Blue Note Records @ 75: By CJ Shearn

Blue Note Records @ 75: By CJ Shearn

Blue Note Records, now celebrating its 75th year, has always been a label that has been important in my listening as a fan and collector of jazz. From the time I was 2 years old, and heard an United Artists era Blue Note vinyl copy of Jimmy Smith’s The Sermon, and Midnight Special, I was hooked. A few years later when I could handle records, as well as a four year old could do- my mom gave me those albums, (somewhere there is photographic evidence of me playing one of the Jimmy Smith LP’s on a Fisher Price record player!) and I rapidly developed an interest in the catalog, by reading the album liners and seeing the pictures of other albums available on selected titles. Another reason I was drawn to Blue Note was the fantastic covers with graphic design of Reid Miles and photos by Francis Wolff and the iconic whole note and bar line logo presented in different colors on the front covers. As an aside the United Artists era logo on the with the stylized “b” in either white or black endlessly fascinated me on the turntable, imagine my horror, when I discovered at 8 years old, that wasn’t the “classic” logo, makes me laugh today.

Smith was the first artist whose Blue Note catalog I began to investigate, I can say I have heard and collected everything Jimmy recorded for the label, I spent years trying to find the Japanese only releases of Cherokee, Trio+ Lou Donaldson, and (all recorded in 1957 but unreleased at the time), I finally managed to grab them about 5 years ago, I let go of a fairly routine session, 1963’s Bucket, as Jimmy completed his Blue Note contract, but through everything he recorded, there is a consistent quality to the music. As I entered my teenage years, at the insistence of a life long friend, I started devouring Art Blakey’s output for the label, which is again, phenomenally consistent. As the CD era wore on, after amassing all the label essentials like most hardcore classic era Blue Note fans, I started adding titles that are relatively obscure, such as the infamous Blue Note 1568; the catalog number for Hank Mobley Quintet , (contained within the saxophonist’s Complete Fifties Blue Note Sessions on Mosaic) all four albums released by tenor saxophonist, Harold Floyd “Tina” Brooks, one of which, 1960’s True Blue saw release in his life time, Bobby Hutcherson’s magnificent Live at Montreux, among many others.

Blue Note has several gems spread out among the controversial mid 70’s period, when Blue Note was run by George Butler in the United Artists era, Texas based tenor saxophonist Jim Sangrey noted the tremendous changes in that decade in a 2008 jazz forum post: “The whole Blue Note Hits A New Note thing was enormous in terms of “push” (i.e. -marketing). You could sign up for a freakin’ newsletter for cryin’ out loud, in case you wanted to know how chapped Bobbi Humphrey’s lips were or weren’t at her last gig, I guess…This wasn’t intended to be just a co-opting of a label’s name, this was a hoped for movement, a redefining of a legacy/brand name/whatever. And almost all of it was crap and/or repetitious redoings of a formula that had worked one time. There was no “rebuilding” or “redefining”, just cheap opportunistic riding of a formula and farming out of work to slicksters, who did what slicksters do – make slick music for ready, and short-term, consumption. The only two “serious” artists left on the label were Hutch & Horace. The former’s output began to be produced (to lessening effect as time went by, in my opinion) by Dale Oehler (Butler again being “Executive Producer”), the latter’s work shifting from Butler w/Marcus to Silver w/o any noticeable change, so I think this was one of those ‘stay out of the way’ dynamics. And they got less and less push as time went by. Silver’s was the very last release of new, original material on Blue Note before it went inactive, and believe me when I tell you that it was released damn near in a vacuum.

All “style” & no substance. The covers got prettier and prettier while the music got emptier & emptier. And that’s not just a sign of the times either, since, as noted earlier, you can (and some did) make “commercial”, “jazzy” music that is not as totally devoid of content as most of this effluvia was.

I’ll give this much to Butler’s Blue Note though – it laid the groundwork for GRP, since Dave Grusin & Rosen became an active production team there. So if you want some, any, kind of “lasting legacy” from it all, there it is, and you can have it. “

Granted, several of these albums in the intervening years have become highly regarded by DJ’s and hip hoppers, such as the Mizell Brothers produced albums for Donald Byrd, and flutist Bobbi Humphrey, and the first few records by acoustic guitarist Earl Klugh which were produced by Dave Grusin and Larry Rosen. For fans of the classic 1954-68 era there is very little of interest in many of the seventies titles because the shift as Sangrey observed became more about a product which catered to a different audience, as opposed to the artistic/commercial balance of the material produced by Alfred Lion, then later, Francis Wolff, and Duke Pearson.

