impulse! was created to be a specialist jazz label, a subsidiary of ABC-Paramount Records, a company formed in 1955 that was already enjoying a good deal of success on the pop charts. ABC-Paramount had its headquarters on Broadway in New York City above the Paramount Theatre on Times Square. It was in 1960 that the decision to form impulse! under the direction of Creed Taylor who had been hired to be an A&R man and producer for the parent company a few years earlier. Taylor, a mild-mannered Southerner was the very antithesis of the fast talking, hustling New York executives that ran ABC-Paramount, was put in charge of creating a distinctive sound for the label. Herein lies one of the keys to his success – he was perfectly suited to the jazz cats he wanted to record – they trusted Creed Taylor.
It had been Harry Levine the A&R Director at ABC-Paramount who first recognised that Taylor’s approach was just what jazz artists needed and even before the idea of a jazz label was mooted it was his support that got some good sounding jazz records made by the parent label. It was Levine’s studio time that Taylor used to complete his early jazz records for ABC-Paramount, studio time that on the face of it a jazz record with limited sales potential would not expect to have been given.
Without Levine’s support it is very likely that the new jazz label would have taken an entirely different direction. One of the records that Levine’s studio time helped to create was, The Sound of New York by the Creed Taylor Orchestra. Released on ABC-Paramount it is a musical evocation of the city and features a photo on the inner sleeve of a cinema showing a movie named Impulse.
It was in late 1959 that Taylor began planning his new jazz label and initially he was going to call it Pulse records until he found out there was already a label of that name. But a name is no good without artists to record on it and Taylor with his finger on the pulse of the New York City jazz scene was better placed than most to start formulating a list, at least in his own mind, of who he would like to record.
Creed Taylor decided that to maximise his success and to ensure that the heavy hand of the parent company did not come down on him he needed to have initial releases with some guarantee of success. It was also important to not too tightly pigeonhole the jazz in one particular style. The first four releases featured trombonist Kai Winding and J.J. Johnson as well as another LP with just Winding, Gil Evans’s Out of the Cool and, as it turned out, his trump card – Genius + Soul = Jazz by Ray Charles.
Taylor’s plans paid handsome dividends with all four albums proving popular, but he did not anticipate one event that both boosted the sales of the Ray Charles album as well as the finances of the label, something which the ABC-Paramount executives prized above all else. One Mint Julep by Ray Charles came out as a single in early 1961 and by May it had made No.8 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles. In so doing it became Ray’s third Top 10 single of his career and while it was not unheard of for a jazz record to chart so high it was a rare occurrence that helped to sell tens of thousands of albums allowing it to become one of the biggest selling records of Charles’s career.
And from there impulse went on to be a label with a history of fascinating releases. Check out our special playlist.