Blue Note Records
Blue Note Records is an American jazz record label, owned by Universal
Music Group and currently operated in conjunction with Decca Records.
Established in 1939 by
Alfred Lion and Max Margulis, it derives its
name from the characteristic "blue notes" of jazz and the blues.
Originally dedicated to recording traditional jazz and small group
swing, from 1947 the label began to switch its attention to modern
jazz. While the original company did not itself record many of the
pioneers of bebop, significant exceptions are Thelonious Monk, Fats
Navarro and Bud Powell.
1.1 Early years
1.2 Lion and Wolff embrace bebop
Hard bop and beyond
1.4 The avant-garde
1.5 Cover art
1.6 Lion and Wolff retire
1.7 Revival and ownership history
7 External links
Historically, Blue Note has principally been associated with the "hard
bop" style of jazz (mixing bebop with other forms of music including
soul, blues, rhythm and blues and gospel), but also recorded essential
albums in the avant-garde and free styles of jazz. Horace Silver,
Jimmy Smith, Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan, Art Blakey, Grant Green,
Hank Mobley, Wayne Shorter, Bobby Hutcherson, and
Jackie McLean were
among the label's leading artists. During its heyday, the 1950s and
1960s, the photography and graphic art of
Reid Miles created a series
of iconic album covers, often incorporating session photos by Wolff,
which added to Blue Note's artistic reputation.
Lion first heard jazz as a young boy in Berlin. He settled in New York
City in 1937, and shortly after the first From Spirituals to Swing
concert, recorded pianists
Albert Ammons and
Meade Lux Lewis
Meade Lux Lewis in 1939
during a one-day session in a rented studio. The Blue Note label
initially consisted of Lion and Max Margulis, a communist writer who
funded the project. The label's first releases were traditional "hot"
jazz and boogie woogie, and the label's first hit was a performance of
"Summertime" by soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet, which Bechet had
been unable to record for the established companies. Musicians were
supplied with alcoholic refreshments, and recorded in the early hours
of the morning after their evening's work in clubs and bars had
finished. The label soon became known for treating musicians
uncommonly well—setting up recording sessions at congenial times,
and allowing the artists to be involved in all aspects of the record's
Francis Wolff, a professional photographer, emigrated to the US at the
end of 1939 and soon joined forces with Lion, a childhood friend. In
1941, Lion was drafted into the army for two years.
Milt Gabler at the
Commodore Music Store offered storage facilities and helped keep the
catalog in print, with Wolff working for him. By late 1943, the label
was back in business recording musicians and supplying records to the
armed forces. Willing to record artists that most other labels would
consider to be uncommercial, in December 1943 the label initiated more
sessions with artists such as pianist Art Hodes, trumpeter Sidney
DeParis, clarinetist Edmond Hall, and Harlem stride pianist James P.
Johnson, who was returning to a high degree of musical activity after
having largely recovered from a stroke suffered in 1940.
Lion and Wolff embrace bebop
Towards the end of the war, saxophonist
Ike Quebec was among those who
recorded for the label. Quebec would act as a talent scout for the
label until his death in 1963. Although stylistically belonging to a
previous generation, he could appreciate the new bebop style of jazz,
the creation of which is usually attributed to
Dizzy Gillespie and
In 1947, pianist
Thelonious Monk recorded his first sessions as a
leader for the label, which were also the Blue Note debut of drummer
Art Blakey, who also recorded his first session as leader for the
label at this time. Lion recorded several Monk sessions before he
began to release the resulting sides. Monk's recordings for Blue Note
between 1947 and 1952 did not sell well for some years, but have since
come to be regarded as the most important of his career. Other bebop
or modernist musicians who recorded for Blue Note during the late
forties and early fifties were pianist Tadd Dameron, trumpeters Fats
Navarro and Howard McGhee, saxophonist James Moody and pianist Bud
Powell. The sessions by Powell are commonly ranked among his best. J.
J. Johnson and trumpeter
Miles Davis both recorded several sessions
for Blue Note between 1952 and 1954, but by then the musicians who had
created bebop were starting to explore other styles.
The recording of musicians performing in an earlier jazz idiom, such
Sidney Bechet and clarinettist George Lewis, continued into the
Hard bop and beyond
In 1951, Blue Note issued their first vinyl 10" releases. The label
was soon recording emerging talent such as
Horace Silver (who would
stay with Blue Note for a quarter of a century) and Clifford Brown.
