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Creator / Impulse! Records

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"Orange and black. Fire and ebony. Fury and pride.
From 1961 through 1976, Impulse Records wore its signature colors proudly and raised its exclamation point high, producing albums with hinged, brightly hued covers that opened wide, attracting generations of listeners into an exciting and far-ranging world of improvised music. The sound in its grooves bristled with the spirit of The '60s, swinging with the musical experimentation and political outrage of the day. To many who made it through the era, the label was an inherent part of the velocity, keeping pace with — and at times predicting — the sound and politics that lay ahead."
—Opening paragraphs of Ashley Kahn's label history The House That Trane Built: The story of Impulse Records

Impulse! Records (the exclamation point is optional, but recommended) is one of the foremost names in Jazz music. It has earned a reputation as an artist-friendly label that became instrumental in popularizing free jazz. The imprint became so legendary that it has outlived the death of its corporate parent by several decades and continues to release new recordings today.

Said parent was ABC-Paramount (later known as ABC Records), a pop label that had released several jazz albums, then decided to start a new sublabel devoted to the genre. In late 1960, they put producer and arranger Creed Taylor (who had been ABC's jazz specialist from almost the beginning) in charge of their new subsidiary, which made its first releases in early 1961. (One of those early albums was the best-selling Genius + Soul = Jazz by Ray Charles, who was already signed to ABC; some artists and albums appeared on both labels.) Impulse! soon became noted not only for its music, but also its eye-catching, colorful gatefold covers note ; it also had a unique orange-and-black color scheme, which was used on album spines as well as the labels, which made for a distinctive look if you bought several Impulse! albums and shelved them all together. Taylor left after only a few months to run another major label jazz imprint (Verve, which had recently been purchased by MGM), but he'd already signed several significant artists, including Oliver Nelson and John Coltrane.

Taylor's replacement, Bob Thiele, had previously produced pop acts at US Decca; he'd also dragged the company kicking and screaming into the Rock & Roll era by signing Buddy Holly. During his eight-year tenure at Impulse!, Theile helped define the label as a major outlet for the avant garde sounds of free jazz (although the company recorded all varieties of the genre) and gave his artists free rein. One of these artists, John Coltrane, was so popular and prominent that Impulse! was soon nicknamed "The House That Trane Built"note , particularly after A Love Supreme became one of the most artistically and commercially successful jazz albums of all time. Coltrane had a major influence (both direct and indirect) on Impulse!'s output, helping to lead the entire jazz genre into a new era of political and spiritual awareness while suggesting other musicians for Theile to sign. Two of Trane's sidemen, Elvin Jones and McCoy Tyner, went on to release Impulse! albums under their own names; other acts of the era included many of the prominent performers in the index below as well as Mel Brown, Freddie Hubbard, Paul Gonsalves, Chico Hamilton, Yusef Lateef, Sonny Rollins, Archie Shepp, Gabor Szabo and Clark Terry.

By the beginning of The '70s, change was in the air. In 1969, Thiele (who had been clashing with ABC Records head Larry Newton) left to start his own Flying Dutchman label. His successors (Ed Michel, Steve Backer and Esmond Edwards) signed some significant performers, including Gato Barbieri, John Handy (whose single "Hard Work" made the top 50), Keith Jarrett, Dewey Redman, and one of the wildest free jazz musicians of all, Sun Ra. Impulse! also became one of the first jazz-only labels to sign a rock act when it licensed Trespass, the second album by the then-unknown Genesis, for its original American release.

However, ABC Records began running into financial problems, and Impulse! (which had been profitable throughout its existence) began to suffer for it. The decision to rebrand the company as ABC Impulse (with no exclamation point) and switch to a new label design in muted blues and greens unintentionally signaled the beginning of the end for the original company. By 1978, Impulse! had released its last original album under ABC's ownership, although the imprint soldiered on by repackaging its catalog until ABC and all its sublabels were absorbed by MCA in 1979.

Miraculously, this was not the end of Impulse!, as the label was too beloved and respected to just vanish. Soon, a new version called MCA Impulse! (with the exclamation point restored) began both reissuing the original albums and signing new artists, all with a new variation of the classic orange-and-black label. Eventually the name reverted to just Impulse!, and the label continues with both reissues and new recordings. It's now under the management of Universal Music Group, which inherited the imprint from MCA; ironically, it's currently part of the Verve Label Group, so it's officially run by the rival firm that snatched Creed Taylor away near the beginning.

Impulse! performers, past and present, with TV Tropes pages: