Blue Note celebrates its 80th anniversary - Jazzmessengers blog
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Blue Note celebrates its 80th anniversary

Blue Note celebrates its 80th anniversary

Blue Note celebrates its 80th anniversary.

2019 marks 80 years since Alfred Lion produced his first recording session in New York City. The iconic label celebrates eight decades of seminal releases with vinyl reissues and a documentary.

Blue Note is unquestionably the most iconic jazz label there has ever been. In saying that, it may well be the most iconic record label of all time. When German immigrant Alfred Lion started the label in 1939, recording boogie-woogie pianists Meade Lux Lewis and Albert Ammons, his intention was to bring to the public the kind of music that he felt was important. Francis Wolff, a professional photographer, emigrated to the US at the end of 1939 and soon joined forces with Lion, a childhood friend.

In the early days, their passion far outweighed their knowledge of the business and artists quickly recognized that music was Blue Note’s first priority. Lion was not a business shark. He was a jazz fan who loved what he was doing. Beyond that he let musicians do what they wanted to do. He and Wolff didn’t know that much about music and so they didn’t bother musicians. They just liked what they did.

Their very first press release stated:

“Blue Note Records are designed simply to serve the uncompromising expressions of hot jazz or swing, in general. Any particular style of playing which represents an authentic way of musical feeling is genuine expression. By virtue of its significance in place, time and circumstance, it possesses its own tradition, artistic standards, and audience that keep it alive. Hot jazz, therefore, is expression and communication, a musical and social manifestation, and Blue Note records are concerned with identifying its impulse, not its sensational and commercial adornments.”

Loyal to that statement, we can find that although 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, the label also recorded essential albums in the avant-garde and free styles of jazz. However, the music must always Schwing! as Lion always requested. Musicians said that if they saw Francis Wolff dancing during their playing ‘they instantly knew that was the take’.

During its heyday, the 1950s and 1960s, the photography and graphic artist Reid Miles joined in and created a series of iconic album covers, often incorporating session photos by Wolff, and from 1953, reputed sound engineer Rudy Van Gelder recorded most of the label releases, after Lion and Van Gelder’s mutual friend, saxophonist and composer Gil Melle, introduced them. All this only added to Blue Note’s artistic and aesthetic reputation.

Some of Miles 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 Sidewinder. The album covers were so iconic at the time – and still are – with bold colors, candid photography, and perfectly placed typography, that they’ve been the point of inspiration for graphic designers and musicians since.

All these steps in the right direction gained a reputation for the label and soon took to recording emerging talent such as Horace Silver, who would stay with Blue Note for a quarter of a century, and Clifford Brown. Also Milt Jackson, as the leader of what became the Modern Jazz Quartet, and the Jazz Messengers which was originally organized as a cooperative, but soon became Art Blakey’s group. More and more artists came including Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Jimmy Smith, Dexter Gordon, Lou Donaldson, Donald Byrd, Joe Henderson, Herbie Hancock, Charles Lloyd, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Ornette Coleman, and Cecil Taylor…. And so history was made.

To commemorate this anniversary The Blue Note 80 vinyl releases will include:


The Tone Poet Audiophile Vinyl Reissue Series curated by Joe Harley.

Eighteen LPs all-analog, remastered from the original master tapes on 180 gram audiophile vinyl in deluxe gatefold packaging. Vinyl is being manufactured at Record Technology Incorporated (RTI). See available titles here.

Also out the Blue Note 80 Vinyl Reissue Series curated by Don Was and Cem Kurosman, with albums grouped by themes: Blue Note Debuts, Blue Grooves, Great Reid Miles Covers, Blue Note Live, and Blue Note Drummer Leaders. Titles already available can be found here.

Also, later on this year will come out Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes Documentary directed by Sophie Huber will see wider distribution with theatrical and television runs as well as a DVD release this autumn.

You can find all tone Poet Audiophile Vinyl Reissue series on our shop here.