Monday, Nov. 18, 2013

The Greatest Ears in Town

Remembering Producer Arif Mardin

By David Luhrssen
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Arif Mardin was never a household name, but music fans scrutinizing album credits knew of him and the stars he worked with knew him well. The Greatest Ears in Town: The Arif Mardin Story is a documentary of a remarkable career suffused with pathos. Working with Mardin’s son Joe, filmmaker Doug Biro interviewed the record producer and his associates as the grand old man worked on his long dreamed of solo album—as the clock ticked. Mardin suffered from inoperable cancer; in his last days he wrote arrangements from his hospital bed and listened to the mixes over the phone. The final touches on the posthumously released CD, All My Friends Are Here, were made after his death in 2006. He was 74.

If Mardin’s death was remarkable, so was his life. Born in Istanbul into Ottoman aristocracy, he became a big band leader in his native Turkey. Arriving in the U.S in the early ‘60s, he was hired as a producer-arranger by Atlantic Records, run by fellow Turkish expatriate Ahmet Ertegun. Mardin was propelled to the forefront from his success with The Rascals. The exuberant, youthful group was not quite The Beatles, but Mardin—schooled on Duke Ellington and Igor Stravinsky—proved a match for George Martin. He want on to produce a legion of other recording acts whose golden records covered his walls. He won many Grammys, including for Norah Jones’ 2002 album debut.

Remarkably, Mardin had no “sound” he was trying to impose. He was a listener, sensitive to the artist he worked with. Like a good psychologist, he sometimes understood the artists better than they understood themselves and like a great conductor, he heard the essence of the music at hand.

The Greatest Ears in Town is out on DVD.

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