Running respected jazz clubs like the Jazz Workshop and Scullers might be Fred Taylor’s foremost claim to fame, but it isn’t his only contribution to jazz. He’s also been a recording engineer. One of his efforts produced Jazz at Storyville, an album that played an important role in the early careers of Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond.

Cover of Jazz at Storyville

Jazz at Storyville, Fantasy 3-8, 1953

Taylor was a student at Boston University in 1952, and had a jazz group in which he played drums. The pianist knew Brubeck from his army days, and raved about him. When Brubeck came to Storyville that October, Taylor lugged his reel-to-reel tape recorder to the club and obtained Brubeck’s permission to tape the session.

Boston was infamous in jazz circles for its “eight day week”—seven nights plus a Sunday matinee. The musicians’ union placed no restriction on the number of consecutive days a musician might work without a day off. That’s why the Brubeck Quartet was spending the afternoon of Sunday, October 12, at Storyville. However, bassist Wyatt “Bull” Ruther missed the first set, so Brubeck, Paul Desmond, and drummer Lloyd Davis played as a trio. (The unheralded Davis left Brubeck to join the percussion section of the San Francisco Symphony in 1954, where he remained until 1989.)

Taylor played his tape for the musicians, and they liked it. Brubeck took the tape to Fantasy, his record company, and they decided to release it. Fantasy paid  Taylor $150 for the tape. The Brubeck Quartet was back at Storyville in February 1953, and again Taylor brought in his tape recorder. And again Brubeck took the tape to Fantasy.

Fantasy packaged three tunes from the October 1952 session (“Over the Rainbow,” “You Go to My Head,” “Lady Be Good”) and one from February 1953 (“Tea for Two”) on a 10-inch LP, Jazz at Storyville, and released it in 1953. The next year Fantasy combined this music with additional tracks on a 12-inch LP (Fantasy 3-240) under the same title. Since then the music has been reissued innumerable times, in every format from LP to mp3.

The album was well received. John S. Wilson, in some of his earliest work for the New York Times, wrote in September 1953: “Both Brubeck and Desmond are uncommonly creative musicians whose playing abilities are, happily, sufficiently well developed to do justice to their frequently complex ideas. Each has an opportunity to give a full-dress display of these talents on this disk—Brubeck as he makes some fascinating investigations into new possibilities in that overplayed chestnut, Over the Rainbow, and Desmond, whose wispy, floating style seems to have an inner beat, on You Go to My Head.”

Partly on the strength of this album, the Brubeck group secured a contract with Columbia Records. In 1954, Columbia engineers recorded the quartet at Storyville yet again for that label’s own release, Dave Brubeck at Storyville: 1954 (CL-590).

In his liner notes for the Fantasy 10-inch LP, Nat Hentoff wrote: “Dave Brubeck, like most first-rate musicians, is hypercritical of his recorded work, but about this session he is uncharacteristically enthusiastic. Paul Desmond, in his non-vocal way, is equally pleased.”

Desmond, it turned out, was more than pleased. A year after Desmond’s death in 1977, Brubeck was on the program at one of Taylor’s concerts, and the two got to talking. Brubeck told Taylor that Desmond told him that his favorite recording was on Jazz at Storyville. In the interview in which Taylor revealed this, he couldn’t recall the name of the tune, he just remembered it was “the ballad.” Since there was only one ballad, “You Go to My Head,” that has to be the one. It is a tune that Desmond revisited in many settings over the years.

Here’s “You Go to My Head.” Sometimes it’s hard to tell what you’re hearing on YouTube, but I believe this is the version recorded at Storyville, October 12, 1952. Sure is pretty even if it isn’t.