Archive for the 'Blue Note Records The Biography' Category


Blue Note Records: The Biography (7)


The year 1957 was for Blue Note Records the year of expansion in terms of recording sessions (fourty-seven)  and booming  sales. Blue Note Records was on its way of becoming The record label for jazz.

It was also the year where now famous musicians, who started as important sidemen to Blue Note, made their “debut” as leaders, like Curtis Fuller and Sonny Clark. It was also the year that saxophonist John Coltrane made his first and only album for the label.

During a somewhat chaotic meeting John Coltrane and Alfred Lion agreed on a record deal by means of a handshake, nothing formally documented. What happened was that during the meeting the Blue Note cat jumped out of the window and producer Alfred Lion instantly went outside to rescue the cat. He managed to do so but when he returned to the office John Coltrane had left.

In spite of the fact that he had a contract with Prestige Records, Coltrane kept his promise to Lion and recorded “Blue Train” in the fall of 1957. He brought with him five compositions of which four were his own. The fifth was the Kern/Mercer composition “I’m Old Fashioned”.

Coltrane also brought with him an impressive line up of musicians: Curtis Fuller (tb), Lee Morgan (tp), Kenny Drew (p), Paul Chamber (bass) and Philly Joe Jones (ds). Listen to this video recording of “Moment’s Notice” with some of Coltrane’s unusual harmonic twists in the melody.

Source: Cook, Richard – Blue Note Records, The Biography.


Herbie Nichols: All The Way


To keep the momentum of the previous article on Herbie Nichols, just listen to the attached video with his version of All The Way. Nichols was a pianist and composer  who recorded ion the 1950-ties for the Blue Note Label. However his work was somewhat experimental for those days and did not deliver what Alfred Lion had expected. However in the 1980-ties a real Herbie Nichols revival came up and today his work is still acknowledged for his originality and creativity.

the joker is wild

Because he was a composer of his own he rarely recorded jazz standards. All The Way was written and composed by the famous duo Jimmy van Heusen and Sammy Cahn and introduced in the 1957 film The Joker Is Wild. Frank Sinatra recorded it also in 1957 and it became one of hist best selling recordings. All The Way received an Oscar in 1957 for Best Original Song.

Just take the time to listen to the Herbie Nichols’version of this great song and how his interpretation leads to a very creative and inspiring  rendition.


Blue Note Records – The Biography (6)

“What Did I Just Listen To ? “

Pianist Herbie Nichols (1919 – 1963) is THE example of a musician who was underrated during his lifetime an got the credits he deserved as a musician and composer only decades later. A typical late developer

Nichols played as a pianist in R&B bands, swing and Dixieland groups until in 1955 he finally got what he wanted, a recording session with Blue Note’s Alfred Lion. He had tried that for years but apparently he was not of much interest to Lion in the beginning.

Blue Note recorded Nichols with his trio, first with Art Blakey and Al McKibbon (bass) followed by sessions with Max Roach and Teddy Kotick. One of his talents was to write very unusual yet inspiring compositions which only became famous in the late 1980 – ties when most of his recordings were re-issued. He was also the composer of the Billy Holiday song “Lady Sings The Blues”.

Herbie Nichols

In 1956 he recorded the album “The Herbie Nichols Trio” with Roach and Kotick and recorded one of his most notorious compositions “The Gig”‘. It is sixty-seven-bar construction with an eight bar drum coda (Max Roach) and once the piece ends one feels bewildered: what were we just listening to here ?

Nichols’ music has been through a great revival and can still be heard today by a group called The Herbie Nichols Project. More on this great and extraordinary musician is on JazzWax.

Source: Cook, Richard – Blue Note Records.


Blue Note Records: The Biography (5)

In the early 19-fifties, when releasing an increasing number of jazz records,  Alfred Lion and Frank Wolff laid down the fundamentals for what was going to be the Blue Note trademark. First they moved gradually from the New York WOR Studio’s to Rudy van Gelder’s home studio in Hackensack after Lion heard a recording of saxophonist  Gil Melle which was engineered by van Gelder. They also started to hire designers to change the industry habit of using uniform and functional record covers. Especially the photography of Wolff played an important role. Rather then photographing musicians in a posed setting, he made pictures while the musicians were recording, grabbing their emotions and expressions and using his sensivity to light and dark. Another aspect of Lion’s approach as a recording producer was his insistence on having musicians rehearse before recording. He paid for the rehearsels as he was convinced that excellent ensemble playing was the key to succes. In 1953 Blue Note made a next step by assigning trumpettist Clifford Brown who was in his early twenties by then and had an amazing talent which even blew Dizzy Gillespie away when he first heard Brown playing. One of the recordings that Lion made was Brown’s composition  “Brownie Speaks” in which the three choruses played by Brown show his unique style, sound and phrasing.


