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Ahmet Ertegun, one of the most influential figures in American music, was born 100 years ago today
Photo by Ashkan Sahibi
One of the most influential figures in the history of American popular music was born on this day in 1923 — 100 years ago — in perhaps the unlikeliest of places: Istanbul, Turkey.
The son of a high-ranking diplomat, Ahmet Ertegun enjoyed a cosmopolitan upbringing that included stops in Switzerland, Paris and London before his father's appointment as Turkish ambassador to the United States brought him to America.
Intelligent, well-educated and well-connected, Ertegun had attractive career opportunities to consider when he graduated from Maryland's St. John's College in 1944, but his Americanization had already gone too far.
"I had to decide whether I would go into a scholastic life or go back to Turkey in the diplomatic service," he recalled many years later. "[But] what I really loved was music...and hanging out."
To hold those priorities as a recent college graduate is one thing, but to turn them into a hugely successful career of great historical and cultural significance is quite another.
Along with his older brother, Nesuhi, Ahmet was a jazz and blues aficionado. Together, the two Erteguns had amassed an enormous record collection of mostly black artists — artists who had little hope of mainstream success in the segregated America of the 1940s.
While Nesuhi went west to take over a Los Angeles record store in 1944, Ahmet remained on the East Coast, moving to New York City in 1947 to establish an independent record label with partner, Herb Abramson. That label, Atlantic Records, would play a pivotal role in breaking down the racial barriers that characterized the postwar music industry.
At Atlantic Records in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Ertegun worked with artists like Big Joe Turner, Ruth Brown, The Drifters and Ray Charles to lay down the foundations of a musical style that future Atlantic producer, Jerry Wexler, had only recently christened "rhythm and blues."
The future styles called "soul" and "rock and roll" would also evolve out of the sounds that Ertegun helped to popularize, and the early Atlantic catalog would be instrumental in inspiring the blues-based rock that British bands like the Rolling Stones brought to America in the mid-1960s.
When Herb Abramson departed Atlantic in 1958, Jerry Wexler and Nesuhi Ertegun joined on as partners, and after another incredibly successful decade as a true independent, they sold the label to the forerunner of Time Warner in 1967.
Atlantic retained a distinct identity within its parent company, however, even as it moved from the music of Aretha Franklin and Led Zeppelin in the 1960s and 1070s to gangsta rap in the 1990s.
Born on this day in 1923, Ahmet Ertegun died in 2006 following a fall backstage at a Rolling Stones concert at the Beacon Theater in New York City.
Stanley Jordan, New York City, 2011
Photo by Frank Beacham
Stanley Jordan is 64 years old today.
Jordan is jazz fusion guitarist and pianist. Born in Chicago, he began his music career at age six, studying piano, then shifted his focus to guitar at age eleven. He later began playing in rock and soul bands.
In 1976, Jordan won an award at the Reno Jazz Festival. He earned a BA in music from Princeton University in 1981, where he studied theory and composition with composer, Milton Babbitt, and computer music with composer, Paul Lansky. While at Princeton in 1979, he played with Benny Carter and Dizzy Gillespie.
Jordan was the first artist to be signed by Bruce Lundvall when the latter became president of Blue Note Records in 1985 and, consequently, Magic Touch was the first release (not reissue) of the rejuvenated label. Magic Touch was #1 on Billboard's jazz chart for 51 weeks — setting a new record.
Jordan also made the startup sound for the old Macintosh computers — the Power Macintosh 6100, Power Macintosh 7100 and Power Macintosh 8100.
He has performed in over 60 countries on six continents, and has played at many jazz festivals, including: Kool Jazz Festival (1984), Concord Jazz Festival (1985) and the Montreux International Jazz Festival (1985).
During the 1980s, Jordan played with Quincy Jones, Michal Urbaniak and Richie Cole. Jordan’s 2011 album, "Friends," was nominated for an NAACP Image Award.
Normally, a guitarist uses two hands to play each note. One hand presses down a guitar string behind a chosen fret to prepare the note, and the other hand either plucks or strums the string to play that note. Jordan's touch technique is an advanced form of two-handed tapping. The guitarist produces a note using only one finger by quickly tapping (or hammering) his finger down behind the appropriate fret.
The force of impact causes the string to vibrate enough to immediately sound the note, and Jordan executes tapping with both hands, and with more legato than is normally associated with guitar tapping.
The note's volume can be controlled by varying the force of impact: tapping with greater force produces a louder note. A helpful analogy to visualize this technique is the distinction between a harpsichord and a piano. A harpsichord produces sound by plucking its strings, and a piano produces sound by striking its strings with tiny hammers.
However, while notes produced on a harpsichord or piano sustain after the pick has plucked or hammer has struck, fingers must remain on a tapped note for the sound to continue. This similarity is what led Jordan to attempt such a technique in the first place. He was a classically trained pianist before playing guitar and wanted greater freedom in voicing chords on his guitar.
Jordan's touch technique allows the guitarist to play melody and chords simultaneously. It is also possible, as Jordan has demonstrated, to play simultaneously on two different guitars, as well as guitar and piano.
