[JPL] Revealing the Innovator Behind the Music

r durfee rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com
Wed May 2 18:54:38 EDT 2007

May 2, 2007
TV Review | 'American Masters - Ahmet Ertegun'
Revealing the Innovator Behind the Music 
The rise of the music producer Ahmet Ertegun was more
like the intensely groovy embellishment of the lofty
status he was born with. 

The son of a Turkish diplomat who was appointed
ambassador to the United States in 1935, Mr. Ertegun
arrived in Washington at 11, a worldly,
dinner-jacket-wearing little gentleman, besotted with
jazz and ignorant of Jim Crow. 

Tonight PBS’s “American Masters” series cannily
presents Mr. Ertegun’s biography — along with the
story of the great pop musicians of the 20th century —
on “Atlantic Records: The House That Ahmet Built.”
Each soaring career on display here, including those
of Otis Redding, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Eric
Clapton, Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones, is well
worth seeing and hearing again. 

PBS deploys black-and-white concert film and studio
footage with imagination and humor, as when an image
of the young Ms. Franklin looking haughty is used to
stand in for the look she might have given the young,
permed Mr. Clapton, to whom Mr. Ertegun introduced her
with a diplomat’s interest in social intrigue. 

But the chief thrill of the program comes in
witnessing, in slow motion, Mr. Ertegun’s unlikely
confrontation with American music. The drama’s off to
a running start when, with the particularly gorgeous
gall that rich embassy brats have, skinny little Ahmet
ditches his parents’ friends from the Turkish
consulate in New York and hops a taxi to Harlem. 

At 12 or 13, Ahmet made his way to the Plantation
Club, where he marched up to Oran (Hot Lips) Page and
introduced himself. Mr. Page evidently asked the
seventh grader where he went to college, and Mr.
Ertegun answered, “Harvard.” Mr. Page assured him he’d
be taken care of, and Mr. Ertegun remembers that a
showgirl was assigned to him. He ended up, after an
after-party, many scotch and sodas, a joint and a
night of pure jazz, with a hard slap from his father,
who had never hit him before. He was hooked on the
music anyway. 

The filmmaker Susan Steinberg takes a perceptive
approach to her subject, having Mr. Ertegun
interviewed by a revolving cast of music-world gods
and egomaniacs: figures like Ms. Franklin and Mr.
Clapton, but also Robert Plant, Lyor Cohen, David
Geffen, Mick Jagger, Phil Collins and Mr. Charles (in
his last filmed interview). This could have seemed
forced, but the reverse is true: the scenes — in part
because both players have roughly equal status —
really do come through as a series of conversations,
with both parties seeming to enlighten each other. 

When Mr. Ertegun tells Ms. Franklin, for example, that
the Beatles were in the audience at a concert she gave
when she was just starting out, she is amazed. The
interplay between them on this point — it’s brief — is
fascinating; viewers might form a deeper understanding
of music history, as seen right there in the
triangulated relationship between African-American
soul, British pop and the diplomat superproducer. Does
Aretha Franklin care about the Beatles, and did she
ever? Did Ahmet Ertegun think she should have?

Though the program, which is solemnly narrated by
Bette Midler, was not initially intended as an elegy
for Mr. Ertegun, who died last year, “The House That
Ahmet Built” ends up functioning that way. It is a
rare combination, possible only with an idiosyncratic
subject like Mr. Ertegun: a lovely tribute, and
compelling television. 


Atlantic Records: The House That Ahmet Built

On most PBS stations tonight (check local listings).

Written, directed and co-produced by Susan Steinberg;
Phil Carson, producer; Susan Lacy, executive producer
of “American Masters.”


Roy Durfee
P.O. Box 40219
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87196-0219
rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com

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