December 15, 2006

ONE HECK OF A TRIANGLE PLAYER (via Mike Daley):

Ahmet Ertegun, Music Executive, Dies at 83 (TIM WEINER, 12/15/06, NY Times)

Ahmet Ertegun, the music magnate who founded Atlantic Records and shaped the careers of John Coltrane, Ray Charles, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and many others, died yesterday in Manhattan. He was 83. [...]

Mr. Ertegun said he fell in love with music when he was 9. In 1932, his older brother, Nesuhi, took him to see the Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway orchestras at the Palladium Theater in London. The beauty of the jazz, the power of the beat and the elegance of the musicians made a lasting impression.

His instincts were not impeccable. He lost out on chances to sign the Beatles and Elvis Presley. But in an industry in which backstabbing is commonplace, Mr. Ertegun was admired as a shrewd businessman with a passion for the creative artists and the music he nurtured.

Along with a partner, Herb Abramson, Mr. Ertegun founded Atlantic Records in 1947 in an office in a derelict hotel on West 56th Street in Manhattan. His initial investment of $10,000 was borrowed from his family dentist.

By the 1950s, Atlantic developed a unique sound, best described as the mixed and polygamous marriage of Mr. Ertegun’s musical loves. He and his producers mingled blues and jazz with the mambo of New Orleans, the urban blues of Chicago, the swing of Kansas City and the sophisticated rhythms and arrangements of New York.

Mr. Ertegun often signed musicians who had been seasoned on the R&B circuit, and pushed them toward perfecting their performances in the recording studio. Every so often, with his name spelled in reverse as Nugetre, Mr. Ertegun appeared as the songwriter on R&B hits like “Chains of Love” and “Sweet Sixteen.”

In 1954, Atlantic released both “I Got a Woman” by Ray Charles and “Shake, Rattle and Roll” by Joe Turner. (Mr. Ertegun was a backup singer on “Shake, Rattle and Roll.”) The songs had a good beat, and people danced to them. They were among the strongest roots of rock and roll.

After his brother Nesuhi joined Atlantic in 1956, the label attracted many of the most inventive jazz musicians of the era, including Coltrane, Charles Mingus, the Modern Jazz Quartet and Ornette Coleman. In 1957, Atlantic was among the first labels to record in stereo.

By the 1960s, often in partnerships with local labels like Stax in Memphis, Mr. Ertegun was selling millions of records by the leading soul musicians of the day, among them Ms. Franklin and Mr. Redding. Ms. Franklin had recorded previously for Columbia Records, but her hits for Atlantic — which merged her gospel roots with an earthy strength and sensuality — were the ones that made her the Queen of Soul.

Mr. Ertegun’s music partnerships, he sometimes pointed out, were often culturally triangular. He was Turkish and a Muslim by birth. Many of his fellow executives, like the producer Jerry Wexler, were Jewish. The artists they produced, particularly when the label began, were black. Together, they helped move rhythm and blues to the center of American popular music.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 15, 2006 12:04 AM
Comments

He wasn't just a "son of a Turkish diplomatic family": his father was a close associate of Ataturk and Turkey's ambassador to the U.S.

Posted by: PapayaSF at December 15, 2006 3:09 PM
« TO PARAPHRASE NEWTON...: | Main | THE ONLY ROAD TAKEN: »