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    

Lee Morgan - Candy - Blue Note 1590 Deep Groove Rvg Earmark 47 W 63rd Nyc Nm//Hank Mobley Sextet - Hank - Blue Note 1560 - 47 West 63rd - Dg -rvg -ear-vg++/nmKenny Dorham - Round About Midnight - Blue Note - Made In Usa - Mono Edition NmLee Morgan - City Lights - Blue Note 1575 - Dg - Rvg - Ear - Nm // Lee Morgan - Lee Morgan Volume 3 - Blue Note 1557 - Dg - Rvg - Ear - Vg++/nmLee Morgan Sextet - Lee Morgan Sextet - Blue Note 1541 - Dg - Rvg - Ear - Nm Jutta Hipp At The Hickory House 1 Blue Note 1515 Us Original Lex Dg Flat Rgv M-Jutta Hipp At The Hickory House 2 Blue Note 1516 Us Original Lex Dg Flat Rgv M-Sonny Clark - Leapin & Lopin - Blue Note - Originale - Rvg - Made In UsaHank Mobley Blue Note Blp 4080 Workout New York Rvg Ear Stunning Nm/nm Top CopyAndrew Hill - Point Of Departure - Blue Note Made In Usa - Mono & Ear Symbols!Sonny Rollins - Newk's Time - Blue Note 4001 - Dg - Rvg - Ear - Horace Silver - Stylings Of Silber -blue Note - Ear Symbol - New York 23 AdressCannonball Adderley / Miles Davis - Somethin' Else - Blue Note 1595 -dg -rvg-earEric Dolphy "out To Lunch" Lp Blue Note Bst 84163. Ear Vangelder, Nm TopLee Morgan Indeed! Rare Blue Note Lexington Dg Mono RvgLou Donaldson - Lou Takes Off - Blue Note 1591 - Dg - Rvg - Ear - Nm // Thelonious Monk Vol 2 Genius Of Modern Music Blue Note 1511 Lexington Earm RvgArt Blakey And The Jazz Messengers - S/t - Blue Note 4003 - Dg - Rvg - Ear - Nm Sonny Rollins - Sonny Rollins - Blue Note 1542 - Dg - Rvg - Ear - Vg++/nmBlue Note 1507 Hank Mobley Kenny Dorham Art Blakey Nm! Flat Frame Lex DgEddie Gale's Ghetto Music Free Jazz Funk - 1968 Blue Note Lp - Sun Ra Herbie Hancock My Point Of View Blue Note 4126 Mono Ny, Ear Nm Stunning Top CopyHorace Silver - Blowin The Blues - Blue Note Made In Usa - Mono & Ear Symbols!Kenny Burrell - Midnight Blue - Blue Note 4123 - Van Gelder - Ear - Vg++Kenny Drew "undercurrent" Blue Note Original Lp 4059 Mint-!Horace Silver & Jazz Messengers S/t - Blue Note 1518 Lexington Rvg Earmark DeepLee Morgan The Cooker 1st Press Blue Note 1578 Deep Groove 1958 Rvg Ear Mono W63Orig-rare Jazz-blue Note 4123-kenny Burrell-midnight Blue-dg-mono-lp-shrinkwrapSonny Rollins - A Night At The Village Vanguard - Blue Note 1581 - Dg - Rvg-earHarold Vick Steppin' Out Original Blue Note Lp 4138 Ny Ear Vangelder SuperbThe Horace Silver Quintet - Finger Poppin' - Blue Note 4008 - Dg - Rvg - Ear -nmHank Mobley No Room For Squares Blue Note 4149 Lp Ear/p Rvg Ny Usa Mono Lee Morgan Sextet Rare Blue Note Lexington Dg Mono RvgLou Donaldson - Gravy Train - Blue Note 4079 Rvg Earmark Ny Usa Vg++//nm//Donald Byrd ~ Byrd In Flight ~ Blue Note 4048 West 63rd Rvg Ear Jazz LpBud Powell - Bud! The Amazing Bud Powell Volume 3 - Blue Note 1571-dg-rvg-ear-nmLou Donaldson - The Time Is Right - Blue Note 4025 - Dg -rvg - Ear - Vg++ // Lee Morgan - Cornbread - Blue Note 4222 - New York Usa - Van Gelder - Nm // Lee Morgan City Lights Rare Blue Note W. 63rd Mono RvgArt Blakey Quintet - A Night At Birdland Vol. 2 - Blue Note 1522-dg-rvg-ear-vg++Larry Young--unity--blue Note 4221--van Gelder Stamp--new York Usa--shrinkThelonious Monk Genius Of..vol. 1 Nm- Blue Note 1510 W. 63rd Mono Dg Rvg Ear LpLou Donaldson - Good Gracious! - Blue Note 4125 - Van Gelder - Ear - Vg++The Turnaround! Hank Mobley Blue Note Lp Blp4186 Van Gelder Ear Lp 43 W 61stFreddie Hubbard "blue Spirits" Blue Note Blp 4196 Ny Usa VangelderSonny Rollins Rare Blue Note 1542 Mono Deep Groove 1957 Rvg Ear Lexington AveThe Horace Silver Quintet - Blowin' The Blues Away - Blue Note 4017 - Rvg - EarCliff Jordan John Gilmore Blowing In From Chicago Blue Note Lp 1549 Rvg W63rdBud Powell Time Waits Amazing Blue Note 1598 W. 63rd Mono Dg Rvg Ear '59 LpLee Morgan The Cooker Rare Blue Note W. 63rd Dg Mono RvgArt Blakey - Meet Me At The Jazz Corner Of The World - Blue Note 4054 -rvg - EarBlue Note Johnny Griffin A Blowing Session Ex Dg Ny23 Ex! Coltrane Mobley MorganArt Blakey Quintet - A Night At Birdland Volume 1 - Blue Note 1521 - Dg- Rvg-earArt Blakey And The Jazz Messengers - The Big Beat - Blue Note 4029-dg-rvg-ear-nmEddie Gale Eddie Gale's Ghetto Music (blue Note Usa Original Lp 1968) Van GelderFunk Jazz Breaks 45 Bobby Hutcherson Rain Every Thursday Blue Note Vg+ HearHorace Silver Quintet - 6 Pieces Of Silver - Blue Note 1539 - Dg - Rvg - Ear -nmJackie Mclean - One Step Beyond - Blue Note 4137 - Van Gelder - Ear - Vg++Art Blakey & Jazz Mess At Jazz Corner Of The World Vol2 Blue Note 63rd 4016 Ear