Magazine article The Spectator

Fond Farewells

Magazine article The Spectator

Fond Farewells

Article excerpt

New York

Ahmet Ertegun was the greatest Turk since Kemal Ataturk, but unlike Mustafa Kemal he never killed anyone, especially a Greek. In brief, Ertegun was the supreme record man, the signer of the most important rhythm & blues, jazz, pop and rock artists of all time, the founder and builder of Atlantic Records, a company he began with the $10,000 he borrowed from his dentist. He was a diplomat's son, his father having served as ambassador to Paris and Washington, among other posts.

I met him in 1956 and we stayed friends until his death last October, when he slipped at a jazz concert, fell and hit his head and never recovered.

The first time I met him, we were walking down Third Avenue on a mild summer evening when he heard some cool jazz coming from an Edward Hopper-like house where a party was going on. A tall, good-looking man surrounded by young girls waved us to come up, which we eagerly did. Our host was Michael Butler, polo player, man-about-town, and later on producer of Hair. It was my first party in the Big Bagel, and I got some good tips on how the game was played. Ahmet was cool, to say the least, and we came off with some good addresses. His first big signing was Ray Charles, quickly followed by Big Joe Turner, Bobby Darin, Esther Phillips, Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin. Atlantic Records became America's pre-eminent independent label, and in the mid-Sixties Ertegun expanded Atlantic's focus from R&B and soul music into the emerging sounds of rock'n'roll. He signed Sonny and Cher, Led Zeppelin and Buffalo Springfield. Then he hit it big with the Rolling Stones -- and also began partying with those very naughty boys. Ahmet was a big party and ladies' man. Phil Collins, Kid Rock and James Blunt came later.

Throughout his life he remained friends with music people as well as with those of us who couldn't tell the difference between Eric Clapton and Andrés Segovia. Last month his widow, the beautiful Romanian Mica, threw a bash to celebrate his life at the Rose Theatre, which he had financed and founded on Columbus Circle. Seven hundred people crammed in for his farewell. All I can say is had there been a charge for the blast, it would have been the blockbuster box-office hit of all time.

Three hours of entertainment and speeches from the famous stars he had developed and nurtured throughout. Among many performing were Phil Collins, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Eric Clapton, Stevie Nicks, Bette Midler as MC, Mick Jagger as the pièce de résistance at the end with a funny speech, plus Henry Kissinger, Oscar de la Renta, Mayor Bloomberg, David Geffen (who got his start from Ahmet) and acts like the Dreamers, whose songs even an oldie like myself knew by heart when I was young. …

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