NEW YORK – Ahmet Ertegun, an immigrant fan of American jazz whose Atlantic Records helped shape rock “n’ roll with artists like Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, died Thursday. He was 83.

Arguably the most important independent music man of the rock “n’ roll era, Ertegun had the stature in music that moguls like Louis B. Mayer had in the movies.

He even helped cement his own legacy by co-founding the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.

In a sense, he died in the saddle. He slipped into a coma after suffering a fall during an Oct. 29 Rolling Stones concert at the Beacon Theater in New York. He died at New York-Presbyterian Hospital Weill Cornell without regaining consciousness.

The Stones were among dozens of A-list artists who recorded over the years for Atlantic, the label Ertegun started in 1947 with his brother Nesuhi and their partner, Herb Abramson, with a loan from Ertegun’s dentist.

Other stars included Joe Turner, Ruth Brown, Cream, Bobby Darin, Wilson Pickett, the Rascals, ABBA, the Bee Gees and Bette Midler.

Ertegun also tended to his personal taste by recording cabaret artists like the late Bobby Short and jazzmen like John Coltrane.

But rhythm and blues soon became the struggling label’s meal ticket, and Atlantic artists like Turner, Charles, Brown, the Coasters and LaVern Baker helped guide the evolution of R&B into rock “n’ roll.

“Artists came to Atlantic for a simple reason,” said Jerry Wexler, Ertegun’s longtime chief producer. “They knew he loved the music. If you had the goods, he knew what to do with them.”

Ertegun grew up in Washington, where his father was the Turkish ambassador, and mingled with jazz artists like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington.

In later years, Ertegun would himself become a central figure in New York society, and he never lost his reputation as a man who loved a good party. Tales of how he hung out with the Stones while he was wooing them for Atlantic became legendary in the business.

But his reputation rested primarily on Atlantic’s music.

“Without Ahmet,” Rolling Stone magazine founder Jann Wenner said a couple of years ago, “a lot of us wouldn’t be here.”

Ertegun will be buried in a private ceremony in Turkey, with a public memorial planned in New York early next year.

(c) 2006, New York Daily News.

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Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.


ARCHIVE PHOTOS on MCT Direct (from MCT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): AHMET ERTEGUN

AP-NY-12-14-06 2158EST

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