Monday, June 26, 2006


Prolific producer and label boss Arif Mardin has died, it has been announced.

In a half-century in the music business, Mardin worked with everyone from the BeeGees to Norah Jones.

Mardin was born to a distinguished Turkish family in Istanbul; he graduated from his home city's university and then came to London to take up a place at the London School of Economics. Although crazy about jazz (a passion he picked up from his sister), back home he had intended to follow a more traditional career path for a scion of an upper-class family. His mind, though, was changed when Dizzy Gillespie made a visit to southern Europe in the mid-fifties:

"Dizzy came through Turkey in 1956, and it was the biggest event of my life. I had the chance to meet him, and he wound up playing one of my pieces and giving me some pointers."

Quincy Jones was, at this time, pulling together funding for a music scholarship at Boston's Berklee College of Music; Mardin was the first recipient.

After his course, and a year teaching at the college, Mardin was offered a role with Atlantic Records. In 1969, after just six years with the label, Mardin had risen through the roles of studio manager and house producer to be Vice President. (During this time, Atlantic had lost its independence to become part of Warner Brothers' media empire.) Eventually, he would become Atlantic's senior Vice President. Upon his retirement from Atlantic, he revived EMI's Manhattan Records imprint, providing a home for (amongst others) Richard Marx and Norah Jones.

But while his life behind a desk is noteworthy, it is for his work as a producer for which Mardin will be remembered. He picked up twelve Grammys, including producer of the year for 1976 and 2003 and record of the year for 1990 and 2003 - Bette Midler's Wind Beneath My Wings and Norah Jones' Don't Know Why respectively.

Amogst a string of top ten hits he was involved with were the BeeGee's Jive Talkin', Pick Up The Pieces by the Average White Band and Against All Odds. By Phil Collins.

He clocked up over forty gold and platinum albums, was, in 1990, induced into the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame and worked with Scritti Politti. He agreed to help out on Queen Latifah's collection of standards in part because he was tickled at her sharing his wife's name, but even late into his career was still able to be surprised. When Norah Jones started to sell in the States, he sent his young charge an email exclaiming "a million records in a week - this is a first in my career."

Right from the start of his musical life, though, he was known for taking bold leaps, as on one of his albums with Aretha Franklin, which was meant to be a live gospel recording:

She didn't like one part of the song, so she came to the studio and played it and sang and said 'Make your edit there.' I said 'How are we gonna make an edit into the live church sound?' So I assembled a lot of people and they would talk and hum and clap and everything to create that atmosphere. Then I took a room murmur of the church and made a long loop of it. On the splice, I put a cymbal and things like that and it worked out fine."

Mardin had been living with pancreatic cancer; he died at home in New York earlier today. His body will be flown to Istanbul for the funeral.

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