Founder of Atlantic Records


Other Deaths Of Note

December 15, 2006

Ahmet Ertegun, 83, who helped define American music as the founder of Atlantic Records, a label that popularized the gritty R&B of Ray Charles, the classic soul of Aretha Franklin and the rock of the Rolling Stones, died yesterday in New York, his spokesman said.

Mr. Ertegun remained connected to the music scene until his last days - it was at an Oct. 29 concert by the Rolling Stones at the Beacon Theatre in New York where he fell, suffered a head injury and was hospitalized. He later slipped into a coma.

He will be buried in a private ceremony in his native Turkey, said Bob Kaus, a spokesman for Mr. Ertegun and Atlantic Records. A memorial service will be conducted in New York after New Year's.

A Turkish ambassador's son, Mr. Ertegun started collecting records for fun but would later became one of the music industry's most powerful figures with Atlantic, which he founded in 1947.

The label first made its name with rhythm and blues by Charles and Big Joe Turner, but later diversified, making Franklin the Queen of Soul as well as carrying the banner of British rock (with the Rolling Stones, Cream and Led Zeppelin) and American pop (with Sonny and Cher, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and others).

Now part of Warner Music Group, the company is home to artists including Kid Rock, James Blunt, T.I. and Missy Elliott.

Mr. Ertegun's love of music began with jazz, back when he and his brother Nesuhi - producer of such jazz acts as Charles Mingus and Ornette Coleman - used to hang around with Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington in the clubs of Washington, D.C.

"My father was a diplomat who was ambassador to Switzerland, France and England before he became ambassador to the United States, and we lived in all those countries and we always had music in the house, and a lot of it was a kind of popular music, and we heard a lot of jazz," Mr. Ertegun recalled in an interview with the Associated Press. "By the time we came to Washington, we were collecting records and we amassed a collection of some 25,000 blues and jazz records," he said.

Mr. Ertegun parlayed his love of music into a career when he founded Atlantic with partner Herb Abramson and a $10,000 loan. When the label first started, it made its name with blues-edged recordings by acts such as Ruth Brown.

Despite his privileged background, which included attending prep school and socializing with Washington's elite, Mr. Ertegun was able to mix with all kinds of people - an attribute that made him not just a marketer of black music, but a part of it, said Jerry Wexler.

Black music was the backbone of the label for years - it was Atlantic, under Mr. Wexler's production genius, that helped make Ms. Franklin the top black female singer of her day. "And we were the kings of that until the arrival of Motown Records, which was long after we started," Mr. Ertegun said.

But once music tastes changed, Mr. Ertegun switched gears and helped bring on the British invasion in the 1960s.

"If Atlantic had restricted itself to R&B music, I have no doubt that it would be extinct today," Mr. Wexler said.

Instead, it became bigger.

In later years, Mr. Ertegun signed Bette Midler, Roberta Flack and ABBA. He had a gift for being able to pick out what would be a commercial success, said the late producer Arif Mardin, who remembered one session where he was working with the Bee Gees on an album - but was unsure of what he had produced.

"Then Ahmet came and listened to it, and said, `You've got hits here, you've got dance hits,'" Mr. Mardin once told the AP. "I was involved in such a way that I didn't see the forest for the trees. ... He was like the steadying influence."

Kenny Davern, 71, a radically traditional jazz clarinetist and soprano saxophonist whose liquid tones linked him to the classical sound of New Orleans but who could also play free jazz, died of a heart attack Tuesday at his home in Sandia Park, N.M. He was 71.

A professional on several instruments since his teens, Mr. Davern became nationally known in the 1970s when, with the pianist Dick Wellstood and another soprano saxophonist, Bob Wilber, he formed Soprano Summit. The band toured the world and recorded several well-received albums.

When the band reunited in the 1990s, Mr. Davern had returned almost exclusively to the clarinet, on which he was known for hitting notes far above the instrument's normal range.

"You could pick Kenny out on a record after two or three notes - like a hot knife going through butter," said Warren Vache, a trumpeter and longtime friend. "His playing was edgy and cutting and virile and, at the same time, passionate and tender."

His style, Mr. Vache said, "was derived from Dixieland but weaved in everything else."

John Kenneth Davern was born in Huntington, N.Y., and by the age of 11 was playing a clarinet that his mother had bought for $35. Living with his grandparents in Woodhaven, N.Y., after the breakup of his parents' marriage, he played in the school band and in a Dixieland band with friends from the neighborhood.

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