1970 Jazz: CTI Records

1970 was the first full year CTI Records operated as an independent label. Producer Creed Taylor founded the label back in 1967 as a subsidiary of A&M Records. During that phase the label released albums by George Benson, Paul Desmond, Quincy Jones, Antonio Carlos Jobim and other artists. The label’s star was Wes Montgomery, who Taylor brought with him when he left Verve Records. The two worked together since 1964 and released twelve studio albums, the last three on A&M. This fantastic run was broken when Montgomery died of a heart attack on June 15, 1968. Creed Taylor remembers why he decided to leave A&M and start his own label: “Wes died in ‘68, and what’s going to be next? They’re looking for billing, and they’ve got Peter Frampton and Humble Pie and it’s evolving into a big label. The bigger they got, the more demanding it was to meet the sales quotas. I wasn’t in that party, and it was very comfortable for Gerry Moss to pay me a modest sum to say, ‘It was fun, but it’s over now.’ So I took that and paid for the recording of Red Clay with Freddie Hubbard.”

Creed Taylor

Indeed, Red Clay was the label’s first significant release, but before we get to that album, we should tell the story of the label’s first release, bearing the catalog number CTI 6000. CTI’s first formal recording session was in July of 1969 and unlike most of Creed Taylor’s productions, it did not take place at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio. Taylor tells the story: “I booked a studio in Memphis specifically to get a jazz player, it was supposed to have been Stanley Turrentine, down to play with Elvis Presley’s rhythm section as backup. His rhythm section was sort of the house rhythm section for American recording studios, I think it was called, in Memphis. I arrived there the night before and the next morning I hear that Stanley can’t come down. So I pick up the phone and call Hubert Laws. Hubert’s on the next plane to Memphis, and he came in and recorded Crying Song.” Hubert Laws took a chance with this recording, opting to leave a lucrative studio gig with the David Frost Show, “One of the best paying jobs in town at the time”, for a first recording on the fledgling label.

The studio was indeed Memphis’ American Sound Studios, where many well-known artists recorded, including Neil Diamond, Dusty Springfield, B. J. Thomas, Wilson Pickett, Bobby Womack and… Elvis Presley. The musicians at this recording session where known as the Memphis Boys, the studio’s house band including Reggie Young on guitar.

The album included a cover of a song by The Beatles, interestingly released prior to the Fab Four’s version. In 1967 the CTI subsidiary of A&M released its first album, A Day in the Life by Wes Montgomery, including a cover of that seminal song. Creed Taylor: “Paul McCartney sent me a tape because he had heard ‘A Day in the Life’ and liked it so much that he sent it and said, ‘You’re welcome to it. Our record isn’t released yet. If Wes would like it that would be great with me.’ So we had the first shot on ‘Let It Be.’ It happened to be Hubert Laws who was in the right place at the right time. We had Hubert with the Beatles song, with Elvis Presley’s rhythm section in a Memphis recording studio that is conditioned to have that kind of a dry funk element, including the engineer who did all of the great Otis Redding dates.”

Hubert Laws

Hubert Laws was not the only artist who got a shot at recording a version of ‘Let It Be’ prior to the Beatles releasing it in March 1970. Gospel singer Marion Williams, Joe Cocker and Aretha Franklin all recorded it in 1969.

Spare a single tune written by Hubert Laws, Crying Song is a collection of songs by popular artists of the time, including Traffic, The Monkees, Pink Floyd and The Bee Gees. Here is Feelin’ Alright, originally performed by Traffic on their eponymous 1968 album:

We come back to Creed Taylor’s statement in the opening of this article and the album that put the label on the map. Taylor picked a trumpet player who was part of many celebrated sessions Taylor supervised: “Freddie had been recording for me, like on Oliver Nelson’s Blues and the Abstract Truth, and he was on Quincy’s albums frequently.” At this point in his career, Freddie Hubbard had ten years of recording activity behind him, with close to twenty albums as a leader on Blue Note, Impulse! and other labels, and numerous stints as a sideman.

