The A&M Records Story, Part Nine: CTI Records

The A&M Records Story, Part Nine: CTI Records

Written by Rudy Radelic

This is a special installment in our A&M 60th Anniversary series. While it is out of chronological order with the rest, its unique circumstances allow us to hand off the A&M 60th Anniversary series to an article featuring another label. This one will highlight Creed Taylor and his partnership with A&M Records. This is where the CTI label was founded.

After an initial stint at Bethlehem Records, Taylor founded Impulse! Records during his time at ABC, and worked for several years at Verve Records (playing a large role in introducing bossa nova to the American masses). In 1967, A&M offered Creed Taylor the opportunity to start up CTI (Creed Taylor, Inc.) as his own record label, where he would be allowed artistic freedom.

Taylor’s prior musical and marketing direction at the aforementioned record labels would fully manifest itself while at A&M. With the help of graphics designer Sam Antupit, who designed CTI’s deluxe gatefold packaging with a bold border around a bold cover, and photographs by Pete Turner, Taylor created a strong visual identity for the new label.

This installment will feature an assortment of songs from the A&M/CTI label. Taylor’s productions for CTI would meander a bit at first as he tried to find his niche. Some recordings during his A&M partnership excel and foreshadow his future work, while others went out of print quickly, with little fanfare.

While at Verve, Taylor was on the forefront of the bossa nova revolution, recording numerous albums by pairing Stan Getz with Luiz Bonfa, Charlie Byrd, Laurindo Almeida, and others. It was no surprise that, after producing one album on Verve for Antonio Carlos Jobim, he would sign Jobim to his new label, with a focus on Jobim’s instrumental compositions as well as his piano and guitar performances. Few songs are as iconic in Jobim’s catalog as the title track from his album Wave.

Regarding the album cover, the original photograph, and originally released cover, were in the correct hues of red and purple. At some point in A&M’s history, a jacket was printed with the incorrect color plates, and the resulting green/blue variation is now common in US reissues of this album.


After several albums for Verve, Wes Montgomery also followed Taylor to CTI. In fact, the first catalog number on the new label (SP-3001) was assigned to his album A Day in the Life. Montgomery’s final recording was the A&M/CTI album Road Song. While the occasionally heavy-handed orchestrations of arranger Don Sebesky occasionally weighed the albums down musically, Montgomery’s signature guitar sound still cuts through the arrangements.


One stellar, yet often overlooked album was Tamba 4’s We and the Sea. The album opens with their adventurous arrangement of “O Morro (The Hill),” where leader Luiz Eça takes the group through a theme-and-variations exploration of the melody, and drummer Ohana takes what is perhaps the only drum solo on an A&M/CTI recording (featured below). Tamba 4 would record three albums for the label, yet originally, only this album and Samba Blim were released. It took until 2019, 50 years after it was recorded, to release their third album California Soul, which was one of two albums on the label to achieve legendary status.


For every artistic triumph on CTI, there was bound to be a disappointment or two. Taylor attempted to produce a pair of soul albums that underperformed. One of them was by soul crooner Richard Barbary, whose recording of “Nature Boy” on his album Soul Machine was one of its few highlights (featured in the video below). Slightly less obscure was singer Tamiko Jones, whose lone album I’ll Be Anything for You didn’t do much, either commercially or artistically. Jones had better luck in an earlier Atlantic Records recording with Herbie Mann (the delightful A Mann and A Woman) who, ironically, was also on the A&M/CTI roster. Perhaps an even bigger disappointment was the album Have You Met Miss Jones? by arranger Artie Butler, which falls strictly into “elevator music” territory.



Herbie Mann recorded two albums for A&M/CTI. His album Glory of Love was one of the label’s earliest releases, and features arrangements primarily by Mann. “Hold On, I’m Comin’” is covered on this album and featured below. The second album, Trust in Me, is most likely Herbie Mann (he has admitted as much), but billed as Soul Flutes. Mann was under contract to Atlantic Records at the time. It’s also interesting to note that flutist Hubert Laws appears on both albums as well, as he did on dozens of recordings with Creed Taylor over the years.


As noted, Taylor was instrumental in bringing bossa nova to the world consciousness through his numerous recordings on Verve. On A&M/CTI, Taylor presented the world with another new Brazilian sound: the music of Milton Nascimento. While Nascimento had recorded his first album in 1967, it was not released outside of South America. In 1969, Courage was released on the label, and his compositions would start appearing on numerous Brazilian recordings from that point forward.

Nascimento was part of the post-bossa nova movement in Brazil, and was part of the influential Clube da Esquina collective, composing songs with his Brazilian contemporaries. His international breakthrough came about through his participation on Wayne Shorter’s 1974 album Native Dancer.

Here is “Bridges (Travessia)” from Courage.


Paul Desmond recorded a pair of albums for A&M/CTI – Summertime, and From the Hot Afternoon. The latter is a Brazilian-themed album, featuring compositions and backing performances by Milton Nascimento and Brazilian composer Édu Lobo, with Lobo’s wife Wanda Sá assisting with vocals. On Summertime, Desmond starts off the album with a samba version of Louis Armstrong’s “Struttin’ with Some Barbecue” (entitled “Samba with Some Barbecue,” featured below).

Desmond recorded a third album, Bridge Over Troubled Water (with all Simon and Garfunkel songs), which was released on A&M. It is part of that transitional era when some of the artists would follow Taylor to CTI when it became independent, where others would change labels or switch to the main A&M label.


Prior to his two-album tenure with A&M/CTI, Quincy Jones was making a name for himself as a big band arranger and a composer of film and television scores. When he returned to recording jazz, he put less emphasis on big band arrangements and leaned more into the soul jazz that was building in popularity. After recording the Walking In Space and Gula Matari albums, Jones continued recording with A&M and became a producer. “Killer Joe” was featured on his 1969 Walking In Space album.


George Benson was another artist who followed Creed Taylor over from Verve, recording three albums for A&M/CTI. Yet his final album, I Got a Woman and Some Blues from 1969, was also supposed to be the final A&M/CTI release. It sat in the vaults for 15 years and was released in 1984 as part of the Audio Master Plus vinyl reissue series. While it’s not the strongest album in the catalog, the track “Durham’s Turn” is a standout.


Taylor had recorded trombonists J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding together as far back as his earliest days at Bethlehem Records. Like Tamba 4, they (billed as K. & J.J. or J. & K.), had recorded three albums for the label, yet only two (Israel, and Betwixt & Between) were released. The third album, Stonebone, was released only briefly in Japan in 1970. It achieved even more notoriety than the lost Tamba 4 album over the years, as California Soul was only rumored to exist. A look at Discogs shows a median price of $505 for this album, with an all-time high of $1,299. Thankfully, in 2020, the album was reissued by A&M in the US and Europe, and there are still plenty of copies available.

The few who heard the album raved that it was the best J. & K. record on the label, and a fine recording overall. Most of the earlier A&M/CTI albums featured shorter songs, apparently trying to keep the track times around three to four minutes each. On Stonebone, each side has only two tracks, and “Dontcha Hear Me Callin’ to Ya?” (below) stretches out to nearly 14 minutes. It foreshadows the direction Taylor would take with many of the albums he would release post-A&M.


This article concludes the A&M 60th Anniversary series. From here, we will launch into a short, occasional series looking at the many fine recordings on the CTI label once it left the confines of A&M and became fully independent.


Header image: Wes Montgomery, promotional photo.

Back to Copper home page