Monday, May 16, 2011

Joel Dorn: 1942 - 2007 - “The Masked Announcer”

“I became a lifelong Horace Silver fan back in the ‘Sister Sadie’/ ‘Senior Blues’ days. I loved the bands he put together as much as I dug his playing and composing. I especially liked his front lines, Donald Byrd and Hank Mobley, Woody Shaw and Joe Henderson and, of course, Blue Mitchell and Junior Cook.

For me, the band with Blue and Junior was special; it had a phenomenal feel. Some of his other quintets may have been more famous or "better," but the group with Blue and Junior (and Roy Brooks and Gene Taylor) had a thing all its own. I used to catch them at The Showboat in Philly in the early sixties. Even on the last set on a Tuesday morning when the joint was practically empty, that band smoked. They always brought it. And on the weekends when the club was wall to wall people -forget about it.

Those Showboat memories and the fact that Junior rarely recorded as a leader make having these two albums in our catalog very sweet. As usual, I won't discuss the music, but I'd like to use this space to make amends for something I did more than thirty years ago.

When I was twenty-three, I wrote liner notes for one of Horace's Blue Note albums, Silver's Serenade. In those notes, I tried to make a point by using a boxing analogy in which I referred to Junior's playing as ‘middleweight.’ Being young and foolish, I didn't realize at the time how condescending and thoughtless that remark was. When I read those notes a few months back, that ill-conceived sentence literally jumped off the page and bit me. Junior Cook was no "middleweight"; he was the real thing.

He's gone now so I can't apologize to him personally, but I truly hope that he wasn't offended the time a lightweight called him a middleweight.”
- Joel Dorn

“I'll tell you one story about Rahsaan. In the late 60s we were in the studio getting ready to mix one of his albums. He wouldn't let me start working with the tapes until I could ‘do it like me.’ I didn't know what he meant. He told me to sit down and close my eyes. He got behind the chair and started to wrap my head, mummy style, with masking tape from the neck up. Enough room was left for me to breathe. When Rahsaan was convinced that I couldn't see, he held a gun to head and said ‘I just want you to know how I feel all the time.’ He wasn't out of control, or crazy or menacing or evil or anything...he was cool. He was just telling me something.”
- Joel Dorn

“Enjoy the music, always say ‘Please’ and ‘Thank You,’ and I’ll talk to you later.
Keep a light in the window.”
- Joel Dorn

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights

While doing research for its continuing series on small, independent Jazz record companies, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles recently came across a listing of the Jazz recordings made possible by veteran record producer, Joel Dorn [1942-2007].

We thought it might be nice to “Thank” Joel for all that he’s done for the music with a brief remembrance on these pages.

Dorn, a one-time disc-jockey at a Philadelphia jazz radio station, was perhaps best known for his work with Atlantic Records' prestigious jazz stable between 1967 and 1974. Working alongside the label's Jazz chief, Nesuhi Ertegun, he produced recordings by musicians such as Max Roach, Herbie Mann, Les McCann and Eddie Harris, Mose Allison and Rahsaan Roland Kirk.

In the pop field, he helped set Bette Midler and Flack on the course to stardom, producing their debut albums. He and Flack won consecutive record-of-the-year Grammys, for "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" (1972) and "Killing Me Softly With His Song" (1973).

He also ventured into rock with the Allman Brothers Band's second release, 1970's "Idlewild South," and Don McLean's 1974 album, "Homeless Brother." (McLean was the inspiration for the songwriters of "Killing Me Softly...")

In his later years, he formed his own labels - 32 Jazz and Label M - both of which combined in reissuing over 250 classic Muse and Landmark recordings.

Joel also oversaw reissues of classic jazz albums for Columbia Records, Rhino Records and GRP Records including including a 13-CD historical overview of the Atlantic Jazz years, a 7-CD John Coltrane boxed-set entitled The Heavyweight Champion and collections by Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Cannonball Adderley, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Les McCann, Eddie Harris and Oscar Brown, Jr.

In 1995, the Smithsonian Institute added Joel’s works and papers to its permanent collection in honor of his accomplishments as a record producer.

At the time of his death, he was a partner in the roots label Hyena Records, and was working on a five-disc tribute to his mentor, "Homage A Nesuhi."

Here is some of Joel’s own writing in the form of an excerpt from his insert notes to 20 Special Fingers 32 Jazz two-fer [#32125] which is followed by a video tribute to him using the Fiesta Español track from tenor saxophonist Junior Cook’s 32 Jazz Senior Cookin CD 32095 [Cedar Walton, piano, Buster Williams, bass, Billy Higgins, drums. The tune is by Cedar].

© -Joel Dorn, copyright protected; all rights

“Back in the late fifties, when I was in high school and just get­ting into jazz, I read every issue of Down Beat from cover to cover. If I'd paid as much at­tention to my schoolbooks, I might have become a successful orthodontist with two or three offices and a pension fund with eight or nine hundred grand in it. Or maybe I'd be one of those divorce lawyers who gets twenty-five thousand up front just to take your case and is a master of the gentle art of double billing.

But no, I wanted to produce jazz albums, so to find out what was happening "on the scene," I read Down Beat. I might not have known how to figure out the square root of 422 or what the specific gravity of bauxite is, but I could tell you where Cannonball Adderley's quintet played last week and how many stars the latest Horace Silver album got.

When they said that so-and-so was the next great sax or piano or trumpet player, I assumed they were right. What'd I know? I was a kid. But in 1958. some­thing happened that gave me an opportunity to form opinions of my own. A twenty-four hour, seven-day-a-week jazz station, WHAT-FM, went on the air in Philly. For the first time, I could actually hear albums and artists that up to then I'd only read about.

I discovered that Third Stream music and most avant-garde jazz, stuff the boys at Down Beat used to rave about, bored the shit out of me. And while we generally agreed on Cannon, Horace, Blakey and the like, we disagreed on organ/ tenor music (I dug it; they didn't). I could give you many more examples of where we dif­fered, but I think you get the point.

One artist whom Down Beat had an especially contemp­tuous attitude toward was a young pianist from Los Angeles by way of Lexington, Kentucky, named Les McCann. His records regularly got anywhere from half a star to one star from the crit­ics, and their reviews of his work were rife with condescension and disdain. I constantly read about his shortcomings and about how shallow and cliché-filled his playing was.

I'll get back to Les in a minute. During that same time, there were two artists whom

Down Beat and I both loved, The Mitchell/Ruff Duo, pianist Dwike Mitchell and bassist/French horn player Willie Ruff. The big news concerning them was that at the height of the Cold War, they were part of a cultural exchange program with the Russians. If you read the reports of their re­ception by the Evil Empire, you'd have sworn that world peace was just a couple of choruses away.

Years later when I was a disc jockey, one of the records I used to get a great response to was Les' Limelight recording of Franz Lehar's "Yours Is My Heart Alone." Every time I played it, the phones would light up. On one of his visits to the station, I asked Les how he came to that song. He said he'd heard Dwike Mitchell play it. Then he went on to sing Dwike's praises, not only as a great pianist but as one of his three major influences. (The other two were Errol Garner and Miles.)

Just as so many of Les' records were listener favorites, so too was the Mitchell/Ruff Trio's album, The Catbird Seat (they'd added Charlie Smith on drums).

I thought that since there was already a connection be­tween Les and Dwike, that you guys might enjoy these two al­bums in one package. We've been doing this two-different-artists thing lately with Yusef and Rahsaan (Separate But Equal- 32 Jazz, 32111); and we've got one coming that features Fathead and Hank. If these work – that means if they sell - we'll do more.

Despite Down Beat's early opinion of Les, he's had a fabu­lous career as a recording artist and on concert stages and in clubs the world over. I'm not sure, but I think Dwike and Willie have been very active on the aca­demic side of music. Somewhere in the back of my head, I remem­ber reading about a connection between them and Yale Univer­sity.

I haven't read Down Beat in  years. Not because there's any­thing wrong with it. It's just that when you cross that not-so-imaginary line that separates wide-eyed fans from the trenches of the music business, the price of the journey is a loss of innocence. It's not a bad thing, just a one-way bridge. Sometimes I wish I could be that kid again.

Anyway, enjoy the music, and I'll talk to you later.

Keep A Light In The Window,

Joel Dorn

Winter '99

P.S,: Late last year we re­leased a "live" album Les re­corded in 1967 called How's Your Mother? Down Beat gave it 4 1/2 stars. The gentleman who re­viewed it praised everything about Les' playing that the old gang at Down Beat used to put down. Go know.”

Oh, by the way, Joel, we will "put a light on in the window" for you and thanks again for all the great music.