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Conversation: Creed Taylor Looks Back at Influential Jazz Label, Impulse! Records

ImpulseFifty years ago, music producer Creed Taylor founded Impulse! Records and brought jazz to a new generation of listeners. Ray Charles’ “Genius + Soul = Jazz”; John Coltrane’s “Africa/Brass”; Gil Evans’ “Out Of The Cool”; and Oliver Nelson’s “Blues and The Abstract Truth” are among the now-classic albums that Taylor put out.

April 19 sees the release of ‘First Impulse: The Creed Taylor Collection,’ a four-disc collection that includes the music produced by Taylor for the label. I spoke to him earlier this week about Impulse and those important years in jazz history:

A transcript is after the jump.

JEFFREY BROWN: Welcome once again to Art Beat. I’m Jeffrey Brown. Today we’re talking about a new collection celebrating the 50th anniversary of the founding of Impulse! Records, the influential and important jazz label. That set is titled “First Impulse: The Creed Taylor Collection.” Joining me on the phone from Florida is Creed Taylor, the great music producer and founder of Impulse. Welcome to you.

CREED TAYLOR: Thank you, Jeffrey.

JEFFREY BROWN: So this collection represents works from a very particular moment in time, I guess, 1960-61 or so. Can you take us back to that time? What were you trying to do in founding and starting Impulse?

Creed TaylorCREED TAYLOR: I felt it had come time that we bring recorded jazz out of the hiding position it had been in for so many years. The record business had been peopled by the rock ‘n’ rollers, etc., and I thought it would be the time to bring out some jazz that would have broad appeal and introduce a lot of new fans to this kind of music that they hadn’t been hearing. We started a special packaging program, which included gatefold LPs, sheet laminated covers and extensive liner notes. And the artist lineup was pretty impressive. We began with Ray Charles’ “Genius + Soul = Jazz,” Gil Evans’ “Out of the Cool,” J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding’s “The Great Kai and J.J.” and “The Incredible Kai Winding Trombones,” and Oliver Nelson’s “Blues and the Abstract Truth,” and John Coltrane’s “Africa/Brass.” As a matter of fact, Coltrane was doing his first beyond-the-usual trio or quintet that he’d been recording. I put Coltrane with an orchestral backing so that we would come through with more sonic impact on his great music.

JEFFREY BROWN: And how were you able to get him to sign? And what was it like to work with him?

CREED TAYLOR: For the producer, he was a dream to work with, because Coltrane was totally confident of his artistic talent. And there was no ego problem whatsoever, as long as we stuck to what he did, which was play a totally individual kind of jazz as never been heard before on the saxophone. Sometimes the critics referred to it as “sheets of sound.” And he was great to work with and really gave us something to glue this whole package together, the Creed Taylor Collection.

JEFFREY BROWN: You were referring to it a little bit earlier, what was happening in jazz at this particular moment that Impulse could add to?

CREED TAYLOR: Well, I’d been doing some smaller group jazz with ABC-Paramount, and the general field in jazz per se was covered by Prestige Records and Blue Note Records and some other smaller labels. But the packaging and the general promotion for all of these labels was more or less freedom for the artists, and put them in a package, and ship them to the jazz disc jockeys, and sell as many as we can, but there was no concerted effort insofar as superior marketing techniques and the things that we used at Impulse.

JEFFREY BROWN: So when you go back now and listen to some of this, do you have some favorites or some favorite memories from some of these releases and sessions?

CREED TAYLOR: Oh, absolutely. Ray Charles was really a very nice person aside from being tremendously talented. He gave us in his album, “Genius + Soul = Jazz,” a pop hit called “One Mint Julep.” It became a classic on the jukeboxes, which were really very important part of marketing and promotion in that era. And also Gil Evans’ “Out of the Cool” represented the orchestral move into modern jazz that was moving away from bebop and into the more accessible kind of music that Gil was so adept at.

JEFFREY BROWN: I’m curious — when you’re talking about marketing aspect and trying to reach a wider audience, how did you do that?

CREED TAYLOR: Radio was very important in that era as a main exposure for recorded music, and I had made pretty good friends and connections with the R&B stations, which were first of all more sympathetic towards jazz music in general. And they did have broadcast hours after midnight where they played jazz music. I suggested to the jazz disc jockeys that they talk to their counterparts who had access to drive time — it was called in that era — the larger audience. We marketed all of these albums in an organized way to get the most visual impact possible. “One Mint Julep” led to “Out of the Cool,” led to Oliver Nelson, led to the great graphics on the packaging. It had a look and not just a sound. As a matter of fact, Korvettes was one of the leading record dealers at this time. They had a look that caused the guys at Korvettes to say, My customers come in and they don’t ask for jazz; they as for what’s new on Impulse. We were getting a visual impact to go along with the radio build up that was taking place.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right the new collection is called “First Impulse: The Creed Taylor Collection.” Creed Taylor, it’s very nice to talk to you.

CREED TAYLOR: Thank you, Jeffrey. And thank you, PBS.

JEFFREY BROWN: And I’m Jeffrey Brown for Art Beat. Thank you for joining us.

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