Fred Taylor’s What, and Give up Showbiz?

Photo of Fred Taylor in 1962
Fred Taylor in 1962

Since early 2015, I’ve been working with Fred Taylor of Scullers Jazz Club in Boston on the story of his life in the music business. He tells the stories to me, and I turn them into prose—in other words, I’m the “as told to” guy. Fred’s epic is titled What, and Give up Showbiz? That’s the punchline to an old industry joke, and it’s meant to evoke both the elation and the exasperation that goes with the job. When it was good, it was very good, and when it wasn’t so good… well, he could always go back to the first job he had after college, selling mattresses.

Besides information-gathering and writing, I’m also responsible for fact checking and making sure the information supplied in Fred’s voice is correct.

Taylor’s career as an industry professional began in 1960, and over time his overlapping job titles have included artists’ manager, booking agent, promoter, publicist, recording studio manager, concert producer, entertainment director, and talent scout. He’s also been a mentor, adviser, and supporter to many a musician. He was co-owner of the fabled Boston nightclubs the Jazz Workshop and Paul’s Mall from 1965 to 1978, operator and owner of the Harvard Square Theater from 1977 to 1986, producer of the Great Woods Jazz and Blues Festival from 1986 to 1988, and artistic director of the Tanglewood Jazz Festival from 2001 to 2007. From 1990 to 2016, Taylor was artistic director at Scullers Jazz Club, a Boston institution that has a permanent place on Downbeat magazine’s annual list of the best clubs in the world.

The Jazz Journalists Association recognized Fred for his lifetime commitment to jazz in 2010. He received the very first George Wein Impresario Award, presented in 2015 by the Berklee College of Music and Mr. Wein himself. Fred thinks of it as sort of a battle ribbon, something to mark his making it for 60 years in a sometimes-rough business. If you look around the local entertainment landscape, his is the longest running show in town.

Taylor’s entertainment universe is peopled by a galaxy of singers, saxophonists, and stand-up comics. There are stories of his encounters with the greats from across the entertainment world, from legendary figures like Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck, to the superstars who rose to prominence in the 1970s like Bob Marley, Lily Tomlin, Billy Joel,  and Earth, Wind & Fire, to the stars of today, like Esperanza Spalding and Grace Kelly. They’re all part of Fred’s world, and you’ll learn about them, and him, and the ups and downs of Fred’s utterly unpredictable career in the pages of this book.

In addition, Fred witnessed significant change throughout the entertainment industry over the span of his career, and he’s managed to survive all of it. He shares his observations on an industry always in transition. This is a fresh take on the recent cultural history of Boston, told by someone who was in the middle of it.

We’re shopping the proposal to publishers now, so I’d say this project is in the “really, really active” stage. Stay tuned!

Addendum, Oct 30, 2019

Well, we sold the book to the Globe Pequot Press, and their editor has it now. They anticipate a publication date in spring 2020. Unfortunately, Fred will not see the book in print. Fred Taylor, who had been in failing health, died in Watertown, MA on Oct 26, 2019, at age 90. Thus closes a very long chapter in the book on Boston music and entertainment.

The book is being pre-sold online. Click this link to visit the What, and Give up Showbiz? book page on Amazon.