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 Parlan - Speakin My Piece Us Lp Blue Note 4043 W 63rd Dg Rvg EarSonny Rollins Self Titled Blue Note Original Lp 1542 Lexington Flat Edge Grant Green - Feelin The Spirit Us Lp Blue Note 4132 Ny Van Gelder EarJackie Mclean - Swing Swang Lp - Blue Note Blp 4024 Mono 47 W 63rd Dg Ear/pBlue Note Lp Kenny Dorham 1524,dg,lexington ,flat Edge Rvg, Ear/pCurtis Fuller / Sonny Clark / Art Farmer - Volume 3 **blue Note Blp 1583 Mono**Jackie Mclean-swing Swang Swingin'-blue Note 4024-west 63rd NycJohnny Griffin Jazz Lp Blue Note 1559 Dg W63 Mono Rvg Coltrane Mobley MorganWayne Shorter "juju" Blue Note Original 4182 Ny Mono Lp SuperbHank Mobley "roll Call" Blue Note Lp 4058 Mono Ear Rvg Xlnt Jack Mcduff Moon Rappin Blue Note Lp Nm Shrink Sonny Rollins - Same Us Lp Blue Note 1542 Orig W 63rd Dg Rvg EarJackie Mclean €Andrew Hill - Black Fire Us Lp Blue Note 4151 Ny Van Gelder EarJackie Mclean Bluesnik Blue Note 4067 Lp W 63 Dg Rvg Ear/p Blue Note 4112 Dexter Gordon Go Lp New York Usa First Pressing "ear" Van GelderKenny Burrell - Blue Lights Vol.1 Blue Note Orig D.g./63rd St. 12" Lp - Nm! Walter Davis "davis Cup" Original Blue Note Lp 4018 Superb!Ronnie Foster Two Headed Freap Blue Note Lp Andrew Hill - Judgment Us Lp Orig Blue Note 4159 Van Gelder EarGrant Green-feelin' The Spirit-blue Note 4132-new York UsaDexter Gordon Our Man In Paris Blue Note Original 4146 Ny Mono Lp Donald Byrd Ethiopian Knights Blue Note Lp NmLee Morgan - Sidewinder Us Lp Blue Note 4157 Ny Van GelderHerbie Hancock - Empyrean Isles Lp France Blue Note Nr MintRare Jazz-blue Note Records 4106-jackie Mclean-let Freedom Ring-dg-mono-lp-(nm-)The Fabulous Fats Navarro Vol.2 **blue Note Blp 1532 767 Lexington Deep Groove**The Fabulous Fats Navarro Vol.1 **blue Note Blp 1531 767 Lexington Deep Groove**Tina Brooks True Blue Duke Jordan Blue Note 4041 1st Ear Dg Nm!Art Blakey - Night At Birdland Vol 1 Us Lp Blue Note 1521 W 63rd Rvg EarLee Morgan / Hank Mobley / Herbie Hancock - Cornbread *blue Note Blp 4222 Mono*Freddie Hubbard Ready For Freddie Blue Note 4085 Nyc Rvg Wayne Shorter Night Dreamer Blue Note Bst-84173 Japanese Pressing,obi Vinyl LpLee Morgan - Rumproller Us Lp Blue Note Blp 4199 Ny Van GelderKenny Burrell & Tina Brooks Original Blue Note Lp 4021 NiceEddie Gale Black Rhythm Happening Blue Note Lp Vg++ Lou Donaldson - Lou Takes Off - Lp Blue Note 1591 Dg - 63rd StEddie Gale's Ghetto Music Blue Note Lp Horace Silver - Cape Verdean Blues Us Lp Blue Note Liberty Nr MintFreddie Hubbard "hub Cap" Blue Note Lp Mono 4073 Rvg NiceJohn Coltrane Lp Blue Train - Blue Note 1577 - W. 63rd Rvg Stereo Dg EarFreddie Hubbard - Ready For Freddie - Blue Note Orig / Ny 12" (lp) - Nm! Joe Henderson Inner Urge Blue Note Bst-84189 Japanese Pressing Vinyl LpClifford Brown / Gigi Gryce - Memorial Album **us Blue Note Blp 1526 Mono**Tina Brooks Back To The Tracks Blue Note Bst 84052 Japan Promo Vinyl LpFats Navarro - Fabulous Vol 1 Us Lp Blue Note 1531 Ny DgHorace Silver - Finger Poppin Us Lp Blue Note 4008 Rvg Ear W 63rd RareJohn Coltrane Blue Train Blue Note Bst 81577 Japanese Pressing Obi Vinyl LpHank Mobley - Soul Station Lp Blue Note France Nr MintGrant Green "feelin' The Spirit" Lp Blue Note 4132 (1962)Jackie Mclean A Fickle Sonance Blue Note Lp Ny Mono 4089 Rvg Jimmy Mcgriff Electric Funk Blue Note Lp Vg+ Shrink Grant Green Green Is Beautiful Blue Note Lp Vg++ Shrink Freddie Hubbard - Ready For Freddie Lp Japan Blue Note Nr MintBobbi Humphrey Dig This Blue Note Lp Vg++ Shrink Art Blakey - Night At Birdland Vol 2 Us Lp Blue Note 1522 W 63rd Rvg EarSonny Clark Cool Struttin' Volume Two Blue Note K18p-9279 Japan Mono Vinyl LpHank Mobley Wynton Kelly Soul Station Blue Note 4031 Ear Dg Vg+Paul Chambers Quartet Bass On Top Lp Orig Ear Rvg Pressing Blue Note 1569 Rare Freddie Hubbard Hank Mobley Goin Up Blue Note 4056 Ear Dg Vg+