As nearly everyone in the jazz community knows by now, Joel Dorn died of a heart attack on Monday at the age of 65. Joel’s work as a producer covered a broad swath of popular music, but many of us admired him for the integrity of his efforts with jazz artists when he was a key figure at Atlantic Records and in his ventures as an independent producer. Among the musicians who respected him for his knowledge, taste, guidance and quiet, wacky humor were Roland Kirk, Charles Mingus, Fathead Newman and Eddie Harris.
Later, with his own label, 32, and for Rhino Records, he set high standards for jazz reissues. Dorn provided CD booklet preambles that were slightly off the wall and always perceptive. Here’s part of one for a Paul Desmond compilation:
To me, he’s always been a painter with a palette full of pastels and a real soft brush.He seems to whisper into the horn, never saying a wrong word. In all the years I was in the studio or hanging out in joints, I never saw Desmond. Never even met him. But then I never ran into Monet in those places, either.
During the 1970s Dorn and I encountered one another now and then in New York. He was a stimulating companion with sharp perceptions and a dry wit. One evening following a record release party, we were walking east on 44th street with the trombonist Eddie Bert and the writer Burt Korall. We were discussing the quality of reviews in Down Beat. I forget who delivered the last installment of the rant before Joel capped it. Affecting a Groucho Marx delivery, he said, “You pay five dollars for a review, you get a five-dollar review.”
Adjusted for inflation, the pay for reviews has gone up, but the Dorn principle still applies to an appalling percentage of them.
For a thorough and, as far as I can tell, accurate, report on his productive career, click here. For examples of his superb reissue work, try this Paul Desmond collection or these surveys of the Atlantic recordings of Rahssan Roland Kirk and Yusef Lateef.
Joel Dorn, 1942-2007.