If you are 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 B.U. grad actually started off as a performer, taking piano lessons from Madame Margaret Chaloff when he was 11, eventually playing cocktail drums in the Don Creighton Orchestra. But Taylor was destined for a different area of the music business. A jazz fan since he was a kid – the first record he ever bought was a 78 of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Salt Peanuts” – he hung out in Smiling Jack’s record shop, went to concerts at 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 booker of jazz acts, starting up H.T. Productions with Ed Halian, an apartment-mate in the mid-’50s. After Halian left the business in 1960, Taylor partnered with John Sdoucos, booking jazz bands into small clubs all over Boston and in New Bedford. He was also responsible for bringing Bob Dylan to Symphony Hall, and later, Bruce Springsteen to Paul’s Mall. 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.” So 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 till 1978, but Taylor was also booking one-off shows at the Hynes Auditorium, the 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 is still the entertainment director – booking the acts, handling the advertising and, organizing the coming and going of the artists. Between 2001 and 2007, he was artistic director for the Tanglewood Jazz Festival. Taylor continues to book single shows around Boston, in Worcester, and in Rockport, is involved with live jazz broadcasts on WGBH, and has, for a long time, been trying to put together his autobiography, tentatively titled, What, and Give Up Show Biz? And he remains an ardent fan of the live music experience. “When you’re listening to a record, you’re using one of your senses, your ears,” he 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.”
Fred Taylor passed away on October 26, 2019 at the age of 90.
(by Ed Symkus)