In December 1938, German immigrant and jazz enthusiastic Alfred Lion attended a now-famous concert at Carnegie Hall organized by John Hammond—“From Spirituals to Swing.” Just two weeks later, Lion and his friend Max Margulis booked time in a studio to record some of the artists at Hammond’s concert, and Blue Note Records was born.

Margulis wrote up a mission statement that was to guide Blue Note through the coming decades: “Blue Note Records are designed simply to serve the uncompromising expressions of hot jazz or swing, in general.” Margulis, Lion, and many jazz musicians at the time felt that the major labels’ jazz records did not accurately reflect the genre, so Blue Note sought to capture the sounds of many of the great bebop players of the day, like Tadd Dameron, Fats Navarro, and others.

Blue Note quickly became an innovator in jazz, a leader that other independent labels like Prestige, Keynote, and HRS often followed. For example, Blue Note pioneered late-night recording sessions, bringing in players at three or four in the morning, when they were still energized and excited after their nighttime club gigs. Unlike their competitors, Blue Note paid for rehearsals before recording sessions in an effort to capture a tune at its very best.

As the years went by, Blue Note remained more committed to high-quality music than to commercial success, and these priorities threatened the financial stability of the label more than once. Many artists who critics now consider visionary pioneers, like Thelonius Monk, recorded first with Blue Note, but their releases flopped. When the recording industry went from 78s to 10-inch LPs in 1949, and then from 10-inch to 12-inch LPs in 1954, the label—already strapped for cash—lagged behind and almost went bankrupt trying to make the transition.

In the 1950s, however, Blue Note began to get its first taste of real success, as various pieces of the enterprise began to come together. The label began recording with engineer Rudy Van Gelder, legendary today for developing techniques that captured jazz the way it actually sounded live—rich, full, and vivid. Blue Note hired designer Reid Miles to design Blue Note’s cover images. Leonard Feather, Ira Gitler, Robert Levine, Nat Hentoff, and others wrote liner notes, and Lion’s business partner, Francis Wolff, took photos.

At roughly the same time, Blue Note began recording Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, a cooperative group that included Horace Silver, Hank Mobley, Kenny Dorham, Doug Watkins, and, of course, Art Blakey. The Jazz Messengers reached back into the blues and gospel in effort to make accessible yet authentic jazz that would appeal to larger audiences. Other key records from this golden age included John Coltrane’s “Blue Train” (1957) and Cannonball Adderley’s “Somethin’ Else” (1958).

The 1960s, however, saw the start of Blue Note’s decline. With huge crossover hits like Lee Morgan’s “The Sidewinder” and Horace Silver’s “Song for My Father,” record distributors began dragging their feet when they owed money to Blue Note as a way of demanding more hits from the label, even as the jazz audience was shrinking. Blue Note became unable to weather the dry spells between hits, and Lion was forced to sell Blue Note to Liberty Records in 1966. Many members of the old Blue Note managerial team stopped working for the label, replaced by unwieldy bureaucratic committees...

With the rise of progressive rock in the 1970s and the eventual slump of the record market as a whole, Blue Note released what seemed to be its last record in 1981, Horace Silver’s “Silver ’N Strings Play the Music of the Spheres.” EMI brought Blue Note back to life in 1985 under the direction of Bruce Lundvall, thanks largely to pressure from Michael Cuscuna and Charlie Lourie. Since then, the label has continued to release new jazz and has achieved commercial success through artists like Norah Jones.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Vinyl Divas

Vinyl Divas

Vinyl Divas pays homage to international female opera singers of the LP era. Chronicling more than 800 singers, the… [read review or visit site]

317X

317X

Despite its mysterious title, 317X is plain and simple—an online gallery of vintage LPs, with a 1950s vintage fee… [read review or visit site]

Mybeatles.net

Mybeatles.net

Jesse Barron's collection of Beatles 45s, picture sleeves, magazines, books, and memorabilia. Browse singles and al… [read review or visit site]

Association of Vogue Picture Record Collectors

Association of Vogue Picture Record Collectors

This great site, from the Association of Vogue Picture Record Collectors, offers detailed background information an… [read review or visit site]