Freddie Hubbard, 1971

Freddie Hubbard brought a set of original tunes to the studio, one of them was based on the chord changes of the 1966 hit ‘Sunny’ by Bobby Hebb, and it featured what would become one of the best-known bass lines in jazz. Hubbard originally named the tune ‘Mississippi Mud’ but renamed it after discovering that a 1928 hit already had the same title. Hubbard: “Red Clay was about a woman who lived beneath us in Indianapolis and her old man. In Indianapolis we lived across the street from the oil company where Wes Montgomery used to have a day job. It’s a weird neighborhood, hardcore, a silhouette. But it was good, because I could always hear those guys playing guitar on their back porches. Anyway, this guy and his woman were outside, fighting. At the same time I heard this guy playing stuff on his guitar, like Brownie McGhee. Then the man put his woman in the garbage can and put the lid on it. After that, and hearing those blues, I came up with the bass line…”

Creed Taylor remembers the session and the stellar cast of musicians who were invited to the studio: “Freddie played that little sketch on ‘Red Clay,’ that funky thing that became so popular, and that was it. Red Clay was a one take. Might have done one to cover, but you look at Lenny White, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter—that was not a rehearsed date, that was just the right kindred spirits in the right place at the same time.” Listening to this perfect track, it is hard to believe that the session was not a smooth one, especially not for its drummer.

Lenny White, who was at the very beginning of his recording career, just a few months after he participated in the recording of Miles Davis’ album Bitches Brew, remembers this session and one incident involving a bass drum: “Freddie called me and he said: ‘I’ve got a date with Herbie Hancock and Joe Henderson.’ When I was talking to him, I said, ‘That’s cool.’ Inside, though, I was screaming. That was all the guys I listened to coming up, a really great opportunity for me. I go in to make the record with my oil-can bass drum—the same metal bass drum I had used on Bitches Brew. I’m in there playing and Ron Carter says it’s too resonant. Rudy Van Gelder goes in the back and pulls out this huge 28-inch drum—and it sounds like you are hitting a brick. No response whatsoever. I wanted to put my best foot forward, and I had to play this horrible drum. It was traumatic. I didn’t listen to that record for 10 years. I hated it. I just heard every mistake I made. Now, young players play it—and they play my mistakes!”

Lenny White

Ron Carter also remembers that bass drum and shares his view: “I told Lenny, ‘Listen, Rudy is ready to walk up the stairs and leave and then we’d be done.’ We’d been there for two hours, and it was obvious the steel drums weren’t working. The song wasn’t going anywhere. Freddie was getting more and more anxious, Joe Henderson was just waiting for something to happen. The energy was dissipating, attitudes were starting to show up and the vibe was turning strange.” He told the young drummer: “I can appreciate you want to get your sound. But playing in the studio isn’t like playing in a club. Certain things don’t apply. In this case, your drums don’t apply. My recommendation to get some real music going here is to stash that drum in your trunk. We can’t keep doing this. We don’t want to be doing take 503 with that drum.”

Freddie Hubbard – trumpet

Joe Henderson – tenor saxophone, flute

Herbie Hancock – electric piano, Hammond organ

Ron Carter – bass

Lenny White – drums

The commercial success of Red Clay prompted Creed Taylor to usher Freddie Hubbard into the recording studio again in November of 1970 to record a follow up album. The same personnel is here, sans Lenny White who was replaced by Jack DeJohnette. George Benson is also on board along with two percussion players. By that point Hubbard perfected his new brew of jazz, funk, rhythm n’ blues and Latin music. The resulting album, Straight life, while not reaching the same success as its predecessor, is another fine recording with great rhythm section work and a lot of room for improvisations. Creed Taylor was the perfect producer to accommodate musicians who wanted to stretch out: “Freddie needed the space to do all of the improvising he wanted. He was absolutely free to do as he pleased.”

