Joel Dorn, one of the key producers at Atlantic Records in the 1960s and ’70s who became a pre-eminent jazz archivist in the CD era, died Monday of a heart attack in New York. He was 65.
When the chief protagonist in the film “High Fidelity,” played by John Cusack, lists his Top Five Dream Jobs, he places at No.2, “producer, Atlantic Records, 1964 to 1971.” One person that description fit was Dorn.
A Philadelphia disc jockey who first worked for Atlantic in 1963, he joined Atlantic full-time in May 1967 producing jazz artists such as Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Les McCann, Eddie Harris, Yusef Lateef and Herbie Mann. Dorn’s first production for Atlantic was Hubert Laws’ “The Laws of Jazz” in 1963.
He branched out into rock and pop, producing Roberta Flack’s hits “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” and “Killing Me Softly With His Song,” which won him back-to-back record of the year Grammys. He was also behind the boards for the landmark albums Bette Midler’s “The Divine Miss M,” the Allman Brothers Band’s “Idlewild South” and the Neville Brothers’ “Fiyo On The Bayou.”
Born April 7, 1942, Dorn grew up in Philadelphia and, in 1961, started spinning records at WHAT-FM. He started corresponding with Atlantic co-founder Neushi Ertegun, who eventually hired Dorn as his assistant. From there Dorn was allowed to sign artists and, working with Tom Dowd, Arif Mardin and the Erteguns, produce records.
He left Atlantic in 1974 and produced albums for Leon Redbone, Lou Rawls, Don McClean, Mink Deville and others. During the late 1980s, he began assembling a library of unreleased live recordings of jazz artists that he released on his Night Records imprint.
With the advent of the CD, Dorn became an in-demand consultant, producer and archivist, working with Rhino, GRP and Columbia. Among his productions was a 13-CD historical overview of the Atlantic Jazz years and the seven-CD John Coltrane box set “The Heavyweight Champion.”
In 1995, he created 32 Records to reissue titles from the Muse, Landmark and Atlantic jazz vaults. The label released more than 250 titles. In 2003, he helped create Hyena Records, which released new and historical albums. He also had a label called M.
Over the last 10 years, he also produced albums by Jane Monheit, Janice Siegel, the Jazz Passengers with Deborah Harry and others.. At the time of his death, he was the voice of Sirius Satellite Radio’s Pure Jazz channel.
He is survived by three sons: David, the senior vice president of New Media for Rhino Records; Adam, a musician who goes by the name Mocean Worker, and Michael; in addition to his longtime girlfriend, Faye Rosen.