Nesuhi Ertegun spent most of his lifetime working at Atlantic Records and associated labels. He joined Atlantic in 1956, nine years after its founding by his brother Ahmet and Herb Abramson. Nesuhi initially developed Atlantic’s album department and built up the label’s extensive catalog of jazz long-players. The list of jazz artists he produced at Atlantic over the years reads like a who’s who: John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman, the Modern Jazz Quartet and more. Nesuhi also became involved with the label’s rhythm & blues and rock and roll roster as well, producing several hit records for Ray Charles, the Drifters, Bobby Darin and Roberta Flack.
The son of a Turkish diplomat, Nesuhi acquired his taste for black music while growing up in Washington D.C., where he and Ahmet would frequent the Howard Theater and scour the community for records by their favorite musicians. In 1944, he moved to Los Angeles to run the Jazzman Record Shop. While there he created his own label, Crescent Records (later Jazzman), on which he recorded the likes of Kid Ory and Jelly Roll Morton. Nesuhi also served as editor of Record Changer magazine and taught the first accredited course in jazz offered in the U.S., at UCLA.
In addition to founding the jazz division at Atlantic, Nesuhi later went on to spearhead the label’s international operations, expanding the business and opening up new markets overseas