Fred Taylor, impresario of jazz in Boston for decades, dies at 90

Fred Taylor (left) was greeted by jazz singers Paul Broadnax and Donna Byrne in 2017 at a party where he was honored for his years of work at Scullers in Cambridge.
Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe/File
Fred Taylor (left) was greeted by jazz singers Paul Broadnax and Donna Byrne in 2017 at a party where he was honored for his years of work at Scullers Jazz Club.

With a combination of luck and a sharp talent for recognizing stellar musicians, Fred Taylor brought his tape recorder through the door of Boston’s Storyville nightclub in the early 1950s and stepped into jazz history. On stage were pianist Dave Brubeck and saxophonist Paul Desmond, who would become major jazz stars.

“I’d heard about this incredible pianist named Dave Brubeck, and when I saw he was coming to Storyville, I set up the mike where the balance was right, and I recorded him,” Mr. Taylor recalled in a 2004 Globe interview.

“Afterward, I said, ‘Come back to my folks’ house, because we have to plug it into my hi-fi.’ So, Dave and Paul Desmond and I piled into my car and went to my house,” Mr. Taylor added. “When Dave heard it, he said it was great, that he’d never been caught that way playing ‘Over the Rainbow.’ ”


At Brubeck’s request, he sold the tape to a record company, which released it as the “Jazz at Storyville” album — crediting Mr. Taylor as the engineer.

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Mr. Taylor, who went on to become a legend in Boston’s music scene, booking acts into the Jazz Workshop, Paul’s Mall, and Scullers clubs, was 90 when he died Saturday of cancer. He had lived most recently in Watertown, after many years in a Kenmore Square condo that was a museum of jazz memorabilia.

“He was the real deal — he was very caring and inspiring,” said jazz guitarist Al Di Meola, a solo star who formerly played with pianist Chick Corea in the jazz fusion band Return to Forever.

“He lived for the music, and was very proud of who he brought in, and became friends with the artists, which was kind of rare,” said Di Meola, who used to frequent the Jazz Workshop when he was a Berklee College of Music student, and was booked into Boston gigs by Mr. Taylor once his own career flourished.

“He was like my older uncle, and I’m sure he was like that for many people,” Di Meola said. “Fred should be honored by the city of Boston for what he’s done for the arts, and who he has brought in, and what he’s meant to the city.”


Mr. Taylor nurtured the careers of so many musicians that at times it seemed as if the list of those he didn’t book would be shorter than the list of those he did.

At the Jazz Workshop and Paul’s Mall, side-by-side Boylston Street clubs he helped run from the mid-1960s until 1978, Mr. Taylor booked jazz musicians including Duke Ellington, Cannonball Adderley, Charles Mingus, Herbie Hancock, George Benson, Bill Evans, and Sonny Rollins.

Mr. Taylor with Boston radio personality Ron Della Chiesa (left) and David Colella of the Colonnade Hotel at the 2017 party.
Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe
Mr. Taylor with Boston radio personality Ron Della Chiesa (left) and David Colella of the Colonnade Hotel at the 2017 party.

He forged a particularly close professional friendship with Miles Davis, who turned to Mr. Taylor when the trumpeter scheduled a series of concerts to end a five-year hiatus from performing. Mr. Taylor booked the historic run at Kix, a disco off Kenmore Square.

Mr. Taylor also booked non-jazz acts at Paul’s Mall, including musicians such as Bruce Springsteen and Earth, Wind & Fire, and comedians such as Lily Tomlin and George Carlin.

Born in Boston on June 8, 1929, Mr. Taylor was the only child of Frank Taylor and Ann Feinstone. He grew up in Newton, where he took piano lessons from the teacher known as Madame Margaret Chaloff, who later counted among her students the likes of Keith Jarrett.


As a teenager, Mr. Taylor bought jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie’s “Salt Peanuts,” a recording that changed his life. Mr. Taylor began going into Boston to hear big bands at the RKO Boston Theater, and to haunt the racks at Smilin’ Jack’s records on Massachusetts Avenue. He eventually started frequenting jazz clubs.

Mr. Taylor graduated in 1951 from Boston University, where he studied economics, and went to work in the family business selling mattresses, until music became a full-time venture.

He launched HT Productions in 1961 and would go on to produce concerts until 2017 for artists including Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul and Mary, early in their careers.

With Tony Mauriello, his partner from the Boylston Street clubs, Mr. Taylor ran Cinema 733 (above the clubs) and, for about a decade, the Harvard Square Theater.

Beginning in 1990, Mr. Taylor was the entertainment director at Scullers Jazz Club in the DoubleTree Suites Hotel in Boston, until he was dismissed at the end of 2016. He subsequently booked shows — in his late 80s — at the Cabot in Beverly.

His many honors included JazzBoston’s Roy Haynes Award in 2014, for contributions to the jazz community, and the inaugural George Wein Impresario Award, from Berklee in 2015.

Mr. Taylor never married — “I’m married to the business,” he said in 2004 — and leaves no immediate family.

A funeral service will be held at 2 p.m. Wednesday, 10/30 in Levine Chapels in Brookline. Plans for a memorial concert will be announced.

Throughout a career that spanned more than 65 years, Mr. Taylor never lost his eagerness for nurturing talented young musicians, such saxophonist Grace Kelly, who grew up in Brookline.

“He’s like a little kid when he discovers new talent. He’s excited,” Kelly told the Globe in June. “He can’t wait to book the next show. He can’t wait to connect people.”

And at times Mr. Taylor saw his multi-faceted career — managing and recording musicians, running movie theaters, booking clubs, and promoting concerts — as his own long improvised solo.

“I never planned anything,” he told the Globe in 2014, “it just osmosed from one thing to another.”

A full obituary will follow.

Mr. Taylor in 2014.
Michele McDonald for The Boston Globe/File
Mr. Taylor in 2014.

Bryan Marquard can be reached at