Music stars pay tribute to producer‘s love of jazz
Fri May 14, 2010 10:04pm EDT
NEW YORK (Billboard) – Arif Mardin may not be a household name, but he worked with more than a few familiar faces who are.
In his 40-plus years with Atlantic and Manhattan Records, before his death in June 2006, the Turkish-born producer/arranger was responsible for hits from stars including Bette Midler, Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, Hall & Oates, Norah Jones and Willie Nelson. He also won 12 Grammy Awards and is credited with encouraging Barry Gibb to use the falsetto that would propel the Bee Gees’ sound in the disco era.
But his first musical love was jazz composition, a pursuit that he put on hold in 1966 after he co-produced his first No. 1 pop hit, the Young Rascals’ “Good Lovin’.” Now, four years after his death, Mardin’s jazz work will be celebrated with “All My Friends Are Here,” a collection of his compositions recorded with many of the pop stars whose careers he elevated.
The set, due June 15 from his son Joe Mardin‘s NuNoise label, will have a companion documentary, “The Greatest Ears in Town,” co-directed by Mardin and Doug Biro. It was filmed during recording sessions for the album and includes interviews with such artists and colleagues as Franklin, Quincy Jones and late Atlantic co-founder Ahmet Ertegun.
“When my father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in early 2005, he started reviewing compositions from the past, some which had lyrics, some which didn’t,” recalls Mardin, who worked with his father for many years as a co-producer and helped complete and record the selected pieces. “He always referred to this album as his life’s work.”
The first song recorded was noir ballad “So Blue,” with lyrics by Roxanne Seeman, featuring Khan on vocals and David Sanborn on alto sax. Other tracks were completed either when Mardin was too sick to work or after his death. He worked on the project until the very end of his life. “I went to visit him one night in June 2006, and he hands me score paper,” Joe Mardin says. “It was the string arrangement to ‘No Way Out.’ And my father died the next day.”
Although Mardin wouldn’t live to see the song recorded with singer Nicki Parrott, the detailed instructions he left behind illustrate the forethought in his process. “He wanted some seashore sound effects, a Balinese gamelan interlude, finger snaps and Jerry Dodgion’s flute as an alter ego to the vocal,” Mardin says.
Of the album’s 13 tracks, the only one the elder Mardin didn’t pen is opener “The Greatest Ears in Town,” co-written and sung by Midler as a tribute to the producer, who helped her earn a Grammy and a Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 with “Wind Beneath My Wings.” “It’s this very loving tribute to how my father came here and landed in the world of jazz, and ended up becoming this very successful creator,” Mardin says.
The album’s other contributors include Jones, Nelson, Carly Simon and Dr. John. The title track’s all-star roster includes Hall & Oates, Barry and Robin Gibb, and Phil Collins.
Mardin will release the companion documentary on DVD and is in talks to bring it to TV.
“With the film, we obviously wanted to show his success in popular music,” he says. “But also the family side, the history from Turkey — what an extraordinary kind of American dream my parents lived, my father being the first recipient of the Quincy Jones Scholarship at the Berklee College of Music, and how that led to being hired by (Ahmet’s brother) Nesuhi Ertegun at Atlantic. And what a great father he was — because with all his accomplishments, he was a great dad.”