Arif Mardin (far right) and his classmates, at VOA in the early 1960s.
Arif Mardin (far right) and his classmates, at VOA in the early 1960s.

Grammy-award winning producer Arif Mardin died in 2006 after being diagnosed with cancer a year earlier. Now, four years after his death -- and through a loving tribute by his son --  Mardin is poised to take the spotlight at the top of the music world one more time.

As a producer, he was the wind beneath Bette Midler's wings.  He gave "R.E.S.P.E.C.T"  to Aretha Franklin.  He accompanied Norah Jones as the virtually unknown artist sang 'Come Away With Me' on her journey to stardom.  And he did the same for many more.  But when award-winning music producer Arif Mardin learned that he was facing a personal health battle, he knew he still had one more album to make.

"In 2005, when my father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, in the months following that he started treatment and also he started to review many of the pieces he had written throughout the years, mainly jazz pieces," Joe Mardin said. Mardin is Arif Mardin's son and a fellow producer.

Arif Mardin was determined; this time he was not going to worry about the commercial demands of the pop record charts or the FM airwaves. This was going to be the artistic, jazzy" album that his heart and soul had longed for all those years.

Voice of:  Arif Mardin (from movie clip The Greatest Ears in Town):
Together with my pop career I never gave up on classical and jazz, this gave rise to 'why don't I do a project of my own "

"I think many people know about his extraordinary career as a producer and arranger of popular music, with an extraordinary range of artists," Mardin stated. "But I don't think that they knew, or necessarily know about his very prolific output during those years on the side as a composer of modern, classical and jazz pieces."

In fact, it was Arif Mardin's love of jazz, as a teenager in Istanbul, that opened up the path from his beloved home town to Boston and from being an ardent Turkish jazz fan to being a sought-after pop music producer. Joe Mardin says the Voice of America also played a part in the process.

Tahir Sur, (r) worked for the VOA in Washington in
Tahir Sur, (r) worked for the VOA in Washington in 1950-1960's, Lawrence Berk (c), the founder of the Berklee School (now College) of Music, Arif Mardin (l).

"In 1956 when Dizzy Gillespie was on a State Department sponsored tour of the Middle East, Turkey and Greece.  Quincy Jones was the musical director of the orchestra at that time.  That is when my father met Quincy and Dizzy Gillespie.

Eventually when Quincy came back to America they were looking for the first recipient of Quincy's scholarship at the Berklee College of Music (in Boston), and at the Voice of America there was a gentleman named Tahir Sur, probably again on the Turkish news desk in Washington, D.C., and Voice of America actually commissioned my father to write three pieces, three arrangements, and eventually Quincy Jones recorded them with an all-star band with people like Art Farmer, Charlie Persip, I mean it was an incredible orchestra who played my father's pieces with Quincy conducting -- recorded for the VOA and that tape went to the Berklee College of Music and resulted in my father receiving the first Quincy Jones scholarship at the Berklee College of Music."

After a long journey of more than 40 years from Berklee to the Grammy awards, Arif was eager to pay homage to jazz in his last album -- to be called All My Friends Are Here.

Mardin planned to collaborate with all the artists who had become family and friends over the years. Chaka Kahn was the first among them who came on board.

Soon, Bette Midler, Norah Jones, Carly Simon and Doctor John joined the project.  Recording started in November of 2005, the same year Arif was diagnosed with cancer.  It soon became clear that his illness was progressing much faster than the recording sessions.

"You know when we were making the album and in his last month or two it became very clear with his doctors that probably he wasn't going to be with us very longer, and it really kind of hit me, in a way, and made me very sad at that time that he would not be able to finish this very personal Project -- his album --  and it seemed so unfair to me," Mardin said.

Fortunately, after working side by side all those years with his father, Joe Mardin was able to finish the Project.  He knew exactly what his father wanted and how he wanted it.

"The album, musically was very close to being finished.  Obviously, there were things to do but I think he made it clear to me what and how he wanted it finished and I hope that he would have been pleased with the end result," he said.

As a gifted musician, Arif Mardin gave his best to artists and their fans.  Now his son Joe is giving back:  The completed All My Friends Are Here album became available to the public on June 15, as a father's day gift from the son to his father. And Joe Mardin's documentary on his father's life The Greatest Ears in Town will soon follow as well.

Note: This report narrated by Wayne Bowman.