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    

Horace Silver Blue Note Blp 5018 10” Lp Nyc 1st IssueThe Amazing Bud Powell Vol. 2 Blue Note Blp-5041 1954 Beautiful ConditionHorace Silver Blue Note Blp 5062 10” Lp Nyc 1st Issue Jazz Lp - Jackie Mclean - Jackie's Bag - Blue Note Mono - Nice!!!Rare Jazz..johnny Griffin..the Congegation Blue Note W 63rd Rvg Ear Deep GrooveAndrew Hill - Black Fire - Blue Note Lp- JazzHank Mobley/lee Morgan - Peckin' Time Nm- 1574 Dg 63rd Original Blue Note JazzRare Jazz..kenny Drew..undercurrent..blue Note W 63rd Rvg Ear Jazz Lp - Art Taylor - At's Delight - Blue Note Mono DgJackie Mclean "let Freedom Ring" Blue Note Lp Ny Mono 4106 Ear Mint-!Miles Davis Lp Volume 1 Blue Note 1501 Orig Deep Groove Rare Lex Ave Ear RvgArt Blakey / Lee Morgan - The Freedom Rider **original Blue Note Bst 84156 Lp**Rare Jazz..hank Mobley..workout..blue Note Ny Blp 4080 Rvg EarJoe Henderson - In 'n Out Blue Note Bst-84166 Stereo Rudy Van Gelder RvgKenny Dorham Afro-cuban 5065 Dg Lexington Flat Original Rare Blue Note JazzHorace Parlan Quintet Speakin' My Piece Lp On Blue Note Vg++ 63rd Dg MonoJackie Mclean / Walter Davis - Let Freedom Ring **original Blue Note Bst 84106**Sonny Rollins - Vol.2 - Blue Note Lp- JazzJazz Lp - Art Blakey & Messengers - Buhaina's Delight - Blue Note MonoKenny Burrell Introducing 1523 Dg Lexington Rvg Ear Blue Note JazzKenny Burrell - S/t Lp Blue Note Blp 1543 Jazz Rvg Mono 1956 12" Andy Warhol ArtHorace Scope Silver Quintet Vinyl Lp Blue Note Jazz Mono Dg/rvg Plastic Ex/exRare Jazz..sonny Clark..leapin' And Lopin' Blue Note..rvg Ear Blp 4091Stanley Turrentine Look Out! Lp On Blue Note Vg++ 63rd Dg MonoRare Jazz..bennie Green..walkin & Talkin Blue Note W 63rd Rvg Ear No "r"Rare Jazz..grachan Moncur..evolution..blue Note Ny Blp 4153 Van Gelder EarRare Jazz..donald Byrd..off To The Races Blue Note W 63rd Rvg Blp 4007Rare Jazz..dexter Gordon..go..blue Note Ny Van Gelder Blp 4112Rare Jazz..wayne Shorter..ju Ju..blue Note Van Gelder Ear Ny Blp 4182Donald Byrd Fuego Lp On Blue Note 63rd Dg MonoHerbie Hancock Maiden Voyage. Vinyl Lp, 50th Anniversary Green Vinyl. Blue Note.Rare Jazz..andrew Hill..black Fire Blue Note Ny Van Gelder Ear Blp 415112" Rare Lp A.t,'s Delight By Art Taylor Blue Note Records 4047 (1960) High FideRare Jazz..jackie Mclean..it's Time..blue Note Ny Blp 4179 Van Gelder EarRare Jazz..joe Henderson..in N Out Blue Note Ny Van Gelder Ear Blp 4166Jackie Mclean Destination Out Blue Note Rvg 4165 12" Victory Vinyl Jazz AlbumPaul Chambers Quintet Donald Byrd (blue Note 1564) Orig Mono W.63rd Dg Jazz LpRare Jazz..grachan Moncur..some Other Stuff..blue Note Blp 4177 Van Gelder EarRare Jazz..dexter Gordon..swingin' Affair..blue Note Ny Van Gelder Ear Blp 4133Rare Jazz..kenny Dorham..round About Midnight..blue Note Lex Ave Ear RvgRare Jazz..kenny Dorham..whistle Stop..blue Note W 63rd Ear Rvg Jazz Lp - Horace Silver - J.j. Johnson - Cape Verdean Blues - Blue NoteThe Complete Blue Note Blue Mitchell Sessions On Mosaic - Set # 0006Hank Mobley Dippin Blue Note 4209 Vg++ 12" Vinyl Jazz Album Microgroove RvgBlue Note 84194 Wayne Shorter Speak No Evil Blue/white Liberty Van Gelder LpLee Morgan The Sidewinder (1964) Vinyl Lp Vg++ (ex) Blue Note Blp 4157 Mono RvgRare Jazz..jackie Mclean..destination Out..blue Note Ny Blp 4165 Van Gelder EarRare Jazz..kenny Burrell..introducing Blue Note Lex Ave Deep Groove Rvg EarRare Jazz..hank Mobley..dippin'..blue Note Ny Blp 4209 Van GelderSonny Rollins Newk's Time Blue Note 4001 Dg Rvg Ear Rare W. 63rd Blue Note 84196 Freddie Hubbard Blue Spirits Joe Henderson Liberty Van Gelder Lp12" Lp Rare Sonny Rollins Vol 2 By Sonny Rollins (1957) Blue Note 1558 High FedHorace Silver Trio Vol 2 10" Lp Blue Note 5034The Complete Blue Note Horace Parlan Sessions On Mosaic - Set # 0014Bennie Green - Soul Stirrin' Blue Note Lp 1599 Dg Mono 47 W. 63rd Rvg No "r"Bud Powell Vol.3 "bud!" Lp. Orig. 1957 Blue Note Us Mono Pressing. Bn-1571. RvgArt Blakey A Night At Birdland Vol. 1 Lp On Blue Note Lexington Dg MonoRare Jazz..jackie Mclean..a Fickle Sonance Blue Note Blp 4089 Ny Rvg EarRare Jazz..hank Mobley..a Caddy For Daddy..blue Note Blp 4230 Van GelderComplete Blue Note Hank Mobley Fifties Sessions - Mosaic Lp Set # 0006