Fred Taylor

Fred Taylor

If you’re a jazz musician who’s played in Boston anytime over the past half century, it’s a good bet you got the gig because of Fred Taylor. The Newton native and 1951 Boston University grad actually started off as a performer, taking piano lessons from Madame Margaret Chaloff when he was 11 and later playing cocktail drums in The Don Creighton Orchestra. But Taylor was destined for a very different area of the music business.


Born in Boston on June 28, 1929, Taylor was a jazz fan since he was a kid and the first 78 he ever bought was Dizzy Gillespie’s 1941 hit “Salt Peanuts.” In his teens and early 20s, he hung out in Smiling Jack’s record shop, frequented the jazz club Storyville and listened to the old jazz-formatted WILD. Doing some freelance recording work on the side, he hooked up with organist Joe Bucci, became his manager, got him a Capitol recording contract, and was on the way to becoming Boston’s busiest jazz promoter.

Taylor established H.T. Productions with Ed Halian, an apartment mate, in the mid-’50s. After Halian left the business in 1960, he teamed with John Sdoucos, booking jazz bands into small clubs all over Boston and in New Bedford. He was also responsible for booking Bob Dylan at Symphony Hall in 1964 and Bruce Springsteen at Paul’s Mall in 1973


Fate put Taylor in touch with Harold Buchalter, who owned clubs all over the city, including the original Jazz Workshop on Huntington Ave. When Buchalter moved the Workshop to Boylston St. in 1963, he asked Taylor to help with advertising and promotion. When he opened Paul’s Mall, a year later, right next door, Taylor was given the opportunity of booking it, and bringing in acts that were quite different from the jazz in the Workshop. He, along with two partners, eventually took over both clubs.

“My whole idea,” said Taylor, “was to have two sides where you could have the real thing in the Jazz Workshop, and more popular and contemporary stuff in Paul’s Mall.” While the Workshop would feature Miles and Mingus, the Mall would bring in Hoyt Axton and Dan Hicks, as well as lots of comedy, ranging from Henny Youngman to Cheech and Chong. The clubs lasted until 1978, but Taylor was also booking one-off shows at the Hynes Auditorium, Music Hall and other venues. In 1987, he was invited to take over a small room that would eventually become Scullers Jazz Club, where he remained the entertainment director until his death in 2019, booking the acts, handling the advertising and organizing the comings and goings of artists. Between 2001 and 2007, he was the artistic director for the Tanglewood Jazz Festival.


Before his death on October 26, 2019 at age 90, Taylor continued to book one-night shows around Boston, in Worcester and in Rockport, was involved with live jazz broadcasts on WGBH and co-wrote (with Boston jazz historian Richard Vacca) the autobiography, What, and Give Up Show Biz?: Six Decades in the Music Business (Backbeat Books, 2020).

Taylor continued to be a regular at jazz events in his late 80s and consistently championed the value of live performances over recorded ones. “When you’re listening to a record, you’re using one of your senses – your ears,” he once said. “When you go to see a group perform, you use your eyes, your ears and there is an emotional reaction as well. Also, a studio is rehearsed, planned, tight. When you go to see a group live, anything goes. And usually what you hear on a record doesn’t give you a clue as to what the group can do.”

(by Ed Symkus)

Published On: February 19, 2013