Fred Taylor, a legendary figure on the Boston jazz scene since the 1950s, has been abruptly fired as entertainment director at Scullers Jazz Club, angering local jazz fans and signaling a changing of the guard at the well-known music venue.
Taylor, whose acts at the club included Lou Rawls, Wynton Marsalis, and Norah Jones, had presided at Scullers since shortly after it opened 27 years ago at the DoubleTree Guest Suites Hotel. He e-mailed friends this week to say he’d been let go by the hotel’s management.
Taylor said DoubleTree general manager Jayne Barrett told him last week that he would be finished at the end of February. He said Annmarie Blythe, the general manager of Scullers, also was fired.
“I said, ‘What is your motivation for making a change?’ And [Barrett] said, ‘You’ve been doing the same thing for a long time and we need a change,’ ” Taylor said. “That’s what I got for an answer.”
In a voicemail Friday night, Barrett didn’t address Taylor’s status, but said there are “exciting things happening” at the club. Scullers recently moved from the second floor of the hotel to the first and expanded from 170 seats to 205.
A fixture on the Boston jazz scene for several decades, Taylor, now in his 80s, is perhaps best known as the former owner of the storied jazz clubs Paul’s Mall and the Jazz Workshop on Boylston Street, where he booked such luminaries as Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Stan Getz, Charles Mingus, and George Benson. (At one time, Berklee student Keith Jarrett was the house pianist at Paul’s Mall.)
For now, Taylor is still listed on the Scullers website.
“Fred is an ageless, irrepressible font of creativity, enthusiasm, and humor — besides being the father of Boston’s modern jazz scene,” said Pauline Bilsky, cofounder of the JazzBoston nonprofit, which supports jazz musicians. “Nobody doesn’t love Fred. Nobody. People are very sad and others are outraged.”
Emmett Price, CEO of Jazz Boston and a former music professor at Northeastern University, thinks the DoubleTree made a “big error” by sacking someone as beloved by jazz fans as Taylor.
“Scullers is a landmark that’s internationally known. When you go to Boston, you go to Scullers,” Price said. “That’s entirely the result of Fred Taylor’s work. He put that place on the map.”
Dayla Arabella Santurri, who was GM at Scullers for over a decade, agreed.
She said that she meets people around the world who talk to her about a memorable show booked by Taylor at Scullers.
“It’s an institution and his fingerprints are all over it,” Santurri said.
Saxophonist Walter Beasley has known Taylor for over 30 years and was among the first acts to perform at Scullers.
“I played there for very little money, but the way Fred presented it to me, I felt he was a genuine cat who really cared about the music and wanted to do something special,” Beasley said. “Fred’s an icon for what he’s contributed to the music scene. It’s a shame it happened this way.”
Beasley said Taylor’s departure is certain to further diminish Boston’s jazz scene, which has lost much of its trill over the past several years. Clubs have closed or book fewer jazz artists, and jazz programming on the radio, notably Eric Jackson’s “Eric in the Evening” on WGBH, has been severely curtailed.
“When I came to Boston to go to Berklee [College of Music] in 1979, man, you’re talking about a vibrant community,” Beasley said. “The place has changed dramatically since then.”
Speaking on a cellphone on his way to the Association of Performing Arts Presenters Conference in New York, Taylor sounded downcast Friday.
He said Jan Mullen, who runs The SideDoor, a jazz club at the Old Lyme Inn in Connecticut, has been hired to book and manage Scullers.
Taylor said he’s met with Mullen, whom he described as “a lovely person and capable at what she’s doing.” But, he said, The SideDoor will never be confused with Scullers.
“Unfortunately, [Mullen] has been thrown into a whole new territory,” he said.