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JT Notes: Nesuhi Ertegun, Jazz Master

JT's editor-in-chief Lee Mergner introduces May issue with discussion of Nesuhi Ertegun's legacy

Nesuhi Ertegun
Nesuhi Ertegun

Recently I attended the opening of a new concert series at the residence of the Turkish Ambassador to the U.S. The series, co-sponsored by Boeing and produced by Jazz at Lincoln Center, is being held in the same room that brothers Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun used to host informal jazz jams and concerts about 70 years ago in segregated Washington, D.C. From those humble beginnings as part-time jazz-party hosts, the Erteguns would go on to found Atlantic Records and change the face of American music in the 20th century, thanks to seminal recordings of artists like Ray Charles, Ruth Brown and Aretha Franklin (whose pre-Atlantic recordings are reviewed in this issue). Although the R&B-loving, deal-making and globe-trotting Ahmet became the more famous of the two brothers, it was Nesuhi who was the more serious jazz fan, and who was responsible for those landmark Atlantic Jazz albums of the ’60s. JazzTimes founder Ira Sabin always credited Nesuhi with supporting this magazine during its own humble beginnings as Radio Free Jazz. There is a reason that the Jazz Hall of Fame at Jazz at Lincoln Center is named for the older of the Ertegun brothers, who died in 1989.

Festival impresario George Wein, who was lifelong friends with both men but particularly close to Nesuhi, says the elder Ertegun was never concerned with the limelight. “Nesuhi didn’t care to go to every function or mingle with big names,” says Wein. “He had a totally different personality. Both of them were great jazz fans, but Nesuhi was much deeper into what the current scene was about. He loved Mingus, Coltrane and Ornette and he respected what they were doing.” According to Wein, Nesuhi was an early and steady supporter of Wein’s Newport Jazz Festival and of Claude Nobs’ Montreux Jazz Festival. As you can see from the Festival Guide in this issue, jazz festivals now take place all over the globe, 12 months of the year, further affirming Nesuhi’s legacy.

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