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    

Bobby Hutcherson Dialogue Blue Note Lp Vg+/vg++ Mono Ny Usa PromoHank Mobley W/horace Silver~all-stars~insanely Rare Orig '57 Blue Note Mono LpFreddie Hubbard "hub Cap" Blue Note Lp 4073 Rvg Ear SuperbLarry Young Contrasts Blue Note Lp Nm Liberty PromoJohn Coltrane Blue Train Blue Note 1577 Mono 1957 Lp Dg Rvg Ear Morgan Fuller Eric Dolphy - Out To Lunch! - Blue Note - Blp 4163 -ear-van Gelder- Nyc Vg+/vg+John Coltrane-blue Train-blue Note-blp 1577-ear Dg Rvg Nyc Frame Laminated CoverJackie Mclean Capuchin Swing Blue Note 4038 Lp Dg Ear Rvg 47 W 63rd OriginalDonald Byrd Bird In Hand Original Blue Note Lp 4019 SuperbOrig-rare Jazz-blue Note 4227-mode For Joe Henderson-mono-(promo?)-lp-nice VinylDonald Byrd Royal Flush Blue Note 4101 Mono Jazz Lp Herbie Hancock Vangelder EarLarry Young Of Love And Peace Blue Note Lp Nm Liberty Promo Jack Wilson Easterly Winds Blue Note Liberty 84270 Lp Nm StereoSonny Rollins Newks Time Blue Note Lp 4001 Dg Ear/p NmIntroducing Kenny Burrell Rare Flat Lex Blue Note 1523 Ear Deep Groove Jazz LpBud Powell The Scene Changes Blue Note Lp 4009 Original Ear Dg Rvg 47 W 63Blue Note 4112 Dexter Gordon Go Lp New York Usa Ear/p Van Gelder NmClifford Brown 33 1/3 Rpm Lp Star On The Horizon Great Jazz Blue Note 5032Ultra Rare Blue Note 4043. Speakin My Piece. Horace Parlin Quintet.Bud Powell The Amazing Vol. 4 Time Waits Blue Note 1598 47 West 63rd No Inc MonoJackie Mclean New Soil Blue Note 4013 Mono 1959 Lp Rvg Byrd Chambers La RocaJackie Mclean W/grachan Moncur~1 Step Beyond~ultra-rare Orig '63 Blue Note Lp~nmArt Blakey Jazz Messengers Blue Note Originals Lot!!Wayne Shorter W/freddie Hubbard~all-seeing Eye~rare Orig '65 Blue Note Lp~mintBobby Hutcherson Total Eclipse Blue Note Lp Sealed Eric Dolphy Lp "out To Lunch" Original Blue Note Ny/usa Rvg Ear Vg++/nm-Dizzy Reece-soundin' Off 1960 Blue Note Blp 4033(deep Groove 47 W 63rd) Rare Vg+Larry Young-into Somethin'-rare Original Blue Note Jazz Lp-nyc-rvg-vg++ HearCannonball Adderley Miles Davis Somethin’ Else Blue Note 1595 Mono Rvg Ear Nm/nmDexter Gordon - Our Man In Paris Nm/nm Orig Blue Note Van Gelder Mono Ny Labels Maurice Vander Trio - Kenny Clarke - At Blue Note - French Mono - Autographed!!A Night At Birdland Art Blakey Quintet Blue Note 5037 Bud Powell, The Amazing, Vol. 3 ~ '57 Blue Note 1571 ~ W. 63rd Dg Rvg "ear" LpSonny Rollins Blue Note 1558 Vol.2 1957 Rvg 47 West 63rd.Gil Melle Quintet Don Butterfield 5 Impressions Of Color Blue Note 5063 10" LpDonald Byrd - Free Form - Blue Note - Blp 4118 - Van Gelder - Nyc Vg++/m-Ultra Rare Blue Note 1595. Cannonball Adderly. Rvg Ear Vg+Don Wilkerson Preach Brother Blue Note 4107 Mono Lp 1962 Sonny Clark Grant GreenLee Morgan The Rumproller On Blue Note 4199 Ny Mono 1965Freddie Redd & Jackie Mclean Music From The Connection Lp Blue Note 4027 RvgJohn Coltrane‎– Blue Train-blue Note ‎– Blp 1577 Rvg Ear, Microgroove 47 W.63 StLee Morgan 1969 Blue Note Modern Jazz Trumpet Lp Charisma Stereo Nm Nr VpiFreddie Redd & Jackie Mclean, Connection ~ '60 Blue Note 4027 ~ W. 63rd Rvg LpArt Blakey, Indestructible ~ '66 Blue Note Bst-84193 ~ Nyc Rvg LpJack Wilson Something Personal Blue Note Liberty 84251 Lp Nm Promo StereoWayne Shorter Super Nova Blue Note Lp Nm PromoJackie Mclean-capuchin Swing 1960 Blue Note Blp 4038(deep Groove 47 W 63rd) VgJohn Coltrane-blue Train 1957 Blue Note Blp 1577 (deep Groove 47 W 63rd) Rare G+Tyrone Washington Natural Essence Blue Note Liberty 84274 Lp ++/nm Stereo PromoStanley Turrentine Another Story Blue Note Lp Liberty Promo NmLarry Young Mother Ship Blue Note Classic Lp Sealed Lou Donaldson-gravy Train On Blue Note (jazz Lp, Rvg/n.y/earmark/monoLarry Young Unity Blue Note Lp Sealed ReissueJackie Mclean-let Freedom Ring 1962 Blue Note 4106 (new York) Rare Jazz VgBlue Note Sonny Rollins Mono 4001 Rvg Vinyl LpReuben Wilson Set Us Free Blue Note Rare Original Jazz Funk LpHerbie Hancock Takin' Off Lp Blue Note 4109 Ny Usa Mono Dexter Gordon Van GelderJimmy Smith - I'm Movin' On - Us Stereo Vinyl Lp - Blue Note - Bst 84255Jackie Mclean Hipnosis Blue Note 2xlp Nm GatefoldClifford Brown - Memorial Album - Blue Note Blp 1526 - Rvg Vg++/vg++