He plays guitar in all-fourths tuning, from bass to treble EADGCF (all in perfect fourths as on the bass guitar) rather than the standard EADGBE. He has stated that all-fourths tuning "simplifies the fingerboard, making it logical.”
Jordan's main guitar was built by Vigier Guitars in 1988. It is an Arpege model on which Vigier made a flat fingerboard, allowing it to have a very low action (0.5/0.7mm). The low action facilitates the tapping technique.
Here Stanley Jordan demonstrates his guitar tapping technique on a Letterman show.
On this day in 1964 — 59 years ago — Ranger 7, an unmanned U.S. lunar probe, took the first close-up images of the moon.
The probe took 4,308 images before it impacted with the lunar surface northwest of the Sea of the Clouds. The images were 1,000 times as clear as anything previously seen through earth-bound telescopes.
NASA had attempted a similar mission earlier in the year — Ranger 6 — but the probe's cameras had failed as it descended to the lunar surface.
Ranger 7, launched from Earth on July 28, 1964, successfully activated its cameras 17 minutes, or 1,300 miles, before impact and began beaming the images back to NASA's receiving station in California.
The pictures showed that the lunar surface was not excessively dusty or otherwise treacherous to a potential spacecraft landing, thus lending encouragement to the NASA plan to send astronauts to the moon.
In July, 1969, two Americans walked on the moon in the first Apollo Program lunar landing mission.
Kenny Burrell is 92 years old today.
Burrell is a jazz guitarist known for his collaborations with Jimmy Smith, including the 1965 hit album, Organ Grinder Swing. He has cited jazz guitarists Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt as influences, along with blues musicians, T-Bone Walker and Muddy Waters.
Burrell also serves as a professor and Director of Jazz Studies at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music.
Born in Detroit to a musical family (both of his parents played instruments), Burrell began playing guitar at the age of 12. He went on to study composition and theory with Louis Cabara and classical guitar with Joe Fava. While a student at Wayne State University, he made his recording debut as a member of Dizzy Gillespie's sextet in 1951.
He followed that with the "Rose of Tangier/Ground Round," a single recorded under his own name at Fortune Records in Detroit. While at university, Burrell founded the New World Music Society collective with fellow Detroit musicians, Pepper Adams, Donald Byrd, Elvin Jones and Yusef Lateef.
Burrell toured with Oscar Peterson after graduating in 1955 and then moved to New York City in 1956 with the pianist, Tommy Flanagan. Within months, Burrell had recorded his first album as leader for Blue Note and both he and Flanagan were sought-after as sidemen and studio musicians, performing with singers Tony Bennett and Lena Horne and recording with Billie Holiday, Jimmy Smith, Gene Ammons and Kenny Dorham.
From 1957 to 1959, Burrell occupied the former chair of Charlie Christian in Benny Goodman's band. Since his New York debut, Burrell has had a prolific recording career. Critics have cited The Cats with John Coltrane in 1957, Midnight Blue with Stanley Turrentine in 1963 and Guitar Forms with arranger Gil Evans in 1965 as highlights.
In 1978, he began teaching a course at UCLA called "Ellingtonia," examining the life and accomplishments of Duke Ellington. Although the two never collaborated directly, Ellington called Burrell his "favorite guitarist" and Burrell has recorded a number of tributes to and interpretations of Ellington's works.
In 2019, concerns arose about Burell's well being and living circumstances as he became increasingly socially and physically isolated in his home and major frictions developed between his wife, Katherine Goodrich, 37 years his junior, and others living their Westwood, California, apartment building.
A GoFundMe account was set up to pay medical bills and other putative expenses, which became controversial because he was covered by medical insurance through employment at UCLA and through Medicare. Subsequently a letter from Burrell was published, providing a detailed explanation of the situation and justification for the GoFundMe campaign.
Here, Burrell performs Miles Davis’s “All Blues.” He is joined by Bob Magnusson on bass and Sherman Ferguson on drums.
Photo by Frank Beacham
Aaron Weinstein, jazz violinist, mandolinist, arranger and comedian, is 38 years old today.
While still attending New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois, Weinstein founded the Stephane Grappelli Tribute Trio, which was named best high school instrumental jazz group by Down Beat magazine in 2002. He then attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts on a four-year scholarship.
Weinstein's debut album, A Handful of Stars, was released when he was 19 years old and had not yet graduated from Berklee.
Weinstein enjoys performing music from the American songbook, while interspersing his performances with a unique understated humor. He has been called “the Groucho of the violin.”
Now living in New York City, he has recorded with J. Geils, Bucky Pizzarelli, John Pizzarelli, Christine Ebersole and Frank Vignola.
Here, Weinstein explains jazz improvisation in 90 seconds.
"The world needs a real feeling of kinship. Everybody: stars, laborers, Negroes, Jews, Arabs. We are all brothers. Please don't make me a joke. End the interview with what I believe."
— Marilyn Monroe in the last interview before her death.
Peter Falk, 1984
Photo by Vera Anderson