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    

Hank Mobley Lp Roll Call - Blue Note 4058 - 47 W. 63rd - Mono - Rvg - No Ear Blue Note , Clifford Jordan 1549 47 West,63rd Ny 23,flat Edge Rvg,dg,p,vg++Herbie Hancock Lp Empyrean Isles Mono Blue Note Jazz New York Usa 4175 HubbardDizzy Reece "blues In Trinity" Original Blue Note Lp Mono 4006 Deep Groove Hank Mobley / Freddie Hubbard - The Turnaround **blue Note Blp 4186 Us Mono Lp**Blue Note , Hank Mobley 1560 47 West,63rd,rvg,dg,p,vg++Blue Note 1543 Kenny Burrell ,767 Lexington Ave., Rvg,p, Dg ,superb, NmDizzy Reece "star Bright" Original Blue Note Lp Mono 4023 Deep Groove Andrew Hill Black Fire Blue Note Mono Lp Ny-usa. 1st Press. Blp4151. Ear.Hank Mobley Workout Rare Mono Jazz Lp Blue Note 4080 The Ear Rvg New York UsaGrachan Moncur Iii Lp "evolution" Original Blue Note Ny/usa Rvg Ear Nm-Lee Morgan / Joe Henderson - The Sidewinder **blue Note Blp 4157 Mono Ear**Donald Byrd Places & Spaces Blue Note Lp Vg++/vg+ Shrink Joe Henderson Lp Our Thing - Blue Note 4152 - Ny Mono - Van Gelder - EarHerbie Hancock Maiden Voyage Blue Note Lp 1st Mono Press, Ear, Vg++ Dg S1 Ny-usaHorace Silver Lp "cape Verdean Blues" Original Blue Note Ny/usa Rvg Ear Nm-John Coltrane Blue Train Blue Note Stereo Ny-usa. 1577. Rvg.Hank Mobley Ft Donald Byrd And Lee Morgan Same Blue Note Japan Obi Mono LpEric Dolphy Out To Lunch Blue Note Bst 84163 Japanese Pressing Vinyl LpAnthony Williams Lp Spring - Blue Note 84216 - New York Usa "van Gelder" - EarArt Blakey Lp Freedom Rider - Blue Note 84156 - New York Usa - Van Gelder - EarThelonious Monk~us 4lp Box Set Complete Blue Note Recordings Nm Mosaic Mr4-101Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers - Moanin'__jazz Hard Bop Blue Note__lpPaul Chambers Sextet Whims Of Chambers Blue Note Lnj-70128 Japan Obi Mono LpGrant Green The Latin Bit; Art Blakey Indestructible - Blue Note Lp's Rvg StampsPaul Chambers Quintet Lp Blue Note 1564 Byrd Jordan Flanagan Jones Rvg Ear Andrew Hill - Compulsion! / Blue Note Div Of Liberty / Van Gelder / John GilmoreSonny Clark Quintet Same Blue Note Lnj-70093 Japanese Pressing Obi Vinyl LpLot Of 30 Classic Jazz Records~riverside Blue Note Impulse Contemporary ColumbiaWayne Shorter "juju" On Blue Note 84182Lee Morgan - The Sidewinder__jazz Soul Hard Bop Blue Note__lpDonald Byrd Stepping Into Tomorrow Blue Note Lp Vg++ Shrink Art Blakey Quintet A Night At Birdland Vinyl Blue Note Blp 1521-vol 1 Bobby Hutcherson - "components" Note 12inch LpBlue Mitchell Step Lightly Blue Note Gxk-8182 Japanese Pressing Obi Vinyl LpLou Donaldson Mr. Shing-a-ling Blue Note Lp Vg+ Shrink Bobbi Humphrey Blacks And Blues Blue Note LpFreddie Roach Good Move Original Mono Lp Blue Note Ny Usa Look Hank Mobley Wayne Shorter "speak No Evil" On Blue Note 84194Anthony Williams - "spring", Blue Note, ExcellentDexter Gordon Lp One Flight Up - Blue Note 84176 - Liberty - "van Gelder"John Coltrane Blue Train Blue Note 1577 Lp 47 West 63rd Deep Groove Rvg EarJackie Mclean - Action - Blue Note - Mono! - Gelder -tolliver - Hutcherson - ExThelonious Monk - Genius Of Modern Music Vol.1 **blue Note Blp 1510 Lexington**Lou Donaldson - Good Gracious! Lp Blue Note 4125 Mono Ny Usa Dg Ear RvgGrant Green "grantstand" Blue Note 4086 Mono Ny Usa Van Gelder / Ear Deep GrooveMedeski Martin And Wood End Of The World Party Blue Note 2 Record Set !Hank Mobley Lp A Caddy For Daddy - Blue Note 84230 - LibertyGrant Green-"talkin' About" Original Blue Note Ny Usa Stereo Lp Van Gelder Ear!Hank Mobley - Blue Note - Roll Call - 47 W63rd - Gelder - Hubbard - Blakey - VgThelonious Monk - Genius Of Modern Music Vol.2 **blue Note Blp 1511 Lexington**Grant Green 2lp Live At The Lighthouse - Blue Note - Super Clean - Near Mint!Baby Face Willette / Face To Face / Blue Note 4068 / Jazz / Toshiba JapanBrother Jack Mcduff Who Knows What Tomorrow's Gonna Bring? Blue Note Lp NmBobby Hutcherson & Harold Land San Francisco Blue Note LpArt Blakey & The Jazz Messengers A Night In Tunisia Lp Blue Note Bst 84049 63rdDuke Pearson Lp The Phantom - Blue Note 84293 - Liberty - "van Gelder"Jazz Lp-donald Byrd "off To The Races" Blue Note 4007 Mono Dg/rvg/ear No R Jazz - Herbie Hancock - Maiden Voyage :: Blue Note 84195 Stereo Ear Van GelderHank Mobley & His All Stars **blue Note Blp 1544 Mono 47w 63rd Ny 23 Lp**