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]



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]

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    

John Coltrane / Curtis Fuller - Blue Train **us Blue Note Blp 1577 Mono Lp** Lee Morgan Vol. 3 Blue Note 1557 Lp Mono W. 63rd Wayne Shorter / Lee Morgan - Night Dreamer **original Us Blue Note Blp 4173** Ike Quebec – Blue & Sentimental – Blue Note – Blp 4098 – 1st Press – Ear – Nm+John Coltrane Blue Train Blue Note 1577 Lp Mono Ny UsaDexter Gordon Go 12" 33rpm Lp Jazz Blue Note 4112 Van Gelder Ear Mark Ny UsaDexter Gordon / Sonny Clark - Go **original Us Blue Note Blp 4112 Mono Lp** Ike Quebec - It Might As Well Be Spring – Blue Note – 4105 – 1st Pr – Ear – Nm+Lee Morgan City Lights Blue Note Lp NyArt Blakey & Jazz Messengers Self Titled Blue Note 4003 Lp Mono Ny/w.63 Sonny Rollins / Paul Chambers / Art Blakey **us Blue Note Blp 1558 Mono Lp** Joe Henderson / Duke Pearson / Johnny Coles **original Us Blue Note Blp 4144** Hank Mobley / Art Blakey / Kenny Dorham **us Blue Note Blp 1507 Lexington Dg** George Braith / Grant Green - Two Souls In One **us Blue Note Blp 4148 Mono** Sonny Clark Leapin & Lopin 12" 33rpm Lp Jazz Blue Note 4091 Rvg Ny Usa MonoHank Mobley / Art Blakey / Kenny Dorham **us Blue Note Blp 1508 Mono Dg Lp** Art Blakey Indestructible 12" 33rpm Lp Jazz Blue Note 4193 Mono Ny Usa Rvg Hear!Harold Vick / Blue Mitchell / Grant Green **original Us Blue Note Bst 84138 Lp**Wayne Shorter Night Dreamer Ex Blue Note Liberty Van Gelder Lee Morgan Jay Jay Johnson / Clifford Brown **original Us Blue Note Blp 1505 Ny23 Mono Lp**Ike Quebec Blue & Sentimental Blue Note Lp Stereo Ny Usa Kenny Burrell Art Blakey On View At Five Spot Cafe Vg+ Blue Note 4021 Nyusa RvgJackie Mclean Action Blue Note Lp Shrink Stereo Ny UsaLarry Young Into Somethin Blue Note Nyusa Van Gelder Shrink Grantgreen SamriversLonnie Smith Drives Blue Note Lp Liberty Herbie Hancock Takin' Off Blue Note Lp Mono Ny UsaRonnie Foster Two Headed Freap Ex Blue Note With Sticker! FunkSam Rivers Fuchsia Swing Song Blue Note 4184 Mono Nyusa Van Gelder Ear Pete La Roca – Basra – Blue Note – Bst 84205 – 1st Press – Ear – Nm Top !Lee Morgan Search For The New Land Blue Note Lp Mono Ny UsaLou Donaldson Blues Walk Blue Note Lp Mono W.63rdHank Mobley No Room For Squares 12" 33rpm Lp Jazz Blue Note 4149 Rvg Ny Usa HearIke Quebec Soul Samba 12" 33rpm Lp Jazz Blue Note 4114 Van Gelder Ny Usa MonoHerbie Hancock "inventions & Dimensions" Blue Note Bst-84147 St. V.gelder Vg++nmCannonball Adderley Somethin' Else Blue Note Lp Mono W. 63rdSam Rivers A New Conception Ex Blue Note Nyusa Van Gelder In ShrinkClifford Brown / Gigi Gryce Sextet **original Vogue Blue Note Lde 121 10"**Art Blakey / Horace Silver / Lou Donaldson **us Blue Note Blp 1521 Mono Dg Lp** Cecil Taylor - Unit Structures **original Us Blue Note Blp 4237 Mono**Cornbread - Lee Morgan &...../'67 Usmono/blue Note Blp4222/ VangelderSonny Rollins / Wynton Kelly - Newk's Time **us Blue Note Bst 84001 Stereo Lp**Kenny Burrell Midnight Blue Blue Note Lp Mono Ny Usa Bennie Green Back On The Scene Blue Note Lp Vg++/vg+ Mono JapanDexter Gordon One Flight Up Blue Note Lp Vg+ Stereo LibertySonny Rollins - Vol. 2 – Blue Note – Blp 1558 – Original – Ear – ExcIke Quebec Kenny Burrell Blue Note Mono 4114 Bossa Nova Soul Samba Ny UsaBrother Jack Mcduff Moon Rappin' Blue Note Lp Gatefold Donald Byrd Places And Spaces Blue Note Lp Vg++ ShrinkArt Blakey Buhaina's Delight 12" 33rpm Lp Jazz Blue Note 4104 Rvg Ny Usa Ex!Dexter Gordon Our Man In Paris Lp Blue Note 84146 Rvg The Ear Ny Usa Rare JazzBud Powell / Sonny Rollins / Roy Haynes **us Blue Note Blp 1503 Mono Dg Lp** Cecil Taylor - Conquistador **original Us Blue Note Bst 84260 Stereo Lp** John Coltrane Blue Train Blue Note Ua Bst-81577 LpLee Morgan The Sidewinder Blue Note Lp Mono Ny Usa Lonnie Smith Drives Ex Blue Note Funk Van GelderHerbie Hancock Empyrean Isles Blue Note Gxk 8002 Japan Vinyl LpArt Blakey - Orgy In Rhythm **original Us Blue Note Blp 1554 Mono Lp** Dexter Gordon One Flight Up Lp Blue Note 4176 Van Gelder Ny Usa Ear Jazz #440Stanley Turrentine Look Out Vg+ Blue Note 4039 47w63 Deep Groove Rvg EarJackie Mclean It's Time Blue Note Lp Liberty Stereo