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TELEVISION

ATLANTIC RECORDS: THE HOUSE THAT AHMET BUILT

 

Staff Report

NEW YORK, 30 APRIL 2007—The late Turkish jazz, R & B and rock and roll impresario and record producer Ahmet Ertegun (1923 - 2006) is the subject of a television documentary entitled, Atlantic Records: The House That Ahmet Built. Part of the American Masters series produced for PBS by Thirteen/WNET New York, the two-hour film explores the career and contribution to American culture of the co-founder of the famous label and features interviews with prominent contemporary musicians and industry specialists as well as rivetting performance clips and studio sessions of some of America's greatest jazz, blues and rock and roll musicians.

Under Ertegun’s direction, Atlantic Records evolved from a groundbreaking, independent R&B and jazz label into one of the world’s preeminent music companies. The artists Ertegun discovered and the music he pioneered led a revolution in R&B, soul, and rock music that reshaped the modern cultural landscape – forming a legacy that includes such seminal artists as Ray Charles, Big Joe Turner, Ruth Brown, LaVern Baker, The Clovers, The Drifters, John Coltrane, Ben E. King, Bobby Darin, Sonny & Cher, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Solomon Burke, Wilson Pickett, Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, The Rolling Stones, Bette Midler, Roberta Flack, Phil Collins, and many others.

Based on recorded interviews with Ertegun over a period of four years, the documentary also conveys the social context in which Ahmet Ertegun's  career and personal life evolved: his arrival in America as the multi-lingual and cosmopolitan son of a distinguished Turkish diplomat; the cultural ignorance and lack of sophistication of his classmates at an American elite school; racial segregation in Washington, D.C. and the US nightclubs of the 1940s; the practice of payola (bribes) and American radio stations and the impact of African-American music on European rock musicians from Johnny Halliday in France to Mick Jagger in England.

In fact, one lengthy segment in the last third of the film examines the phenomenon whereby young British groups like the Rolling Stones, Cream, Led Zeppelin and Genesis absorbed and later transformed the R & B of American black artists—only to re-export this hybrid genre or "white sound" to America via Atlantic Records in the 1960s. Later, some jazz musicians and historians would attribute the waning of jazz in America to the popular success of British and West Coast American rock. Nevertheless, once asked by the online magazine Slate what he wanted for his legacy, Ertegun responded, "I'd be happy if people said that I did a little bit to raise the dignity and recognition of the greatness of African-American music."

The House That Ahmet Built premieres Wednesday, 2 May at 9 p.m. (ET) on PBS .

www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters



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