Milt Jackson (as the leader of what became the Modern Jazz
Quartet) and the
Jazz Messengers (originally organised as a
cooperative, but soon to become Art Blakey's group) recorded for Blue
Milt Jackson Quartet session was a one-off, but Blakey's
various groups recorded for the label extensively, if intermittently,
for the next decade.
Rudy Van Gelder
Rudy Van Gelder recorded most Blue Note releases
from 1953, after Lion and Van Gelder's mutual friend, saxophonist and
composer Gil Melle, introduced them. A difference between Blue Note
and other independent labels (for example Prestige Records, who also
employed Van Gelder) was that musicians were paid for rehearsal time
prior to the recording session: this helped ensure a better end result
on the record. Producer Bob Porter of
Prestige Records once said that
"The difference between Blue Note and Prestige is two days'
rehearsal. When the recording industry switched to 12" LP in the
mid-1950s, Blue Note was in difficulties. Their catalog on the now
outmoded 10" LP now had to be recreated on the newer format. Lion
contemplated selling out to Atlantic at this time, an option which was
not acted upon. A musician who was to become one of the label's best
sellers was discovered. Jimmy Smith, the Hammond organist was signed
in 1956, and performed on the label's first 12" LP album of new
The mid to late 1950s saw debut recordings for Blue Note by (among
others) Hank Mobley, Lee Morgan, Herbie Nichols, Sonny Clark, Kenny
Dorham, Kenny Burrell, Jackie McLean,
Donald Byrd and Lou Donaldson.
Sonny Rollins recorded for the label in 1956 and 1957 and Bud Powell
briefly returned. John Coltrane's Blue Train, and Cannonball
Adderley's Somethin' Else (featuring
Miles Davis in one of his last
supporting roles) were guest appearances on the label. Blue Note was
by then recording a mixture of established acts (Rollins, Adderley)
and artists who in some cases had recorded before, but often produced
performances for the label which by far exceeded earlier recordings in
quality (Blue Train is often considered to be the first significant
recording by Coltrane as a leader).
Horace Silver and
Art Blakey and
Jazz Messengers continued to release a series of artistically and
commercially successful recordings.
The early 1960s saw
Dexter Gordon join the label. Gordon was a
saxophonist from the bebop era who had spent several years in prison
for narcotic offences, and he made several albums for Blue Note over a
five-year period, including several at the beginning of his sojourn in
Europe. Gordon also appeared on the debut album by
Herbie Hancock - by
the mid 1960s, all four of the younger members of the Miles Davis
quintet (Hancock, Wayne Shorter,
Ron Carter and Tony Williams) were
recording for the label, and Hancock and Shorter in particular
produced a succession of superb albums in a mix of styles. Carter did
not actually record under his own name until the label's revival in
the 1980s, but played double bass on many other musicians' sessions.
Many of these also included Freddie Hubbard, a trumpeter who also
recorded for the label as a leader. One of the features of the label
during this period was a "family" of musicians (Hubbard, Hancock,
Carter, Grant Green, Joe Henderson, Kenny Dorham, Lee Morgan, Blue
Hank Mobley and many others) who would record as sidemen on
each other's albums without necessarily being part of the leader's
The early 1960s also saw three Blue Note recordings by
pianist/composer Freddie Redd, one of which, The Connection, used
music written for the play by
Jack Gelber and its film version.
Lee Morgan scored a significant hit with the title track of
The Sidewinder album, and
Horace Silver did the same the following
year with Song for My Father. As a result, Lion was under pressure by
independent distributors to come up with similar successes, with the
result that many Blue Note albums of this era start with a catchy tune
intended for heavy airplay in the United States.
At the end of the 1950s, and in the early 1960s, Blue Note
headquarters were located in New York City, at West 61st
Street, and at 47 W 63rd Street.
Although many of the acts on Blue Note were recording jazz for a wide
audience, the label also documented some of the emerging avant-garde
and free jazz players. Andrew Hill, a highly individual pianist, made
many albums for the label, one featuring multi-instrumentalist Eric
Out to Lunch! (featuring a celebrated cover by Reid
Miles) is perhaps his best-known album. Saxophonist Ornette Coleman
released two albums recorded with a trio in a Stockholm club, and
three studio albums (including The Empty Foxhole, with his then
Denardo Coleman on drums). Pianist Cecil Taylor
recorded a brace of albums for Blue Note, as did trombonist Grachan
Moncur III, and saxophonist Sam Rivers, drummer Tony Williams,
Bobby Hutcherson and organist Larry Young also recorded
albums which diverged from the "hard bop" style usually associated
with the label.
