The A&M Years
Taylor began working at A&M Records in 1967 and formed his own label, CTI (Creed Taylor Inc.), the following year. A&M distributed CTI releases until 1969, when Taylor left A&M to establish CTI as an independent record company. Wes Montgomery joined Taylor at A&M, where he recorded his final three albums.
The CTI Years
Taylor soon established CTI among the most popular and successful jazz record companies of the 1970s, achieving fame for his unrivalled ability to balance the artistic with the commercial. Musicians including Freddie Hubbard, Stanley Turrentine, George Benson, Chet Baker, Gerry Mulligan, Nina Simone, Paul Desmond, Art Farmer, Herbie Hancock, and Ron Carter are just a few of the many successful jazz artists who recorded on CTI during the 1970s. Taylor also formed other labels within CTI, including the Kudu label, which focused on soul-jazz recordings by Hank Crawford, Grover Washington, Jr., Esther Phillips and others.
Bert Gambini, a radio programmer in Buffalo, summarizes, “In evaluating CTI, I'm going to borrow the wisdom of Witold Rybczynski, the architectural historian. He felt there was no such thing as a timeless building. Certain structures were admired because they are specifically of their time. I think this too is the case with CTI jazz. This music screams of its era and that's the reason why it's so enjoyable. It's that temporal stamp that I interpret as an asset, not as a liability. Instead of Creed Taylor, think Glenn Miller for a moment. If you want to aurally represent an era like the early 1940s Swing era, is there any better representation than 'In the Mood' or 'String of Pearls'? The same thing applies to Creed Taylor's CTI's brand of Jazz from 1970 to 1980".
In 1974, Taylor faced financial problems caused by setting up his own network to distribute CTI labels and made a new distribution deal with Motown. This, however, ended in litigation in 1977 with Taylor having to lose Grover Washington and the artist's Kudu recordings as part of the settlement to quit Motown. He also lost the rights to Bob James's solo recordings for CTI in separate litigation. CTI went into Chapter XI bankruptcy in late 1978 before Taylor reached a distribution deal with Columbia Records the following year, in return for the rights to the remaining master recordings.
Columbia oversaw various reissue programs of CTI’s catalog material, including on CD for the first time. Taylor attempted to buy back the rights to the tapes in 1989, but the recordings remain with Columbia/Sony BMG with sporadic re-releases. Taylor returned to record production in 1990 with a few new album releases on CTI through Polygram but without the success of the 1970s.
Don Sebesky initially created many of the arrangements for CTI and its various sister and subsidiary labels. He was later joined by Bob James, and then by David Matthews in the mid 1970s. Sessions featured some of jazz's finest musicians including bassist Ron Carter, guitarist Eric Gale, keyboardist Herbie Hancock, pianist Bob James, and organist Richard Tee. Taylor mostly used Van Gelder Studios located in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, with Rudy Van Gelder engineering nearly all sessions until the later years of the label.
CTI's output was generally both commercially and artistically successful with the label becoming a leading force in jazz during its existence. CTI's best-selling release was Deodato's album, Prelude, which reached #3 on the US Billboard Top 40 albums chart in 1973, an unusual achievement for a record on a jazz-based label. A single from the album, "Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001)", peaked at #2 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and #7 in the United Kingdom.
Other successful album releases included Grover Washington, Jr.'s Mister Magic and Feels So Good (both reaching #10 in 1975), Esther Phillips' What A Diff'rence A Day Makes (reaching #32 in 1975), and Bob James' BJ4 (reaching #38 in 1977).
Taylor had previously founded Impulse Records and worked for Verve Records where he earned the reputation as an industry-respected producer of jazz albums. His productions for CTI shared a characteristically warm ambiance and helped to establish smooth jazz as a commercially viable musical genre. CTI also became well known for its striking album sleeve designs, some of them featuring vivid photographic images by artist, Pete Turner.
In 1978, CTI Records declared bankruptcy; however, most of its catalog has remained in print. CTI's post-A&M Records output is now owned by Sony Music Entertainment and distributed by Masterworks Jazz, while Grover Washington, Jr.'s Kudu albums have been reissued on Motown and its MoJazz imprint. In addition, Bob James' four CTI albums are now controlled by James himself, while Seawind also own their back catalog of CTI releases.
CTI's early A&M-subsidiary releases are now distributed by Verve Records, a division of Universal Music Group where Creed Taylor ironically helped to make his name.