Today, through the leadership of industry veteran Don Was, (who had hits with the band Was/Not Was took over for Bruce Lundvall, one of the true champions of jazz) Blue Note’s aim has followed the credo of label founders Alfred Lion and Frank Wolff, recording singular talents, and much like the “Blue Note Hits A New Note” campaign of the 70’s the general tenor of new releases hits a wide cross section, but musically at a much more satisfying level. This list of many wonderful titles I have compiled from the label’s entire history comes from many years of listening, and several of them are handpicked. While quite a few of these titles have gone in and out of print on LP and CD over the years, Was has indicated that the entire catalog is planned to be available digitally, and throughout this year and the next, a 75th anniversary program of affordable vinyl reissues directed at an new generation of listeners comprises essential titles, a few lesser known ones (of which this list includes many) and new releases.

The Beginning:
Meade Lux Lewis and Albert Ammons: The First Day (1939)
Sidney Bechet: Summertime (1939)
The Port of Harlem Jazzmen (1939)



The Modern era:
Milt Jackson: The Wizard of the Vibes (1947)
Thelonious Monk: The Genius of Modern Music Volumes 1&2 (recorded between 1947 and 1951-2)
Bud Powell: The Amazing Bud Powell: Volumes 1&2: (recorded between 1948, 1951 and 1953)
Art Blakey Quintet: A Night at Birdland Volumes 1&2 (1954)
Horace Silver:And The Jazz Messengers: (Recorded 1954-1955)
Miles Davis: Volumes 1&2 (1953-1954)

The classic era:
Hank Mobley Quartet (1955)
Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers: At the Cafe Bohemia: Volumes 1&2 (1955)
Horace Silver: Six Pieces of Silver (1956)
Kenny Dorham: Round About Midnight at the Cafe Bohemia (1956)
Jimmy Smith: A New Sound, A New Star: Jimmy Smith at the Organ, Volume 2 (1956)
Paul Chambers: The Whims of Chambers: (1956)
Horace Silver: The Stylings of Silver (1957)
Lee Morgan: City Lights (1957)
Lee Morgan: The Cooker (1957)
John Coltrane: Blue Train (1957)
Kenny Burrell: Introducing Kenny Burrell: The First Sessions (1956-1957)
Johnny Griffin: A Blowin Session: (1957)
Jimmy Smith: The Incredible Jimmy Smith at the Organ Volumes 1&2 (1957)
Jimmy Smith: Groovin at Smalls Paradise (1957)
Sonny Rollins: Volume 2 (1957)
Art Blakey: Orgy in Rhythm: Volumes 1&2 (1957)
Sonny Rollins: A Night at the Village Vanguard-Complete (1957)
Kenny Burrell: Blue Lights Volumes 1&2 (1958)
Jimmy Smith: Houseparty (1957-1958)
Jimmy Smith: The Sermon! (1958)
Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers: Moanin’ (1958)
Cannonball Adderley: Somethin’ Else (1958)
Jackie McLean: New Soil (1959)
Horace Silver: Blowin’ the Blues Away: (1959)
Donald Byrd: Byrd in Hand (1959)
Jimmy Smith: Crazy! Baby (1960)
Jimmy Smith: Midnight Special (1960)
Stanley Turrentine: Look Out! (1960)
Hank Mobley: Soul Station (1960)
Dexter Gordon: Dexter Calling (1960)
Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers: A Night in Tunisia (1960)
Freddie Hubbard: Ready For Freddie (1961)
Stanley Turrentine: Up at Minton’s Volumes 1&2 (1961)
Hank Mobley: Workout (1961)
Grant Green: Grantstand (1961)
Grant Green: The Complete Quartets with Sonny Clark (1961-1962)
Art Blakey: The African Beat (1962)
Jackie McLean: Let Freedom Ring (1962)
Freddie Hubbard: Hubtones (1962)
Herbie Hancock: Takin’ Off (1962)
Herbie Hancock: Inventions and Dimensions (1963)
Jackie McLean: Destination Out! (1963)
Grachan Moncur III: Evolution (1963)
Kenny Burrell: Midnight Blue (1963)
Grachan Moncur III: Some Other Stuff (1964)
Jimmy Smith: Prayer Meetin’ (1963)
John Patton: Along Came John (1963)
Hank Mobley: No Room For Squares (1963)
Joe Henderson: Page One (1963)
Donald Byrd: A New Perspective (1963
Joe Henderson: Our Thing (1963)
Larry Young: Into Somethin’ (1964)
Wayne Shorter: Speak No Evil (1964)
Wayne Shorter: Juju (1964)
Herbie Hancock: Empyrean Isles (1964)
Eric Dolphy: Out to Lunch (1964)
Tony Williams: Life Time (1964)
Sam Rivers: Fuschia Swing Song: (1964)
Sam Rivers: Contours (1965)
Andrew Hill: Smoke Stack (1963)
Andrew Hill: Black Fire (1963)
Lee Morgan: The Sidewinder (1963)
Lee Morgan: Search For the New Land (1964)
Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers: Free For All (1964)
Lee Morgan: Cornbread (1965)
Hank Mobley: A Caddy For Daddy (1965)
Wayne Shorter: The All Seeing Eye (1965)
Bobby Hutcherson: Dialogue (1965)
Herbie Hancock: Maiden Voyage (1965)
Sam Rivers: Contours (1965)
John Patton: Let Em Roll (1965)
John Patton: Oh Baby (1965)
Jackie McLean: Right Now! (1965)
Joe Henderson: Mode for Joe (1966)
McCoy Tyner: The Real McCoy (1967)
John Patton: That Certain Feeling (1967)
Cecil Taylor: Conquistador (1967)
Ornette Coleman: New York is Now (1968)
John Patton: Understanding (1968)
Elvin Jones: Puttin It Together (1968)
McCoy Tyner: Expansions (1968)
Lou Donaldson: Hot Dog (1969)
McCoy Tyner: Cosmos (1969)


