Turkish Ambassador Namik Tan today joined Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, Mayor Adrian Fenty, and other Washington-area dignitaries to break ground at the site for the renovation of the Howard Theatre, the historic home of jazz in the District of Columbia. Ambassador Tan used the occasion to recall Turkey's close ties to jazz and the Howard Theatre.
"Two of Turkey's own sons," he said at the groundbreaking event at the corner of 7th & T Streets in Northwest D.C., "were inspired by the talented musicians and entertainers that performed on this theater's stages. The Ertegun Brothers, Ahmet and Nesuhi, grew up here [in Washington] in the 1930s, sons of the then-Turkish Ambassador to Washington, Munir Ertegun.
"Inspired by jazz, Ahmet Ertegun went on to become the founder and chairman of Atlantic Records, celebrating the music of his youth and introducing great musicians like Ruth Brown, Ray Clover and Ray Charles to the world."
Turkey has a long-standing relationship with the Howard Theatre, and Ambassador Tan renewed that commitment today by pledging his country's support for the Howard Theatre Restoration Project. The new Howard Theatre will honor the glory of the past while vigorously celebrating today's new talent.
In that same spirit of celebrating the past and future of jazz, Ambassador Tan also announced his pledge to revive Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun's legacy by opening the doors of the Turkish Residence to musicians once again.
"As teenagers, both Ertegun boys had a passion for jazz music and became friends with many of the city's musicians," Ambassador Tan said. "In fact, just around the corner [from the Howard Theatre], Ahmet and his brother worked at a store, 'Waxi Maxi' with Max Silverman, the owner. It was out of this store that Ahmet began selling albums from his collection of thousands of jazz and blues records. When they closed the shop for the night, Ahmet and Max would go around the corner to the Howard to take in the late show and listen to all of the great jazz, blues, and rock 'n' roll greats of their time, like Duke Ellington and Lena Horne.
"At that time, in segregated Washington, African-American musicians were limited in where they could play their music," the Ambassador added. "So the Ertegun brothers would invite them to the Ambassador's Residence for jam sessions."
The Ambassador said that over the coming months, he will institute a jazz series to take place once again at the Residence.
It turns out the Library of Congress has some great photos of this series. Here's a photo of photo of Nesuhi Ertegun, Herb Abramson, Ahmet M. Ertegun, Mezz Mezzrow, Jay Higginbotham, Art Hodes, Lou McGarity, Henry Allen, Lester Young, and Sadi Coylin at the Turkish Embassy at one of the original events, standing in front of a massive bust of Mustafa Kemal.