What, and Give up Showbiz?

Front cover of What, and Give Up Showbiz?

It’s Fred Taylor in 1972 on the cover, leaning over the stairs that descended to the Jazz Workshop and Paul’s Mall. He did this regularly, to change the signboard above the stairs.

What, and Give Up Showbiz? (Backbeat Books, 2020; ISBN 978-1-4930-5184-7, 264 pages) includes images from Taylor’s files, and a comprehensive index. Available in hardcover and ebook formats.

From 2015 to 2019, I worked with Fred Taylor—nightclub owner, concert producer, sometimes drummer, raconteur, stalwart friend to many a musician—on his life story. We’d talk on Saturday afternoons, before he’d head over to Scullers Jazz Club for his night’s work. Between sessions, I’d organize and fact-check and try to corral Fred’s recollections into book chapters. And somehow we managed to finish the manuscript, despite Fred’s failing health.

What, and Give Up Showbiz? was published a year after Fred’s death in 2019. Here are excerpts from the book reviews.

“A breezy read that brings to life the travails that went on behind the scenes in order for live entertainment to happen…it’s his casual, folksy style that makes the book feel like a conversation. It’s almost like chatting with him by the bar at Scullers.” — Steve Greenlee, JazzTimes magazine

“Provides an engaging look into what drove Taylor during his six decades in “showbiz,” and paints a picture of someone with good music sense and good business sense, who also happened to have been a great guy…To read his book is to understand that he was extremely proud of all that he’d done. As he should have been.” — Ed Symkus, Metrowest Daily News

“This is as sweet-tempered a music biz tale as you’re likely to ever encounter. It’s not a book of big bangs, salacious zingers or sex and drugs. It’s Taylor’s journey through the ups, downs and turnarounds of his chosen profession. There’s no revenge, no score-settling or dirt-digging; even some of the musicians with notoriously bad habits are painted with light brush strokes.”— Jim Sullivan, WBUR

“Written with local jazz cognoscente Vacca, this oral history is a smoothly readable (and upbeat) chronicle of a very busy life. Taylor comes across as humble, ever ready to give credit and to take justly earned kudos for a long life building and promoting a nationally respected entertainment community in Boston.” — David Daniel, Artsfuse

About What, and Give Up Showbiz?

In early 2015, I began working with Fred Taylor, then managing Scullers Jazz Club in Boston, on the story of his life in the music business. He talked, and I wrote—I was 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. When it wasn’t so good… well, he could always have gone back to his first job after college, selling mattresses.

Photo of Fred Taylor in 1962

Fred Taylor in 1962

Taylor’s career as an industry professional began in 1960, managing the organist Joe Bucci. Over time his overlapping job titles  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 co-owned (with Tony Mauriello) the Boston nightclubs the Jazz Workshop and Paul’s Mall from 1965 to 1978. He and Mauriello co-owned the Harvard Square Theater from 1977 to 1986. Fred produced the Great Woods Jazz and Blues Festival from 1986 to 1988, and the Tanglewood Jazz Festival from 2001 to 2007. From 1990 to 2016, Taylor was artistic director at Scullers Jazz Club, a Boston institution with a permanent place on Downbeat magazine’s annual list of the best clubs in the world.

Fred knew a lot of people. There are stories of his encounters with the greats from across the entertainment world, from legendary figures like Miles Davis Dave Brubeck, and Diana Ross, to the superstars who rose to prominence in the 1970s like Bob Marley, Lily Tomlin, Billy Joel,  and Earth, Wind & Fire. And he knew the stars of today, like Esperanza Spalding, Diana Krall, Chris Botti and Grace Kelly. They’re all part of Fred’s story.

Fred liked to say that if you just lived long enough, people would start calling you a legend, and that’s what happened to him. 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. And in 2017, Berklee went further, by creating an endowed scholarship in Fred’s name. They kicked off the fundraising with a massive concert at that September. Fred was astonished by the whole thing.

The book may surprise you. There’s a lot more to the story than Scullers Jazz Club.

Racing to the Finish Line

We delivered the manuscript to the editors at Backbeat Books in September 2019. They anticipated a publication date in spring 2020. Sadly, Fred did not live to see the book in print. Fred, who had been in failing health, died in Watertown, MA on Oct 26, 2019, at age 90. Thus closed a very long chapter in the book on Boston music and entertainment.

And then along came covid. The May 2020 publication date was first pushed back to July, and then to October, and finally to December. What, and Give Up Showbiz? has been available through your favorite bookseller since January 2021.