"IT FEELS like there's a big gaping hole in the universe," said an associate of Grammy Award-winning record producer Joel Dorn.
Kevin Calabro, of Hyena Records, a company Joel helped found, described the "soulful and inspired way he lived his life," the kind of "amazing life you can lead by keeping it real. Joel kept it real to the very end."
Joel Dorn, who grew up in Delaware County and got his start on Philadelphia's jazz station WHAT-FM in the late '50s, died Monday of a heart attack in New York. He was 65.
He was the producer behind many of Atlantic Records' most successful jazz releases in a seven-year association. He also produced for a number of other labels and branched out to include pop music, rock 'n' roll and R&B.
When he started at Atlantic in 1967, "it was an age of musical exploration, in jazz as well as rock, and Dorn's approach behind the boards - fashioning a framework that would allow musicians maximum freedom - brought out the best in such artists as Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Les McCann, Eddie Harris, Yusef Lateef and Herbie Mann," wrote John Hagelston, publicist for Warner Music Group.
In 1972 and 1973, Joel won consecutive "Record of the Year" Grammys as producer of Roberta Flack's hits "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" and "Killing Me Softly With His Song."
Joel, who was born and raised in Yeadon, started his music career while still a teenager as a disc jockey for WHAT-FM. He had a great impact on impressionable young fans like a 13-year-old kid named Jonathan Takiff, now pop-music critic for the Daily News.
"I'd call him up and request songs from people like Ray Charles, Cannonball Adderly and Oscar Brown Jr., and he was nice enough to schmooze with me, even though I was clearly a pipsqueak," Takiff said.
In those days, the late '50s and early '60s, Joel followed Sid Mark doing late night stints on the station.
"He was extremely influential on me as a listener," Takiff said, "helping to develop my taste and knowledge."
Although Joel was a successful DJ, his heart had always been in producing, and he specifically wanted to work for Atlantic Records.
At the tender age of 14, he began sending letters to the label's co-founder, Nesuhi Ertegun.
"I'd send letters telling him who I thought they should duet with Ray Charles, what talent they were missing out on, all sorts of critiques and suggestions," he once said.
The producers were no doubt aware that as a DJ, Joel was pushing many of Atlantic Records' discs, and in 1963, Ertegun offered Joel the chance to produce one record by an artist of his choice.
He chose Hubert Laws, a young flutist he had seen in Philly performing with Mongo Santamaria's band. The resulting album, "The Laws of Jazz," was a success and Nesuhi Ertegun hired Joel as his assistant in 1967.
Altogether, he accumulated 10 gold albums, five platinum albums and seven gold singles before he left Atlantic in 1974.
Besides Roberta Flack's records, Joel produced Bette Midler's debut album, "The Divine Miss M."
"Some of the best times I've ever had involved recording artists who were completely unknown at the time, like Roberta and Bette, and then watching them ascend to national prominence," he once said.
He produced for a variety of labels and artists in subsequent years, and won another Grammy for "Best Country and Western Instrumental" with Asleep at the Wheel's "One O'Clock Jump."
He helped create Hyena Records, an independent label, in 2003.
"Joel bridged the worlds of jazz and pop with enormous skill and grace, never compromising the integrity of his artists and their music," said Edgar Bronfman Jr., chairman and chief executive of Warner Music Group.
Joel lived in Bala Cynwyd for a time. He is survived by three sons, Michael, David and Adam (aka Mocean Worker), and his longtime girlfriend, Faye Rosen.