The Remington Site

The Remington Site

Since 1999, the Remington Site has offered classical music collectors a glimpse into Remington Records, an independ… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Hank Mobley With Donald Byrd And Lee Morgan Lp Blue Note 1540 47 West 63rd Wayne Shorter Night Dreamer Mono Lp Blue Note Ny Usa Ear Van Gelder Lee MorganFreddie Hubbard- Goin' Up Orig-mono- Blue Note- D.g. Lp-nm!Hank Mobley No Room For Squares Mono Lp Blue Note Ny Usa Ear Van GelderIke Quebec - It Might As Well Be Spring - Orig Mono - Blue Note - Lp - Nm! Jutta Hipp At The Hickory House Vol 1 1st Pressing Blue Note Mono Nyc Flat EdgeJohn Coltrane Dg Mono Lp~blue Train~blue Note-1577~47 W.63rd St--rvg And EarDexter Gordon €Freddie Hubbard - Goin Up - Blue Note Deep Groove Rvg # 4056 -wow Dizzy Reece Blues In Trinity Og Mono Blue Note 47 W 63rd Rvg Ear Donald Byrd DgWayne Shorter Juju Blue Note 4182 New York Address Ear Van Gelder StampHank Mobley No Room For Squares - Blue Note 84149 Ny Usa Earmark Van Gelder Grant Green - Green Street - Orig Mono- Blue Note - Lp - Nm!Sonny Rollins Blue Note 1558 Vol 2 New York 23 Ear Rvg Deep Groove Mono 47 W63rdGrant Green Idle Moments Rare Mono Jazz Lp Blue Note 4154 Rvg New York UsaStanley Turrentine Look Out Lp Blue Note Mono Original Dg Ear Rvg West 63rdHerbie Hancock / Hank Mobley - My Point Of View **blue Note Blp 4126 Mono**Ike Quebec Soul Samba Bossa Nova Stereo Lp Blue Note Ny Usa Ear Van GelderHorace Parlan Up & Down Stereo Lp Blue Note Ny Usa Ear Rvg Booker ErvinJackie Mclean Bluesnik First Press Blue Note 4067 Lp W 63 Dg Rvg Ear NmJackie Mclean - It;s Time Blue Note Lp NyDonald Byrd Original Blue Note Lp Bn 4019 Byrd In Hand-mono Great ShapeBobby Hutcherson -happenings Joe Chambers, Herbie Hancock Blue Note 84231 Nm-Jazz Lp/ Cannonball Adderley "somethin' Else" ~ Orig Mono Blue Note ~ Rvg ~ EarKenny Burrell Midnight Blue Blue Note Blp 4123 (1963) Van Gelder Ear Ny AddressKenny Dorham Dg Lp - Afro Cuban-blue Note-1535-lexington Ave-1st Ed.Joe Henderson - Page One Blue Note Lp NyPaul Chambers Quintet Lp Donald Byrd/cliff Jordan Blue Note Jazz Rvg West 63rdBlue Note - Dexter Gordon - Go - Ear - Van Gelder - New York UsaDexter Gordon Dexter Calling Lp ~ Blue Note Blp 4083 ~ Nyc Rvg Kenny DrewBlue Note 1507 Jazz Messengers At Cafe Bohemia Volume 1Ike Quebec Soul Samba Lp Blue Note 84114 Van Gelder Kenny Burrell Nm-/nm- 8411410" Blue Note 5025-wynton Kelly New Faces-dg-ear-flat- Lexngton AveFreddie Hubbard - Blue Spirits - Blue Note Deep Groove Van Gelder # 4196 -wow Kenny Dorham - Una Mas - Blue Note 84127 Ny Usa Earmark Van Gelder Vg++//nm//Herbie Nichols Trio Blue Note Blp 1519 Lp Max RoachSonny Rollins Volume 2 Blue Note 1558 W.63rd New York 23 Dg Ear RvgBlue Note - Stanley Turrentine - Blue Hour - Ear - Rvg- 47 West 63rd Nyc Kenny Burrell Midnight Blue Blue Note 4123(ny Label)John Coltrane Blue Train Blue Note Records Lw-81577 Lee Morgan Curtis FullerAndrew Hill Lp Blue Note 84151 Stereo Van Gelder Ear Nm-/nm- Soul BluesCannonball Adderley Somethin Else Blue Note 1595 Lp Ny Ear Rvg Stereo Miles M-Lou Donaldson New Faces, New Sounds 10" Blue Note 5021 Horace Silver LexingtonClifford Brown Memorial Album - Blue Note Blp-1526 - Lexington Ave Label Rvg EarRare Og Mod Soul Jazz Funk Blue Note Lp - Lou Donaldson - Mr Shing-a-ling 1967Andrew Hill-compulsion-blue Note-1965-liberty-stereo-in Shrink-free Jazz LpDexter Gordon "go" Vinyl Lp W/ S. Clark, B. Warren & B. Higgins,blue Note #84112Hank Mobley Hi Voltage Blue Note Lp Blue Mitchell Jackie Mclean John HicksArt Blakey Night In Tunisia Blue Note 84049 W.63rd Nyc Dg Rvg Ear Lee Morgan Nm!Blue Note - Lou Donaldson - Here Tis - Ear - Rvg- 47 West 63rd Nyc - Grant GreenRare Jazz Lp - Kenny Burrell Stereo Blue Note Jazz Mint Promo Andy Warhol CoverArt Blakey - Buhaina's Delight - Blue Note 84104 Earmark Ny Usa Van Gelder Deep Ornette Coleman Trio At The Golden Circle Vol 2 Blue Note Records Bst 84225 LpDon Wilkerson Elder Don Blue Note 4121 New York Usa Address Ear Promo Rare !!Herbie Hancock - Takin' Off W/ Dexter Gordon - Blue Note Ny Mono Rvg Ear Miles Davis Volume 1 Blue Note 1501 Lexington/47 W 63rd Rvg Ear Grant Green - I Want To Hold Your Hand Blue Note 84202, Hank Mobley Nm MinusLee Morgan Leeway Blue Note Lp Jackie Mclean Bobby Timmons Art BlakeyNorah Jones "come Away With Me" Lp 2004 Blue Note (vinyl Album) New SealedArt Blakey - Mosaic - Blue Note 84090 Ny Usa Rvg Vg++//nm//