A 1971 review of a Freddie Hubbard live performance read: “All the qualities which distinguished his early work, including balance and daring attack, are being further challenged by his ever-increasing virtuosity. Hubbard can make you shout with joy on a ballad such as ‘Here’s That Rainy Day’ as well as on the all-out rock-style numbers such as ‘Red Clay’.”

Years later, Hubbard summarized his work on CTI Records: “Creed got my recorded sound to my liking, made it stand out. I’ve had people who know nothing about jazz tell me how pretty and clear my sound is on First Light (his third album on the label). Creed made me more popular to the masses, but I got a lot of flak from the musicians because I jumped out and started thinking about making some money.”

Freddie Hubbard is our link to the next album in this review, Stanley Turrentine’s debut on CTI Records. The tenor sax player had an extremely productive recording run at Blue Note Records, with over twenty albums as a leader in the 1960s. Creed Taylor was paying attention: “He’s completely individual. It’s the voice of Stanley Turrentine, and nobody could imitate the aggressive melodic magnificence of Stanley’s playing. I loved it. And I loved the stuff he’d done with Jimmy Smith and Shirley (Horn). He’s such a powerful voice on the instrument, and I anticipated that the personality to follow would be: Look out! He’s the antithesis, for example, of Paul Desmond. Stanley was not at all what I anticipated.”

The result of their first collaboration yielded the album Sugar, the first of eight albums Turrentine recorded for CTI between 1970 and 1973.

A Downbeat review from March 1971 raved about the album. A paragraph about the 14-minutes interpretation of John Coltrane’s composition Impressions cites all musicians playing on this track: “Everybody stretches out. Organist Cornell (like drummer Kaye a member of Turrentine’s regular working group) has a fleet, Jimmy Smith-inspired solo, Benson shows why he must be ranked among the top guitarists in modern jazz, Turrentine swings and stomps, and Hubbard unleashes ideas that are fresh and sometimes startling (particularly in his use of tonguing). He demonstrates that the freedom of invention offered by good changes and a swinging underpinning can still yield innovative results. It’s ‘inside outside’ playing at its best. Ron Carter is, as usual, the ideal bassist, and Landrum is a conga player with jazz soul. Smith doesn’t solo, but comps effectively, and Kaye is a solid, uncluttered rhythm man. In all, a very good session of its kind, with Hubbard adding something special. The cover is, to say the least, unusual.”

Stanley Turrentine

Years later Stanley Turrentine reminisced about working with Creed Taylor: “Creed was a wonderful producer, a great producer. I think he set a precedent for the music. Even the packaging. His covers were works of art. As a matter of fact, the covers sold as art. Packaging had never been done like that. And he had a CTI sound.” Indeed, Pete Turner’s legendary visual work that graces so many CTI album covers is a topic worthy of its own article, but I hope you enjoy and appreciate the artwork and photographs featured here. Turner explained the circumstances around the cover of Sugar: “Back in the 1960s I had done a series for Look magazine called ‘Black Is Beautiful.’ The image on the cover of Sugar is an outtake from that shoot, of a mother licking a baby’s foot. Some people think it’s a sexual thing, but it’s not.”

Stanley Turrentine – tenor saxophone

Freddie Hubbard – trumpet

Butch Cornell – organ

George Benson – guitar

Ron Carter – bass

Billy Kaye – drums

Richard “Pablo” Landrum – congas

Our next artist recorded his breakthrough debut album in the US with Creed Taylor in 1963. Antonio Carlos Jobim was an established musical figure in Brazil when the bossa nova craze hit the US. Jazz Samba, an album by Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd, started it all and was produced by Taylor when he was with Verve Records. It included two compositions by Jobim, Desafinado and One Note Samba. In 1963 Taylor signed Jobim to Verve and produced the composer’s first album with the label, The Composer of Desafinado Plays (awful name but good album). Jobim worked on other albums produced by Taylor such as Getz/Gilberto and The Astrud Gilberto Album. In 1967 the two worked together on the album Wave, released on A&M Records when Taylor started his subsidiary label there. It was only natural to ask Jobim to record for his label now that it became independent.

