multi-instrumentalist and producer from Istanbul,
Turkey, who attended Istanbul University and the London School of
In 1956, he
got to meet Dizzy Gillespie and Quincy Jones, who were in town for a
concert. Consequently, Arif received the Quincy Jones Scholarship, which
allowed him to study at the Berklee College of
Music in Boston, Massachusetts. He and his soon-to-be bride Latife relocated to Beantown
and he studied there for three years and taught for one.
Then they moved
to the Big Apple, where he landed a job at Atlantic Records. He filled multiple roles as
arranger, label house producer, and studio manager. In 1966, he scored his first hit
when he produced “Good Lovin” for The
Young Rascals. When a young
Aretha Franklin arrived at the label in 1967, Arif
was a key player in launching her career. He arranged her 1967 album, I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You,
which included her hit “Respect”. She followed this up with Lady Soul in 1968. Arif
worked similar magic on Dusty Springfield’s 1969 LP, Dusty in Memphis.
time, he added vice president to his growing list of job titles. Those job titles would also include composer,
percussionist, pianist and solo artist. He released a pair of albums, Glass Onion and Journey, which featured the talents of Michael Brecker, Randy Brecker, Gary
Burton, Ron Carter, Billy Cobham, Joe Farrell,
and Steve Gadd. Meanwhile, he was still producing
albums for other artists, such as Christmas
and the Beads of Sweat by Laura Nyro and a
self-titled effort by John Prine in 1971.
In 1975, he
helped resurrect the careers of the Bee Gees by producing Main Course and its #1 hit, “Jive
Talkin’”. While recording the album, Arif encouraged Barry Gibb to tap into his falsetto,
which became a staple of the Bee Gees’ records. In 1976, he won his first of a dozen
Grammys, for Best Producer of the Year. For his part on the soundtrack of Saturday Night Fever, he won a
Grammy for Album of the Year in 1979.
followed: In 1982, he won a
Grammy award in the category of Best Female Pop for Melissa Manchester’s
recording of “You Should Hear How She Talks About You”. He took home a Grammy in 1984 for
Best Vocal Arrangement for Two of More Voices on the strength of Chaka Khan’s
“Be Bob Medley”. In
1984, he helped her score a hit with “I Feel for You”, which
was penned by Prince. His most
lucrative successes in the 1980s were Phil Collins’ Face Value and No Jacket Required.
In 1990, he
won another Grammy, this time for Record of the Year, which was Bette
Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings”. He was also enshrined in the NARAS
Hall of Fame. Continuing his
string of Grammy awards, he won in the categories of Best Album Notes in
1993 for Aretha Franklin’s Queen
of Soul: The Atlantic
Recordings and Best Musical Show Album in 1996 for Smokey Joe’s Café. He also produced The Songs of Leiber
& Stoller in 1996 and was nominated for a
Grammy for 1997’s Rent.
It was a
banner year for Arif which featured
collaborations with some of the biggest female artists in the music
business. On the small screen,
ABC aired a new version of Cinderella
with Brandy and Whitney Houston.
Back in the recording studio, he produced three songs on Something For Grace by Regina
Carter, four songs on Higher Ground
by Barbra Streisand, and Flame by
Patti Labelle. He was also
nominated for another Grammy in the category of Best Instrumental
Arrangement Accompanying Vocal thanks to Carly
Simon’s cover of “Laura” on Film Noir. Fittingly,
he was named a NARAS hero on 3rd December 1997.
In 1998, he
was the music producer of the Frankie Lymon
biopic, Why Do Fools Fall in Love. On the small screen, he produced “Love
is All That Matters” for Double
Platinum, a made-for-TV movie starring Brandy and Diana Ross. He took Patti LaBelle’s
Only concert, which aired on PBS, and immortalized it on compact
disc. In his copious free time,
he produced four songs for Bathhouse
Betty by Bette Midler, and Everyday
is a New Day by Diana Ross.
By the end of the 1990s, he had also written an opera entitled I Will Wait. He ended the millennium with Jewel’s
stocking stuffer, Joy: A Holiday Collection.
In 2001, he resigned
from Atlantic after thirty-eight years of
service and went to work for Manhattan Records as a general manager and
vice president. He was also the
recipient of more accolades, including a Lifetime Achievement award from
NARAS and the Nordoff-Robbins Music Foundation
Man of the Year award. In 2002,
he won a Trustees Award at the Grammys, his eighth.
one of his biggest successes in 2003, when Norah Jones’ solo debut
CD, Come Away With Me, shot to #1
on the Billboard pop chart. Arif left the 2003 Grammys with an armload of awards,
including Album of the Year, Best Pop Vocal Album, Producer of the Year,
Non-Classical, and Record of the Year for the album’s breakout hit, “Don’t
Know Why”. In 2004, he
won his twelfth Grammy award for A
Little Moonlight, the Best Jazz Vocal Album by Dianne Reeves.
out that he had pancreatic cancer in 2005, but he soldiered on with a new
album entitled All My Friends Are
Here. It turned out to be
his swan song, and was unfinished when he passed away on 26th June
2006. His son Joe completed the
album, and its accompanying documentary, The Greatest Ears in Town:
The Arif Mardin
Story, in 2010.
Bee Gees recordings
Edge of the Universe (Barry Gibb/Robin Gibb)