Saxophonist Jackie McLean, a stalwart of the label's hard bop output
since the late 1950s, also crossed over into the avant-garde in the
early 1960s, whose notable avant-garde albums included One Step
Beyond, Destination Out and on (as a side man) trombonist Grachan
Moncur III' s "Evolution"
Though these avant-garde records did not sell as well as some other
Blue Note releases, Lion thought it was important to document new
developments in jazz.
In 1956, Blue Note employed Reid Miles, an artist who worked for
Esquire magazine. The cover art produced by Miles, often featuring
Wolff's photographs of musicians in the studio, was as influential in
the world of graphic design as the music within would be in the world
of jazz. Under Miles, Blue Note was known for their striking and
unusual album cover designs. Miles' graphical design was distinguished
by its tinted black and white photographs, creative use of sans-serif
typefaces, and restricted color palette (often black and white with a
single color), and frequent use of solid rectangular bands of color or
white, influenced by the
Bauhaus school of design.
Though Miles' work is closely associated with Blue Note and has earned
iconic status and frequent homage, Miles was only a casual jazz fan,
according to Richard Cook; Blue Note gave him several copies of
each of the many dozens of albums he designed, but Miles gave most to
friends or sold them to second-hand record shops. A few mid-fifties
album covers featured drawings by a then-unknown Andy Warhol.
Some of his most celebrated designs adorned the sleeves of albums such
as Midnight Blue, Out to Lunch!, Unity, Somethin' Else, Let Freedom
Ring, Hub-Tones, No Room for Squares, Cool Struttin', and The
Lion and Wolff retire
Blue Note was acquired by
Liberty Records in 1965 and Lion, who had
difficulties working within a larger organization, retired in 1967.
Reid Miles' association with the label ended around this time. For a
few years most albums were produced by Wolff or pianist Duke Pearson,
who had filled Ike Quebec's role in 1963, but Wolff died in 1971 and
Pearson left in the same year. George Butler was now responsible for
the label, but despite some good albums, the commercial viability of
jazz was in question, and more borderline and outright commercial
records were made (often by artists who had previously recorded
"straight" jazz for the label—Bobby Hutcherson, Lou Donaldson,
Donald Byrd, Grant Green, Horace Silver).
At the end of the 1960s, the company headquarters were moved to 1776
Revival and ownership history
EMI purchased United Artists Records, which had absorbed
Liberty Records in 1969, and phased out the Blue Note label, which lay
dormant until 1985, when it was relaunched as part of
Records, both for re-issues and new recordings for which Bruce
Lundvall was appointed. Some artists previously associated with Blue
Note, such as McCoy Tyner, made new recordings, while younger
musicians such as Bennie Wallace, Joe Lovano, John Scofield, Greg
Osby, Jason Moran and arranger–composer
Bob Belden have established
notable reputations through their Blue Note albums. The label has also
found great commercial success with the vocalist Norah Jones, and
released new albums by established artists on the fringes of jazz such
as Van Morrison, Al Green,
Anita Baker and newcomer Amos Lee,
sometimes referred to as the "male Norah Jones". Two of the leading
trumpeters of the 1980s
Wynton Marsalis and Terence
Blanchard signed with the label in 2003. Hip-hop producer Madlib
recorded Shades of Blue in 2003 as a tribute to Blue Note with samples
earlier records on the label.
Blue Note has pursued an active reissue program since the mid-1980s
Michael Cuscuna has worked as freelance advisor and
reissue producer. Some of the original Blue Note's output has appeared
in CD box sets issued by
Mosaic Records (also involving Cuscuna). Blue
Note Records became the flagship jazz label for Capitol Jazz, and was
the parent label for the Capitol Jazz, Pacific Jazz, Roulette and
other labels within Capitol's holdings which had possessed a jazz
line. The "RVG series",
Rudy Van Gelder
Rudy Van Gelder remastering his own recordings
from decades earlier began around 1998.
EMI expanded Blue Note to create the Blue Note Label Group by
moving its Narada group of labels to New York to join with Blue Note,
centralizing EMI's approach to music for the adult market segment. The
labels newly under the Blue Note umbrella are Angel Records, EMI
Classics and Virgin Classics (classical music), Narada Productions
(contemporary jazz and world-influenced music, including exclusively
licensed sub-label Real World Records),
Back Porch Records (folk and
Higher Octave Records (smooth jazz and New-age music), and
Mosaic Records (devoted exclusively to reissuing jazz recordings in
limited-edition boxed sets). As of June 2007, Bruce Lundvall,
founder of Manhattan Records, as President/CEO of the Blue Note Label
Group, was at the time reporting directly to Eric Nicoli, then Chief
Executive Officer of
In 2008, the Blue Note 7, a jazz septet, was formed in honor of the
70th anniversary of Blue Note Records. The group recorded an album in
2008, entitled Mosaic, which was released in 2009 on Blue Note
Records/EMI, and toured the
United States in promotion of the album
from January until April 2009. The group consists of Peter
Bill Charlap (piano),
Ravi Coltrane (tenor
Lewis Nash (drums),
Nicholas Payton (trumpet), Peter
Washington (bass), and Steve Wilson (alto saxophone, flute). The group
plays the music of
Blue Note Records
Blue Note Records from various artists, with
arrangements by members of the band and Renee Rosnes.
