producer talks about his vision for the label, the CTI sound, Freddie Hubbard's Red Clay, the purpose of Kudu Records, Antonio Carlos Jobim's Stone Flower and Deodato's Prelude:
JazzWax: From the start, was CTI Records aimed at young adults?
Creed Taylor: Not specifically. The albums were for sophisticated jazz listeners of all ages who were tired of the same old formulas being used by the well known jazz labels.
JW: What was CTI's formula?
CT: There was no formula. I simply wanted to create a structured musical environment in which highly creative artists like Freddie Hubbard could have the freedom to invent and improvise. CTI was always about "what if" and "let’s try it."
JW: Before you left A&M, did you write out your vision for CTI?
CT: No. I knew exactly what I was going to do. I didn’t have to write it down [laughs].
JW: Did you have a sense of what you wanted to achieve?
CT: Here’s what I did not want to do: I didn’t want to produce jam sessions. I wanted to capture what I felt when I first heard Stan Getz playing his solo on Woody Herman's Early Autumn. That solo always made me melt. Or when I first heard Jackie [Cain] and Roy [Kral] singing with Charlie Ventura in the late 1940s. I knew immediately when I heard them that I was a Jackie and Roy fan—and that I wasn't a fan of Charlie Ventura [laughs]. What I was responding to back then was great sounding music. I wanted to do the same at CTI, only do so on a much bigger scale. Over time I think we change intellectually but not emotionally. What pleases us always pleases us. I simply had a sound in mind that I wanted to capture.
JW: What was this sound?
CT: There was a kind of triplex consideration. CTI was going to deliver music that was confident and smart, like Stan Getz. It was going to be beautifully orchestrated, like Gil Evans' arrangements for Claude Thornhill's band. And finally I had a concept for a sound. Whether that sound was going to come through the arranger or the soloist would depend on the album. Eventually, Don Sebesky [pictured] captured that sound, and he became CTI's dominant arranger.
JW: Yet the first CTI albums you recorded in 1969 when you left A&M weren't jazz LPs, were they?
CT: That's right. The first CTI date was an album with folk singer Kathy McCord.
JW: Why her?
CT: Because I was a Chris Connor fan. I thought Kathy had a nice smokey sound. I liked her voice. One of the next albums I produced was by a group called Flow, which featured guitarist Don Felder, who soon afterward joined the Eagles. I liked Don's sound.
JW: CTI's folk-rock phase was brief. In 1970 you produced Freddie Hubbard's classic Red Clay, which kicked off jazz-fusion.
CT: Freddie was into a different scene than Miles Davis at that time. Miles for the most part in the late 1960s was trying to thumb his nose at the phony rock idiom. What Freddie and Herbie Hancock were doing was real enthusiastic, improvised jazz with no sociological or political motives or overtones.
JW: But let me ask you—Red Clay has a lot of extended solo work and wide-open playing. Wasn't this exactly what you were opposed to?
CT: Red Clay was different. It was electrifying all the way through. It had an explosive quality. So if it took an extra 5 or 10 minutes for more explosions, I was all for it. Red Clay captured some very emotional music. As a producer, if something’s happening, you don’t cut it off and say to the musicians, "Whoa folks, no one’s going to understand what you’re playing." As a producer, I always prefer to go with the flow and feeling. That was one of those kinds of dates.
JW: Did you and Hubbard discuss Red Clay before the session?
CT: No. That’s what jazz is all about. It’s a surprise. I had never heard Red Clay before. But I had heard Freddie Hubbard throughout the 1960s and loved what he had been doing. Freddie was on Oliver Nelson's Blues and the Abstract Truth, which I had produced in 1961 after founding Impulse Records.
JW: Were you concerned that Red Clay didn't have a memorable hook?
CT: Red Clay had a large hook. If it took 18 minutes to show what that hook was all about, so be it [laughs]. The day of the 45-rpm single was over by this point. There were new rules. Great music required room to stretch. Freddie needed the space to do all of the improvising he wanted. He was absolutely free to do as he pleased.
