Legendary record producer Joel Dorn, whose studio collaborations included classic albums with Roberta Flack, Max Roach, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and the Neville Brothers, died of a heart attack on Monday in New York. He was 65.
Beginning in the early 1960s, Dorn became a protegé of Atlantic Records president Nesuhi Ertegun after a long correspondence that had unfolded when Dorn was a teenager growing up in Philadelphia. "I was 14 and I [heard] a record by Ray Charles called 'Ain't That Love,'" Dorn told JazzWeek magazine in 2006, "and my whole life changed. I had never heard of Ray Charles in my life. It was as if somebody had hit the brakes on the planet and then started it up again. I went looking for Ray Charles records the next day [but] I couldn’t find them [anywhere]. I happened to pick up an Atlantic jazz album, and it had Nesuhi Ertegun’s name on the back. Well, he did jazz so I wrote him a letter. About 10 months later, he wrote me back and sent me the Ray Charles record. That’s how it started."
After overseeing several independent productions for Atlantic (including flute player Hubert Laws' 1964 debut The Laws Of Jazz), Dorn was invited to move into the label's office spaces in New York. It was an age of musical exploration, in jazz as well as rock, and Dorn's approach behind the mixing desk—fashioning a framework that would allow musicians maximum freedom—brought out the best in such artists as Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Les McCann, Jimmy Scott, Eddie Harris, Yusef Lateef, and Herbie Mann.
It was an approach that worked equally well in the pop and R&B arenas. In 1972 and 1973, Dorn won consecutive "Record Of The Year" Grammy Awards as producer of Roberta Flack's hits "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" and "Killing Me Softly With His Song." Dorn left Atlantic in 1974, but throughout the '70s and into the '80s, he was at the helm for seminal releases from the likes of The Allman Brothers (Idlewild South), Leon Redbone (On The Track), the Neville Brothers (Fiyo On The Bayou), and many more.
In his later years, Dorn founded his own labels (including Night, 32 Jazz and Label M) and oversaw reissues of classic jazz albums for the Columbia, Rhino and GRP imprints. 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 entitled Homage A Nesuhi. He is survived by three sons.