Spectropop remembers

ARIF MARDIN (1932 - 2006)

Arif Mardin has died aged 73. One look at his discography merits his status among the 20th century's most important music producers. From his early work with the Young Rascals and Aretha Franklin to his recent productions for Jewel and Norah Jones, Arif Mardin transcended genres and contributed to many of contemporary music's most brilliant works. Atlantic Records' Ahmet Ertegun declared, "In a business often driven by trend and fashion, Arif [remained] a true artist, a man of incredible musical talent. In contrast to many other producers, Arif [did] not have one sound that [dominated] his records. Rather, he [created] an environment unique to each performer, the common link being exceptional quality and taste. As a result, for over four decades, he helped singers and musicians of very different styles do the best work of their careers." In his career he collected over 40 gold and platinum albums, over 15 Grammy nominations and six Grammy awards.

Mardin worked with many of the most illustrious artists in the history of contemporary music, including the Average White Band, Anita Baker, the Bee Gees, Petula Clark, Judy Collins, Phil Collins, Culture Club, King Curtis, Roberta Flack, Hall & Oates, Donny Hathaway, Whitney Houston, Chaka Khan, Patti LaBelle, Lulu, Melissa Manchester, Manhattan Transfer, Bette Midler, Modern Jazz Quartet, Willie Nelson, Laura Nyro, John Prine, Diana Ross, Scritti Politti, Dusty Springfield, Barbara Streisand, Dionne Warwick and many more.

Born in Istanbul, Turkey, Arif Mardin graduated from Istanbul University and studied at the London School of Economics. Although he was a self-professed jazz fanatic, as well as an accomplished orchestrator and arranger, he never intended to pursue a career in music. It was a chance meeting with jazz great Dizzy Gillespie that proved to be the stroke of fate. "Dizzy came through Turkey in 1956, and it was the biggest event of my life," recalled Mardin. "I had the chance to meet him, and he wound up playing one of my pieces and giving me some pointers." Two years later in 1958, he became the first recipient of the Quincy Jones Scholarship at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. After graduation, he taught at Berklee for a year. He was eventually made a trustee of the school and awarded an honorary doctorate.

Mardin joined Atlantic Records in 1963 as an assistant to Nesuhi Ertegun. He was soon named studio manager and subsequently became the label's house producer and arranger. In 1969, he was named a Vice President of the company and later served as Senior Vice President. In 1967 Jerry Wexler employed him to arrange sessions for Aretha Franklin, from which came 'I Never Loved A Man' and 'Do Right Woman'. Mardin continued to produce and arrange songs for Franklin across the 1970s. Wexler then enlisted Mardin to arrange the strings for Dusty Springfield's classic 'Dusty In Memphis' LP. In 1969 he released the first of two solo albums, 'Glass Onion', whose relaxed jazz flavours found British popularity in 1996 when the song 'How Can I Be Sure?' became a UK lounge hit in clubs. In 1974 Mardin was paired with a struggling Scottish soul group, the Average White Band. His production emphasised their bright brass and dynamic rhythms, taking them to the top of the US album and singles charts.

Mardin enjoyed a relationship with Atlantic that allowed him to produce albums for other record labels as well. His collaborations with the Bee Gees led to the smash hit 'Jive Talkin''. His chart toppers also included 'Against All Odds' and 'Separate Lives' (a duet with Marilyn Martin) by Phil Collins, 'I Feel For You' by Chaka Khan and the Grammy winning 'Wind Beneath My Wings' by Bette Midler. In 1990, Mardin was inducted into the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame. In 1994, in celebration of his 30th Anniversary with Atlantic Records, he was the subject of a special tribute issue in Billboard magazine. In 1996, he earned his sixth Grammy Award for his production of the original Broadway cast album of 'Smokey Joe's Cafe: The Songs Of Leiber And Stoller'. The following year, he received a Grammy nomination for the original Broadway cast recording of 'Rent'. In 1997 he was one of the recipients of the NARAS Heroes Award, presented by Ahmet Ertegun.

That year was a very busy one, which included producing the music for 'Cinderella', the ABC TV special starring Whitney Houston and Brandy, and songs on Patti LaBelle's 'Flame' and Regina Carter's 'Something For Grace' LPs. He received a Grammy nomination for the song 'Laura' by Carly Simon and produced four songs on Barbra Streisand's album 'Higher Ground'. "Barbra, Bette, Carly, Patti and Whitney made 1997 my 'Year of the Diva'," he mused. Later he served as music producer for 'Why Do Fools Fall In Love', the Frankie Lymon biopic, and produced tracks on Bette Midler's 'Bathhouse Betty', Diana Ross' 'Everyday Is A New Day', Barbra Streisand's 'A Love Like Ours' and Patti LaBelle's live 'One Nite Only' albums. Appropriately, Mardin closed the decade with another glimmering diva, Jewel.

He opened the next millenium with orchestral arrangements for Eric Clapton and B.B. King. In 2001 he signed with Manhattan/EMI to produce new artists with adult appeal. Norah Jones had disagreed with the initial producer of her debut, so Mardin was brought in to finish her LP 'Come Away With Me', which, when released in early 2002, went on to sell 18m copies. Mardin won four Grammy awards for the album, including best producer. He also produced Jones' 2004 follow-up album, 'Feels Like Home'.

Mardin is survived by his wife of 48 years Latife, a son and two daughters.

(Adapted from an article at http://www.lightmillennium.org)

Arif Mardin, producer, arranger and composer: born March 15th, 1932 - died June 25th, 2006