AUGUST 10, 2017 – Fred Taylor has been the man behind Boston’s jazz scene for more than 50 years. After decades of steering the musical ship at such legendary venues as the Jazz Workshop, Scullers, and Tanglewood, Taylor is bringing his impeccable taste to the historic Cabot in Beverly for a new series of shows that are sure to please jazz lovers and all music fans alike.
Returning jazz to the North Shore is a fitting tribute to a fellow Jewish music legend and Taylor’s longtime friend, Lennie Sogoloff, who made Lennie’s on the Turnpike in Peabody the hottest spot on Route 1 in the ’50s and ’60s.
Taylor, now 88, has been into music since he was a young boy growing up in Newton. When asked what got him started on the road to making it a career, Taylor quickly credited one thing: a tape recorder.
“When the Revere recorder came on the market, I bought it,” he said. “I thought it was the best thing since sliced bread. I ran around to all the clubs and recorded. That led to my taping of Dave Brubeck.”
Those tapes would become an album that pushed both Brubeck and Taylor into the spotlight.
Around 1960, Taylor received a call from a friend who wanted him to record again, this time at a club in Lynn where Hammond organ player Joe Bucci was on the bill.
“I recorded them for about four nights,” Taylor recalled, “and at the end of the night, I asked for a little something and [the manager] did the ‘I ain’t got no money’ shuffle.”
Discouraged but undaunted, Taylor took a leap of faith. “I told him that, if he took me on as a partner, he wouldn’t owe me anything,” Taylor said. “So, in a funny way, it was a tape recorder that got me into the business.”Having honed his musical ear listening to early heroes such as Woody Herman, Lionel Hampton, and Louis Jordan at the RKO Boston Theatre, Taylor became a record executive when he recorded and then sold the tapes from a Brubeck show at Storyville, the Boston club owned by George Wein. It was not long after that Taylor opened The Jazz Workshop and Paul’s Mall – where the careers of such stars as Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Willie “Loco” Alexander (who Taylor also managed), house pianist Keith Jarrett, and even comedians Steve Martin and a jug-headed local kid named Jay Leno got their starts.
Taylor became the booking manager for the award-winning Scullers Jazz Club when it opened 27 years ago, and remained in that post until he was let go in January.
“The Scullers thing came abruptly, so I hadn’t been looking for anything in particular,” Taylor said. “But I still wanted to be in it. And as I had relations with the Cabot, it became a natural place to focus.”
Taylor credited his long-time collaborator, Sue Auclair, who handles marketing for the venue, for the launch of the Cabot’s Fred Taylor Jazz & Heritage Series, which debuted in June.
Among the artists who have heeded Taylor’s call for the series are the Squirrel Nut Zippers (August 31); acclaimed acappella group Take 6 (September 30); tap master Maurice Hines (October 27); and ukulele prodigy Jake Shimabukuro (October 28). Shows continue leading up to The World Famous Glenn Miller Orchestra (December 8).
“I try to have something for everyone,” Taylor said. “I have a tendency to look for things that are special and that are not just the regular run of who is out there.”
“Fred Taylor has been an invaluable resource to the Cabot,” said executive director J. Casey Soward, noting how Taylor has also brought in longtime friend and colleague Harold Blank, the former owner of the Harvard Square Cinema, who is now scheduling films at the Beverly venue.
No matter what he does or with whom, Taylor’s golden touch continues to impress and bring new people into the music he has loved for generations.
“It’s like that old Monty Python line,” Taylor suggested. “ ‘And now for something completely different.’ The series is unusual, but all the artists are quality.”