The title track from the album Stone Flower features the Brazilian Maracatu rhythm, used heavily in carnival dance processions, a syncopated, polyrhythmic pattern. As on many other recordings for CTI, strings were added after the recording of all other instruments was completed. Arrangements are courtesy of another Brazilian who found enormous success with CTI, Eumir Deodato. Creed Taylor: “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.”

The band Santana, then at the peak of their success, was paying attention. On their album Caravanserai, recorded in 1972, they covered the tune with added lyrics, giving the Brazilian rhythm their trademark Latin rock spin.

Antônio Carlos Jobim – piano, electric piano, guitar, vocals

Harry Lookofsky – violin

Joe Farrell – soprano saxophone

Urbie Green – trombone

Hubert Laws – flute

Ron Carter – double bass

João Palma – drums

Airto Moreira – percussion

Everaldo Ferreira – percussion

Eumir Deodato – guitar, arranger

1970 saw the debut of reed man Joe Farrell on CTI Records. He was already ten years into his recording career, including a solo album in 1967 and a number of albums as part of Elvin Jones’ band in the late 1960s. Farrell was an experienced session musician, with the necessary ability to sight red music and mastery of various reed instruments including saxophone, flute and oboe, all of them being used on his 1970 album Joe Farrell Quartet.

The stellar rhythm section here, as Downbeat in its review of the album calls “on loan from Miles Davis”, consists of Chick Corea, Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette. Guitarist John McLaughlin joins on two tracks, including his own composition ‘Follow Your Heart’, a reworking of the tune ‘Arjen’s bag’ from his 1969 album Extrapolation.

Farrell would go on to record six albums as a leader with CTI and one more as co-leader with George Benson. Creed Taylor would keep inviting him as side man for many CTI albums by others.

Joe Farrell – tenor saxophone, flute, oboe

Chick Corea – piano

Dave Holland – double bass

Jack DeJohnette – drums

John McLaughlin – guitar

Another artist who had a history with Creed Taylor when the producer was working for various labels is Bill Evans. The gifted pianist participated in the recording of the seminal album Blues and the Abstract Truth by Oliver Nelson, one of the first releases on Impulse! Records that Creed Taylor produced. When the producer moved to Verve Records in 1961, he made sure to sign Bill Evans to the label. Together they collaborated on a number of classic albums including Conversations with Myself, Trio ’64, Stan Getz & Bill Evans, Intermodulation and others. In 1968 Bill Evans released a live recording from his performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival, then at its second year of operation. The album helped propel the popularity of the festival and it was only natural for the festival organizers to ask Bill Evans to perform there again.

Bill Evans, 1969

In 1970 the Bill Evans trio played the festival for a second time. A review of the performance in Coda magazine described the event: “As the temperature climbed, the air changed with anticipation, excitement for what was to come. Musicians too, of every persuasion wanted to be there. Photographers, seeing Bill an ideal subject, ringed the stage looking for the perfect picture.”

The two thousand spectators in the audience were not disappointed. The trio, including Eddie Gomez on bass and Marty Morrell on drums, played a great repertoire of tunes spanning Bill Evans’ career. The performance was released by CTI Records on the album Montreux II. A review of the album in Downbeat magazine, March 1971, reads: “Evans has it all here again, in this concert recorded live in Montreux, Switzerland: harmonic richness, enviable execution, exquisite use of accents and dynamics and two sidemen who obviously share his musical goals. Eddie Gomez is superb. His melodic conception and chops are something to hear. His interplay with Evans is, throughout, a lesson in the shaping of communication. They play together.”

Bill Evans commented on the importance of audiences in live situations: “We have noticed that our audiences seem to be getting younger and this gives me new impetus. If we were getting only half a dozen drunks every night, I would have to think seriously about continuing in this business. But at the moment, I am heartened by the audience interest. Jazz will never be a mass appeal music but there is nothing more that I can give an audience than I give myself.”

