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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Remembering Ahmet.

Posted By on Wed, Dec 20, 2006 at 1:25 PM

Not many record executives have touched so many aspects of pop culture as the late Ahmet Ertegun, co-founder of Atlantic Records. The son of a Turkish ambassador to the United States, young Ertegun and his brother Nesuhi felt the love in black American music and returned it (making a big profit in the process). Ray Charles, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman and later Aretha Franklin, Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones are just some of the acts for whom involvement with Atlantic was decisive.

Ertegun’s death Dec.14 at age 83 meant another musical giant has passed. I saw him just a couple of times, back in June 2001 when he oversaw a three-day live recording session for saxophonist James Carter at Baker's Keyboard Lounge. That he had come to handle this personally was a sign of his feelings about Carter, whom he talked about as being able to reach back to the saxophonists of Ertegun’s youth and incorporate them in music today. The all-star cast included saxophonists Franz Jackson, Johnny Griffin and David Murray — a triumvirate that reflected the swing-to-avant arc that Carter covers as a player himself (often in a single solo). There was a great Detroit rhythm section and, for one night (sadly, not a night I was present for), Aretha Franklin. Asked about the Grammy potential of the package, Ertegun seemed optimistic.

The project didn't exactly live up to its potential.

The Aretha takes, apparently, weren’t what was desired, despite the reports that she had electrified the room. There was talk about further sessions that seem never to have materialized. The record came out with liner notes that failed to make entirely clear who was playing on what, not that the music wasn’t stellar. With three nights of taping, there must have been material for a double CD or several volumes. Instead, there’s just been one release of a single CD, which went Grammyless. And with Atlantic slashing its jazz roster, Carter has moved on.

But having been there, aside from the music, I’m left with the picture of the debonair Ertegun, then in his late 70s, regally but graciously holding court for any and all who recognized him at his table in the club. And he had a grand style for entrances and exits. A cane in one hand, the other resting on the shoulder of a tall and striking blonde. —W. Kim Heron, editor, Metro Times

Carter, by the way, plays this Friday at Cliff Bell's, teaming up with the Hot Club of Detroit and revisiting the gypsy jazz territory he scorched with his 2000 disc Chasin' the Gypsy.—WKH

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