Following the acquisition of
EMI by Universal,
Don Was became
President of Blue Note in January 2012, after an appointment as CEO a
few months earlier, in succession to Bruce Lundvall. Lundvall, who
stood down in 2010, became Chairman Emeritus
In May 2013,
Blue Note Records
Blue Note Records partnered with
ArtistShare to form a
label called "Blue Note/ArtistShare". The Blue Note/ArtistShare
partnership was forged by
ArtistShare founder Brian Camelio, Bruce
Lundvall, and Don Was.
Universal Music Group
Universal Music Group took over EMI,
Decca Records took over
distribution of Blue Note.
There has been much sampling of classic Blue Note tracks by both hip
hop artists and for mashing projects. In 1993, the group
the entirety of its debut album upon samples from classic Blue Note
records. In 2003, hip-hop producer
Madlib released Shades of Blue:
Madlib Invades Blue Note, a collection of his remixes and
interpretations of Blue Note music. Pete Rock, J Dilla, and DJ Spinna
have likewise been involved in similar projects. In 2004, Burning
Vision Entertainment created the video for Helicopter Girl's "Angel
City", using the art from numerous Blue Note LP sleeves to
startling effect. In 2008, hip-hop producer
Questlove of The Roots
compiled Droppin' Science: Greatest Samples from the Blue Note Lab, a
collection of original Blue Note recordings sampled by modern-day
hip-hop artists such as
Dr. Dre and A Tribe Called Quest.
Blue Note Records
Blue Note Records discography
^  Archived June 17, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
^ "Google Maps". Maps.google.com. Retrieved 2015-05-20.
^ Liner notes to
Tender Feelin's by Leonard Feather
^ Liner notes to Feelin' Good.
^ LP liner notes to
Blues in Trinity.
^ "Creative Bloq". Computerarts.co.uk. 2013-09-06. Retrieved
^ Martin Gayford "Blue Note Records: from Ammons to Monk, it was home
to the jazz idealists", Daily Telegraph, 15 July 2009.
^ Cook, Richard, Blue Note Records: The Biography, Boston: Justin
Charles, 2003; ISBN 1-932112-10-3
^  Archived November 4, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
^ Original LP liner notes to Open House
^ "Label News:
EMI Combines Blue Note & Narada. Sanctuary Ups
Cahill To GM - hypebot". Hypebot.typepad.com. 2006-07-19. Retrieved
^  Archived February 11, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
^  Archived February 20, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
The Blue Note 7
The Blue Note 7 Celebrates 70 Years of
Blue Note Records
Blue Note Records With Album
Release and 50+ City North American Tour". Allaboutjazz.com. Retrieved
^ Chinen, Nate (May 2, 2012). "Exuberance Is Just One of His Skills".
The New York Times. Retrieved May 4, 2012.
^ Chinen, Nate (May 8, 2013). "Blue Note to Partner With ArtistShare".
The New York Times. Retrieved October 26, 2013.
^ "Decca Records". Decca.com. Retrieved 2017-07-21.
^  Archived July 17, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
Cook, Richard. Blue Note Records: A Biography.
Cuscuna, Michael & Ruppli, Michel. The Blue Note Label: A
Discography. ISBN 0-313-31826-3 [2nd ed 2001]
Marsh, Graham & Callingham, Glyn. Blue Note: Album Cover Art.
Marsh, Graham. Blue Note 2: the Album Cover Art: The Finest in Jazz
Since 1939. ISBN 0-8118-1853-5 [US edition]
Wolff, Francis, et al. Blue Note
Jazz Photography of Francis Wolff.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Blue Note Records.
Blue Note at 60
Blue Note Official Site
Blue Note Discography
A video interview with
Bruce Lundvall on Blue Note Records
NAMM Oral History Interview with Dr. Ruth Lion October 20, 2003
Business data for Blue Note Records: Google Finance
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