Berklee Presents Fred Taylor with George Wein Impresario Award

April 6, 2015
Jazz promoter Fred Taylor, left, receives an award named for Newport Jazz Festival founder George Wein, right.

Berklee presented famed jazz promoter Fred Taylor with the first-ever George Wein Impresario Award on March 11, at Scullers Jazz Club. The award, named for the Newport Jazz Festival founder, recognizes individuals who bring music to life through their dedication to discovering, mentoring, presenting, and promoting creative musicians and their music. 

The following remarks were delivered at Scullers by Lawrence Simpson, senior vice president for academic affairs/provost.

"Thank you for that kind introduction. Bob Blumenthal has already done a masterly job tonight of placing our honoree in time and space, and in context with, the music and the city we all so love.  Thank you again for that, Bob. 

Fred Taylor has been presenting creative music, in Boston, for more than 50 years now. Take that into your mind, if you can. You’ve heard that he has presented many of the most important and groundbreaking artists of this and the previous century. Who else in America has put both Bruce Springsteen and Miles Davis on stage? Gary Burton, and Earth Wind & Fire? Bette Midler and Dizzy Gillespie? Duke Ellington and Flip Wilson? We know the list must be a very short one indeed. I expect it includes just one name.

We know Fred. I mean, we really feel like we know Fred.  After all, he is not simply great at what he does—choosing remarkable talent, putting the artist in the best possible situation so their unique talents can reach an audience, and making that artist feel comfortable and appreciated. It’s just— you love spending time with Fred. He is a truly wonderful guy. It is hard to find anyone who has ever said anything else. And you know, we tried!

Five-time Grammy winner Gary Burton, who preceded President Roger Brown and myself in the leadership at Berklee, and a central figure in this community for many years, offers this insight and appreciation of Fred:

“Too often, the presenter is a little-noticed contributor to musicians’ careers. We think first about the musicians themselves. Then we might take notice of the record companies who promote the musicians, and so on. But, without the presenters—those impresarios who put us in front of the public, year after year—our careers would never get off the ground.

"Without a doubt, the Boston jazz scene has been a much better place because of Fred’s enthusiastic efforts to bring the best players to town, and then get the people out to enjoy the music. I think the first time I played at one of Fred’s venues was in 1965, with Stan Getz at Paul’s Mall. Over five decades since then, I have played regularly at either clubs or concerts organized by Fred. So, I’ve had a good long while to see him in action, and learn from him about how to be a great presenter. On behalf of the hundreds upon hundreds of musicians whose careers have been directly touched by his efforts, I simply want to say, thanks, Fred. You’re the greatest!

"While knowing who among the stars to book, and how to present them, is a not inconsiderable skill, Fred has another. Keith Jarrett, after all, was his house pianist, while still a Berklee student. Diana Krall, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, Esperanza Spalding, Jane Monheit, and Jamie Cullum have all gotten a big break, and Fred’s counsel and support, early in their careers. He has discerned their talents and nurtured their careers, in the early days, when this was so vitally important."

The Brookline-raised jazz wunderkind, and Berklee alumna Grace Kelly had this to say about that:

“I'm constantly inspired by Fred’s warmth, generosity, hard work, great taste, passion, youthful energy, love for the music, and humor! He has so many tricks up his sleeve that make everyone crack up, but my favorite is the “talking” napkin. It's way too hard to explain, you'll just have to ask him to do it!

"Thank you Fred for making it possible for great artists to be heard, and for fostering the new talent. You believe in the music and are always 100 percent there for the artist. We can’t thank you enough for that.

I still remember myself as the 12-year-old Grace playing at Scullers. I was so grateful you took a chance on me, and ever since then you have championed me, introduced me to great folks and believed in me. It means the world. I wish I could be there today to see you get this great award.  The biggest congratulations!”

I love reading that.  What is better, please tell me, than helping a young person, with passion and an original voice, to light up the world with music? Fred, like you, we cherish these relationships with these students and young artists. We are grateful to you for helping some of our finest young performers to find their audience.  It’s crucial, and you are a Jedi master.

We will close with the words of the man after whom this honor is named, the inimitable George Wein:

“I've known Freddy Taylor for 65 years. I had my Storyville club in Boston from 1950-1960 and when Storyville closed, Freddy, who was an avid lover of jazz, decided to open his own club, called Paul's Mall. In doing so, he has kept jazz alive in Boston, from then right up until this day. I'm happy to present him with the George Wein Impresario Award, which he so merits.”

And so, for the singular contributions he has made to art of presenting, and the building of community that music makes possible, Berklee College of Music presents the presenter nonpareil, Fred Taylor, with the George Wein Impresario Award.

Read a Boston Globe story about Fred Taylor's award.