An all-star outpouring for Fred Taylor
When Fred Taylor was relieved of his longtime duties as entertainment director at Scullers Jazz Club earlier this year, it seemed everyone involved in Boston’s jazz community was outraged. The one person who kept his cool about it was Fred Taylor.
Here, the diminutive Taylor’s reputation stands as tall as the jazz giants he once booked at Paul’s Mall and the Jazz Workshop, including Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Duke Ellington. After hearing about his dismissal, the saxophonist Grace Kelly, one of dozens of younger talents Taylor has nurtured over the years, was eager to redirect the “negative energy,” as she puts it, into something positive: a celebration of Taylor’s life and legacy.
The result is the Fred Taylor Scholarship Fund at Berklee College of Music, an endowment that will be launched with an all-star benefit concert Tuesday at the Berklee Performance Center. Kelly, Danilo Perez, Terri Lyne Carrington, Catherine Russell, and Pat Metheny are just some of the performers on the crowded bill, and organizers expect to present video tributes from other headliners who can’t be there in person. His impact isn’t restricted to the jazz world, either: members of Aerosmith (Taylor was an early supporter) have pledged a major contribution.
The ever-cheery Taylor, who recently turned 88, is comfortable on a microphone, having emceed countless shows in his lifetime. He improvises, just like the musicians he has admired and promoted since he fell for the music of Louis Jordan and Dizzy Gillespie as a high school student in the 1940s.
But it’s not every day that he is the guest of honor. “I’ve never had so many people gathered at a concert for me,” he says. “That is a humbling thought.”
Jason Palmer, the show’s music director, says he asked each of the show’s participating singers and players to recommend a song that reminds them of Taylor. Fittingly, they suggested a deep setlist of timeless standards — “All the Things You Are,” “If I Had You,” “Nature Boy.” Kelly plans to revise the lyrics to George and Ira Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm” and “ ’S Wonderful” with Taylor in mind.
“They say music keeps you young,” says Palmer, a trumpeter who leads the house band at Wally’s Cafe each weekend. He’s played with Herbie Hancock and Wynton Marsalis and teaches at Berklee. “I look to him for confirmation.”
It was another Boston-based trumpeter, Bo Winiker, who first proposed the idea of a scholarship in Taylor’s name, which will emphasize not just performance but the business of music. Kelly’s parents, Bob (her manager) and Irene, quickly jumped in and started recruiting for the benefit show.
“Every single artist, without even a second thought, said, ‘For Fred, I’m there,’ ” Kelly says.
She was barely a teenager when Taylor began booking her at Scullers, which was a real dream come true.
“I’d been going to Scullers literally since I was 6 years old,” Kelly says. “There are pictures of me falling asleep in my dad’s arms there.”
Now 25, Kelly recently moved to New York City, where she was invited to join Stay Human, Jon Batiste’s house band for “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.”
“I would 100 percent say I would not be where I am in my career without Fred,” she says. Taylor helped get her into the Newport Jazz Festival for the first time, and he brought her to Tanglewood. She recently met Branford Marsalis, and he said, “Oh! Freddie’s been telling me about you all these years.”
Taylor still logs plenty of miles on the “discovery trail,” as he calls it. Lately he’s been touting jazz singer Judith Lorick, a relative unknown in the States who spent years as a nightclub attraction in France.
“For a person his age to be out at 2 a.m., so high on the music . . .” says Kelly, trailing off. “I really do think it’s the music that keeps that light shining bright. When he starts to talk about music, he literally brightens up. It’s beautiful.”
Since the Scullers hullabaloo, Taylor has begun booking a series of shows into the Cabot in Beverly. In October, he’ll reach way back to bring 91-year-old Bucky Pizzarelli and the Vaughn Monroe Orchestra to Worcester’s Hanover Theatre.
That one is for a World War II-era audience like himself, he says: “There are a lot of seniors who don’t get any attention.”
With the establishment of the Fred Taylor Scholarship, he’s getting his.
The All-Star Fred Taylor Scholarship Fund Benefit Con cerT
Featuring Grace Kelly, Kurt Elling, Danilo Perez, Terri Lyne Carrington, Catherine Russell, John Patitucci, Monty Alexander, Kat Edmonson, James Montgomery, Bo Winiker, Jason Palmer, and Pat Metheny. At Berklee Performance Center, 136 Massachusetts Ave., Sept. 12 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $35-$200, www.fredtaylorscholarshipfund.org