Bill Evans, Eddie Gomez and Marty Morrell

The same year, in an interview he gave during a tour in Europe, Bill Evans said this about performing jazz music: “Playing jazz is not an intellectual process. You use your intellect to take apart the material, learn to understand it and work with it, but actually it takes years and years of playing to develop the facility so that you can forget all of that.”

Bill Evans – piano

Eddie Gómez – bass

Marty Morell – drums

We close the article with the artist who opened it. Towards the end of 1970, in December of that year, Hubert Laws was back in the studio to record a set of compositions that combined the two styles he excelled at. The classically-trained musician, a graduate of New York’s Juilliard School of Music, was equally comfortable with small jazz combos and classical orchestras. He played with the New York Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. The resulting album, Afro-Classic, relies on the classical music repertoire as a basis for fantastic interpretations by a jazz ensemble.

The album’s original liner notes read: “The music was arranged, reconstructed and/or adapted by Don Sebesky. The album draws on the classics as a source of material and on African influences for rhythm and sonority. The idea was to provide a setting in which the classic and African forms could coexist. Where these two forms go beyond coexistence, and intermix, it was an unscheduled development that happened during the recording sessions – the natural outcome of improvisation.”

A DownBeat review in May 1971 gave the arranger a well-deserved praise for his work on this album: “A good translator knows that the best way to translate any work of poetry or prose from the original language into another is not necessarily verbatim. The best translator is the one who can absorb and transmit the substance of the original. This is precisely what Don Sebesky has done with selected works of Bach and Mozart. Rather than simply ‘jazzing them up’ by putting a beat behind them he has taken the works and translated them, both structurally and emotionally, into pieces to be performed and improvised upon by a chamber jazz group featuring the gifted flute virtuoso Hubert Laws.”

Don Sebesky

Afro-Classic includes a lovely take on Johann Sebastian Bach’s Passacaglia In C Minor. Don Sebesky weaved a wonderful web of variations in the best tradition of Bach, arranging a small combo of musicians with instruments associated with jazz and popular music – electric piano, guitar, bass, drums, percussion, vibraphone. Hubert Laws’ flute and a bassoon are the only instruments that add a classical flavor to the arrangement.

Hubert Laws talked about the tune: “The feel, the ambiance of the piece was first created by the opening theme, which almost sounds religious. After that, we took Bach’s music in a different direction. Rhythmically and harmonically, we made some changes that made it a little bit more in the traditional than in the improvisational groove.”

Hubert Laws

The album credits Hubert Laws as playing an electric flute on the tune, but the interesting flute sounds are generated with a regular acoustic flute fed into effects. Laws discussed the use of studio wizardry on the album: “I was using a device that allowed the flute to sound like a bassoon and flute together. I was talking to Chick [Corea] about sounds. I said, ‘I need to come up with a sound that’s unique, other than my own personal sound, but like an ensemble sound.’ I thought about the bassoon and flute again, because that’s what that represented. It’s like an octave divider, but it’s more – it was analog. It hooked up to the mouthpiece that allowed the sound to travel through that device, and then it divided it up. So you had a combination of the natural sound and the manufactured one.

Hubert Laws – flute (on “Passacaglia”, electric flute)

Bob James – electric piano

Gene Bertoncini – guitar

Ron Carter – bass (on “Passacaglia”, electric cello solo)

Fred Waits – drums

Dave Friedman – vibraphone (on “Fire and Rain”, vibes with fuzz pedal)

Richie “Pablo” Landrum, Airto Moreira – percussion

Fred Alston, Jr. – bassoon

Don Sebesky – arranger

Categories: A Year in Music

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4 replies »

    • Thank you Tom. You will have to wait to the 1971 article series, which will take some time. In the meantime you can read my article about Don Sebesky, linked at the bottom of this article.

    • Thank you, I recall that you are a fan of CTI recordings. If you had a chance to read the recent six-part Santana article series about their jazz explorations in 1972-1974, would love to read your comments.

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