JW: It seems your formula at CTI was to have fixed orchestral parameters in place but then allow artists enormous flexibility to move around in the zone.
CT: Great music is about flexibility. Music's latitude is greater than anyone can imagine so you have to be prepared for it. You have to allow the art to come up to the top.
JW: On Antonio Carlos Jobim's Stone Flower in 1970, what were you listening for? Or did you just let Jobim do what he wanted?
CT: I just let him do his thing. Strings were added later.
JW: Later? Why?
CT: When you've got a sensitive, subtle thing like Jobim and the bossa nova idiom, there’s a lot of rhythmic detail that has to be heard by the producer while people are playing and recording. A large string section is a foreign element to handle at the same time.
JW: Jobim knew the strings would come later?
CT: Yes, that was the pattern.
JW: In 1971 you created Kudu Records, a CTI subsidiary. Why?
CT: To create a record line for play on black radio. I wanted to produce a completely different type of music for a specific audience.
JW: Wasn't CTI designed to do that?
CT: It was. But I wanted a label that specifically featured music that was soulful and emotionally interesting, and not necessarily dominated by improvisation. Kudu was sort of an instrumental r&b label. The rhythmic content was the driving sound. For instance, [saxophonist] Stanley Turrentine could have been a Kudu artist, but he was more stylized and sophisticated, so he fit better at CTI. If you took James Brown's backup group without James Brown, you'd have a Kudu recording. Kudu focused on repeated riffs and rhythmic sounds.
JW: What was the business strategy?
CT: To introduce Kudu on late-night radio. If the music connected with listeners, I knew that the late-night deejay would tell the drive-time guy in the morning that he was getting a strong reaction from his audience. The late night guy would urge the morning guy to use it. Those were two different audiences in the same market. That's how word of mouth would start when radio mattered. Radio guys at the time knew that Kudu stood for a specific sound. It was jazz, soul and r&b all wrapped up in one package.
JW: What does "Kudu" mean?
CT: It’s a species of antelope. I just happened to come across the word. It sounded to me like "voodoo," which has a certain energy to it. I also liked the colors of the Jamaican flag, which I used for the Kudu label. The colors had an earthy, festive groove.
JW: Deodato's Prelude, released in 1973, was CTI's first huge hit.
CT: Prelude hit No. 3 on Billboard's album chart, and Also Sprach Zarathustra, the single from the album, reached No. 3 on the Billboard pop chart that year. Sales skyrocketed, and we were on our way with CTI.
JW: How did the concept for the song come about?
CT: In 1968, when the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey came out. I saw it and was transfixed by the scene toward the end, where the character eating at a table knocks the wine glass onto the floor. That scene was so bizarre. I heard the movie's theme song and realized it hadn’t been done except as a classical piece.
JW: What happened next?
CT: I asked [Eumir] Deodato if he could do something with the 2001 theme. Deodato had arranged albums for me at A&M. The result was this intense samba, quasi-bossa rhythm. It wasn’t so much the arrangement but the energy he put into the rhythm track to get the basic theme down that gave it the impetus or appeal after the melody was put on top. The build was terrific.
JW: Did you ever feel Deodato's 2001 was too long?
CT: No. Never. Because it had a life of its own.
JW: Is that a criterion for you as a producer? if a studio performance has a life of its own, leave it alone?
CT: I would think so, yeah [laughs].
JW: How does that differ from a 10-minute drum solo? Doesn't that have a life of its own?
CT: Uhhh, whose drum solo? And on what song? [laughs]. It all depends.
Tomorrow, Creed talks about his left ear, the growing size of CTI orchestras, the recording of Hubert Laws' Crying Song with Elvis Presley's backup group, and how Creed wound up with Paul McCartney's rundown of Let It Be before the Beatles song was released.