Grammy-winning Record Producer Joel Dorn Dies at 65

Joel Dorn, a Grammy-winning record producer whose career blossomed at Atlantic Records in the late 1960s and early ’70s, and who later continued to produce for his own labels, died December 17 in New York City at the age of 65. The cause of death was a heart attack.

Born April 7, 1942, Dorn’s credits ran the gamut from the soul of Roberta Flack to the pioneering jazz multi-instrumentalist Rahsaan Roland Kirk. He helped introduce Bette Midler and New Orleans’ Neville Brothers, and worked with such artists as Les McCann and Eddie Harris, Mose Allison, Yusef Lateef, Leon Redbone, Peter Allen, Don Mclean, the Allman Brothers Band, David “Fathead” Newman, Donny Hathaway and Mongo Santamaria.

From an early age, Dorn knew he wanted to work specifically for Atlantic Records. At 14, he began corresponding with the label’s co-founder Nesuhi Ertegun. In 1961, he began his career as a disc jockey at the pioneering Philadelphia jazz radio station WHAT-FM. Two years later, Ertegun, who’d been corresponding with Dorn for six years by that time, offered Dorn the chance to produce one record by an artist of his choice for Atlantic Jazz. Dorn chose Hubert Laws, a young flutist he had seen in Philly performing with Mongo Santamaria’s band. The resulting album, The Laws of Jazz, would become the first of countless record production credits to follow.

By 1967, Dorn had joined Atlantic Records full-time as Ertegun’s assistant. He was given the opportunity to sign artists, produce their records and become intricately involved with the promotion and marketing. Dorn focused primarily on jazz and R&B recordings. His work at Atlantic with Roberta Flack on “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” and “Killing Me Softly” won two consecutive Grammys for Record of the Year. Additional Grammys followed, including Jazz Record of the Year for Keith Jarrett and Gary Burton. Dorn also signed Bette Midler and co-produced her debut album The Divine Miss M.

In 1974, after accumulating 10 gold albums, five platinum albums and seven gold singles, Joel Dorn left Atlantic Records. He produced for a variety of labels and artists during this period, including albums by Leon Redbone, Lou Rawls, Don McLean, Peter Allen, Mink Deville and the Neville Brothers. He was awarded yet another Grammy for Best Country and Western Instrumental with Asleep at the Wheel’s “One O’Clock Jump,” and received two more gold records for the Leon Redbone albums On The Track and Champagne Charlie.

In the mid-1980s, Dorn scaled back the hectic production schedule he’d maintained for the previous two decades. He traveled the United States from 1986 through ’89, and in the process gathered hours upon hours of previously unreleased live recordings from many of his favorite artists. Four collections documenting Cannonball Adderley, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Les McCann and Eddie Harris were subsequently released on Joel’s own label, Night Records. He was subsequently asked to consult for Rhino, GRP and Columbia, which were in the process of updating and reissuing their catalogs on CD. Dorn produced a 13-CD historical overview of the Atlantic Jazz years for Rhino. His production on the seven-CD John Coltrane box set entitled The Heavyweight Champion earned him an additional Grammy nomination, while collections by Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Oscar Brown, Jr. cemented Dorn’s reputation as a preeminent audio documentarian and reissue producer.

In 1995, the Smithsonian Institute added Joel Dorn’s works and papers to its collection in honor of his accomplishments as a record producer. By the end of that year, Dorn decided it was time to take another shot at running his own record label. He subsequently formed 32 Records, which focused on reissuing albums from the classic Muse and Landmark jazz vaults, as well as select titles from Atlantic Records. In the four years spent with the label, Dorn reissued over 250 titles, and produced the critically acclaimed Individually Twisted by the Jazz Passengers with Deborah Harry. His biggest commercial success of this period came after developing the Jazz For a Rainy Afternoon compilation series, which went on to become one of the best-selling jazz sets in the history of the genre.

Over the past decade, Dorn produced albums by Jane Monheit, Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, Leon Parker, Janice Siegel and the Frank and Joe Show (featuring guitarist Frank Vignola and percussionist Joe Ascione). In 2003, Dorn helped create Hyene Records, releasing archival recordings by Bobby Darin, Thelonious Monk, Dr. John and Joe Williams.

At the time of his death, Dorn was completing a five-CD box set for Rhino Handmade entitled Homage A Nesuhi, serving as a tribute to his mentor Nesuhi Ertegun and their years together at Atlantic Records. He was also the voice of Sirius Satellite Radio’s Pure Jazz channel and was producing a series of music infomercials for Time Warner.

Dorn is survived by three sons: Michael Dorn, who operates his own furniture store in Philadelphia; David Dorn, Sr. Vice President New Media for Rhino Records; and Adam Dorn (aka Mocean Worker), a musician, and his longtime girlfriend Faye Rosen.

Thanks to Kevin Calabro at Hyena Records for supplying the information contained in this report.