Blue Note Records: The Biography (4)

On August 6, 1949 Blue Note Records recorded the last bebop session of the decade with pianist Bud Powell (1924 – 1966). Producer Alfred Lion enlisted Fats Navarro on trumpet, a nineteen-year-old saxophonist by the name Sonny Rollins, with Tommy Potter on bass and Roy Haynes on drums. The group was named by Blue Note as “Bud Powell’s Modernists”. Before recording for Blue Note, Bud Powell had a bad experience behind him. When touring with Cootie Williams in 1945 he ended up one night drunk and was severely beaten by the police and soon afterwards hospitalized for two and a half months in a psychiatric hospital. His mental problems were a live long burden to Powell who received electroconvulsive therapy and medication for schizophrenia. His medication was also the cause that his technique deteriorated and a 1965 concert in Carnegie Hall in was a disaster. Bud Powell died in on July 31, 1966 due to tuberculosis, malnutrition and alcoholism.

In spite of all that, Bud Powell is regarded as one of the greatest Bop pianists of all time. He was a Thelonius Monk protégé, with a very distinctive approach of the right hand and very sensitive to percussive delivery. He had a great admiration for Charlie Parker and translated his ideas to the piano, which made him a very distinctive representative of the Bop generation. He was the first pianist who recorded Monk’s “Round Midnight”. In the YT video is a performance of Powell’s interpretation of that great composition. And watch a very young bassist by the name of Niels Henning Orsted Pedersen.


Blue Note Records: The Biography (3)

Photographer Frank Wolff arrived in New York at the end of 1939, by legend on the “last boat out of Nazi Germany”.  He instantly sought contact with his old time friend from Germany, Alfred Lion. The couple would work together for decades to come to set the standard of the recording industry in many aspects, Lion as the producer, Wolf as the photographer.

In 1947 Alfred Lion was seeking a musician who would make impact in the world of bebop, taking into account that Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker had already made outstanding bop records that set the pace for that type of music.  He found it in the person of Thelonius Monk who was thirty at the time but had made no record yet as a leader. Although he certainly belonged to the bop generation and had adopted bop’s innovations, he stood apart from much of the language: the whirlwind tempo’s and virtuoso accuracy which typified most of the recordings. And apart from being a original jazz pianist he was an outstanding composer.

The first recording for Blue Note was Monk’s “Humph”which was way out for what Blue Note had been recording before. The strange descending line of the melody was certainly something note done before in bebop. Apart from Monk on piano are on this recording  trumpeter Idrees Sulieman, Danny Quebec West and Billy Smith on saxophone, bassist Gene Ramey and drummer Art Blakey.

Source: Blue Note Records – The biography – Richard Cook.


Blue Note Records The Biography: Mission Statement and Sydney Bechet.

In today’s business environment it is business as usual that corporations submit mission statements to support their strategy and business vision. Blue Note Records was by far ahead of their time, also in this respect. In May 1939 Blue Note issued a flyer with a text probably written by Max Margulis, a committed left-winger who also put up the initial money to establish Blue Note Records. The text was as follows:

“Blue Note Records are designed simply to serve the uncompromising expression of hot jazz and swing, in general. Any particular style of playing which represents an authentic way of musical feeling is genuine expression.By virtue of its significance in plce, time and circumstance, it possesses its own tradition, artistic standards and audience that keeps it alive. Hot jazz, therefore, is expression and communication, a musical and social manifestation, and Blue Note Records are concerned with identifying its impulse, not its sensational and commercial adornments.”

Reading this after so many years, the only conclusion to date can be that Blue Note Records always lived up to this flyer text which turned out to be their mission statement, a mission statement avant la lettre.

On April 7 1939 Alfred Lion brought a six-strong group musicians in the studio which he named “”Port of Harlem Jazzmen”. The group included the soprano saxophonist Sydney Bechet, who would become worldfamous with his hit “Petite Fleur” later in the fifties. In below video you can hear “Pounding Heart Blues” recorded by this group with catalogue number Blunote4 6-A 1939.


Blue Note Records: The Biography (1)

On January 6 1939, Alfred Lion a German citizen supervised his first studio recording in New York. It was a winter’s sunny day and in the small studio he hired he had arranged for plenty of bourbon and Scoth for the two musicians he was about to record.

As a teenager Lion had visited the US two times before he permantly started to live in New York. He got acquainted with jazz music in Germany and travelled two times to New York where he made a living by taking small jobs in the harbour. From the money he saved he bought jazz records which he brought back to Germany. In 1937 he and his family moved permanently to the US where he started to work for an import-export firm.

On December 23 1938, Alfred Lion went to a sold out concert in Carnegie Hall, titled From Spirituals to Swing presenting all kinds of music styles ending with a concert by the Count Basie Orchestra. Among the  musicians who performed were two boogie woogie pianists by then name of Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis. Lion was so enthusiastic that he decided to make his first recording with these two boogie woogie phenomenons.

Article based on Richard Cook’s “Blue Note Records”, The Biography, Justin, Charles & Co Publishers – to be continued.

Follow Bob's Jazz Blog. on

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Voeg je bij 314 andere volgers

About Bob Van Eekhout

Bob van Eekhout drummer Jazz Trio JazzTraffic

Nederlands Jazz Archief

Logo Nederlands Jazz Archief WordPress Development WordPress Development & Training

JazzTraffic Trio. Uw Jazzband voor een gezellige sfeer en goede achtergrondmuziek

Jazz Trio JazzTraffic

%d bloggers liken dit: