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    

Jazz Lp/ John Coltrane "blue Train" ~ Orig. Mono Blue Note ~ Dg ~ Rvg ~ Ear Clifford Brown New Star On The Horizon 10" Blue Note Dg Orig. Lexington/earBlue Note 1535 Kenny Dorham Afro Cuban Rare Original Mono LpMiles Davis Young Man With Horn Vol. 2 10" Blue Note Dg Orig. Lexington/earBlue Note 1534 Paul Chambers Whims Of Chambers Rare Original Mono LpBlue Note 1524 Kenny Dorham ´round About Midnight Rare Original Mono LpBlue Note 1542 Sonny Rollins Rare Original Mono Lp Autographed By Sonny RollinsBud Powell The Amazing 10" Blue Note Dg Org. Lexington/earGrant Green / Green Street / Rare Blue Note 4071 /new York / Mono Dg Rvg EarHere Comes Louis Smith - Blue Note 1584 - Og Mono Rvg Dg Ear 47 W. 63rd Nice!Donald Byrd Lp Byrd In Hand 1959 Blue Note Nyc Press Mono Rare Jazz Art Blakey Night At Birdland Vol. 1 10" Blue Note Dg Orig. Lexington/earLou Donaldson/clifford Brown New Faces 10" Blue Note Dg Orig. Lexington/earJohn Coltrane Blue Train Blue Note 1577 Mono Dg Rvg Ear 47w63/nyusaGigi Cryce Jazztime Paris Vol. 1 10" Blue Note Dg Orig. Lexington/ear Gil Melle New Faces 10" Blue Note Dg Orig. Lexington/earJackie Mclean: Jackie's Bag Lp Original Mono Blue Note 47 West 63rd Nyc Blp 4051Sonny Rollins Volume 2 Lp Blue Note (1558) W 63rd Orig. Rvg/earKenny Dorham / Joe Henderson - Una Mass **original Us Blue Note Blp 4127 Mono**Jay Jay Johnson Sextet 10" Blue Note Dg Orig. Lexington/ear 5028Wayne Shorter Speak No Evil Blue Note Ny Rvg Ear Lp Freddie Hubbard Vg+Jazz Messengers At Cafe Bohemia Vol. 1 Lp Blue Note Lexington Orig. RvgIntroducing Kenny Burrell Mono Lp Blue Note 767 Lexington Rvg Deep Groove EarKenny Burrell Lp Introducing Kenny Burrell 1956 Blue Note Mono Jazz Andrew Hill Lp Compulsion 1965 Blue Note Stereo Avant Garde Jazz Duke Pearson Tender Feelin's Blue Note 47 W 63rd Dg Rvg Ear Lp Vg+/nm Wayne Shorter Night Dreamer Blue Note Ny Rvg Ear Lp Lee Morgan Vg+ Fats Navarro Memorial Album 10" Blue Note Dg Org. Lexington/earCannonball Adderley Lp Somethin Else 1958 Original Blue Note Dg Nyc Mono PressDuke Pearson Profile Blue Note 47 W 63rd Dg Rvg Ear Lp Vg+/vg++Jazz Lp/ Miles Davis "vol. 1" ~ Orig. Mono Blue Note ~ Rvg ~ Ear Dg ~ LexingtonIke Quebec Kenny Burrell Blue Note Bossa Nova Mono Lp 1962Herbie Hancock - Takin' Off - Blue Note 4109 - New York Usa - Van Gelder - Ear Jackie Mclean Lp Demon's Dance 1970 Blue Note Stereo Avant Garde Jazz Blue Note 4166 Joe Henderson In 'n Out Mono (ny) Rvg Ear *review Copy* Vg++Lou Donaldson Good Gracious Lp Blue Note Stereo Ny Orig. Rvg EarBlue Note 4175 Herbie Hancock Empyrean Isles Mono (ny) *review Copy* Rvg Ear NmGrant Green Grantstand Blue Note 4086 Orig Mono Ear Rvg Jazz Lp Hear Mp3Sonny Clark Leapin' & Lopin' Blue Note Bst 84091 Japanese Pressing Vinyl LpBobby Hutcherson Components Lp Blue Note New York Orig. Rvg Mono1960's Original Labels Us Blue Note Grant Green Kenny Dorham Blue Mitchell 5lpsClifford Brown / Lou Donaldson - Memorial Album - Blue Note 1526 - Rvg - Ear -dgSonny Clark Cool Struttin' Volume Two Blue Note K18p-9279 Japan Mono Vinyl LpIke Quebec Lp "blue & Sentimental" Blue Note Ny/usa Rvg Ear W Grant Green Nm-Wayne Shorter Night Dreamer Blue Note Bst 84173 Japanese Pressing Vinyl LpLee Morgan - Search For The New Land - Blue Note 4169 - Van Gelder - Nm // Clifford Brown / Lou Donaldson - Memorial Album - Blue Note 1526 - Rvg - Ear -dgGrachan Moncur Iii Lp "some Other Stuff" Original Blue Note Ny/usa Rvg Ear Nm-Kenny Dorham Whistle Stop Blue Note 4063 47w63 Rvg Ear Hank Mobley Kenny DrewJohn Coltrane - Blue Train - Blue Note # 1577 - 43 West 61st St. New York 23-ssBlue Note 1581-sonny Rollins- Village Vanguard - Dg-rvg-ear-west 63rd-no R-monoGrant Green Talkin' About! Blue Note Ny Rvg Ear Lp ExJazz Messengers Night At Cafe Bohemia :volume 1 Blue Note Japan Mono Obi LpFats Navarro - The Fabulous Fats Navarro Vol. 2 - Blue Note 1532 - Mono - Rvg James Moody With Strings 10" Blue Note Dg Orig. LexingtonEric Dolphy Out To Lunch Blue Note Bst 84163 Japanese Pressing Vinyl LpHorace Silver Lp The Tokyo Blues 1962 Blue Note Nyc Press Mono Rare Jazz Big John Patton / Blue Mitchell Grant Green / Oh Baby! / Blue Note 84192 /stereoDon Wilkerson "shoutin'!" Blue Note 84145 Grant Green- John Patton -ben DiDexter Gordon Our Man In Paris Blue Note Bst 84146 Japanese Pressing Vinyl Lp