Creed Taylor, visionary jazz producer and label founder, dies at 93

Creed Taylor, the record producer who founded the jazz labels CTI and Impulse! and who broke Brazilian bossa nova artists into the U.S. market, has died. He was 93.

During a 50-year career, Taylor produced more than 300 records and won numerous Grammys. He earned widespread praise for his ability to enhance the talents of already exceptionally gifted artists when he worked with them in the recording studio.

Born and raised in Pearisburg, Va., Taylor played trumpet in the high school marching band and symphony orchestra. After completing an undergraduate degree in psychology from Duke University in 1951, he moved to New York to become a record producer. After some early success with the vocalist Chris Connor, Taylor became head of artists and repertoire for Bethlehem Records, where he recorded with Carmen McRae, Charles Mingus, Herbie Mann and more.

In 1956, Taylor left Bethlehem to join ABC-Paramount. Four years later, he founded the subsidiary label Impulse! With his new imprint boasting “the new wave in jazz,” he signed John Coltrane and recorded successful albums by Ray Charles, Gil Evans and Oliver Nelson.

A  year later in 1961, he moved on to Verve Records. It was there that he brought the bossa nova to a bigger stage. He signed Brazilian artists such as Antonio Carlos Jobim, Eumir Deodato, João Gilberto, Astrud Gilberto and Airto Moreira to record in the U.S., while also working with American jazz luminaries such as Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Byrd to successfully incorporate the bossa nova into the jazz canon. Among those hits was the enduring The Girl from Ipanema, which won a Grammy in 1965 and is believed to be the second most recorded pop song in history.

“Creed Taylor was treating [bossa nova] with respect and dignity,” journalist Gene Lees wrote in 2004. “Were it not for Creed Taylor, I am convinced, bossa nova and Brazilian music generally would have retreated into itself, gone back to Brazil . . . and become a quaint parochial phenomenon interesting to tourists, instead of the worldwide music and the tremendous influence on jazz itself that it in fact became.”

While at Verve, Taylor also produced records by Wes Montgomery, Jimmy Smith, Bill Evans, Cal Tjader and others.

In 1967, Taylor formed his own label, CTI Records. One of the most successful jazz record labels of the ’70s, CTI cut records for Freddie Hubbard, Stanley Turrentine, George Benson, Bob James, Chet Baker, Gerry Mulligan, Milt Jackson, Nina Simone, Paul Desmond, Art Farmer, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and more.