The Seventies:
Hank Mobley: Third Season (1970)
Lonnie Smith: Live at the Club Mozambique (1970, issued for the first time in 1995)
Grant Green: At Club Mozambique (1970, issued for the first time in 2003)
Lee Morgan: Live at the Lighthouse (1970)
Grant Green: Alive! (1970)
Bobby Hutcherson: Inner Glow (1970)
Donald Byrd: Electric Byrd (1970)
Grant Green: Live at the Lighthouse (1972)
Elvin Jones: At the Lighthouse (1972)
Ronnie Foster: Two Headed Freap (1972)
Ronnie Foster: Live at Montreux (1973)
Bobby Hutcherson: Live At Montreux (1973)
Bobby Hutcherson: Montara (1975)
Eddie Henderson: Sunburst (1975)
Eddie Henderson: Heritage (1976)
Bobby Hutcherson: Knucklebean (1977)

Blue Note Resurrected, and Blue Note Today
Charles Lloyd: A Night in Copenhagen (1984)
Stanley Jordan: Magic Touch (1984)
One Night With Blue Note, Preserved (1985)
Tony Williams: Foreign Intrigue (1985)
Stanley Turrentine: Straight Ahead (1985)
James Newton: Romance and Revolution (1985)
Bobby McFerrin: Spontaneous Inventions (1986)
Freddie Hubbard and Woody Shaw: Double Take (1986)
Freddie Hubbard and Woody Shaw: The Eternal Triangle (1986)
Joe Henderson: State of the Tenor: Live at the Village Vanguard Volumes 1 &2 (1985)
Tony Williams: Civilization (1986)
Joe Lovano: From the Soul (1992)
Benny Green: Testifyin’- Live at the Village Vanguard (1992)
Gonzalo Rubalcaba: Images Live at Mt. Fuji (1992)
Us3: Hand On the Torch (1993)
Tony Williams: Tokyo Live (1993)
Jimmy Smith Trio: The Master (1994, licensed from Somethin Else Records, a subsidiary of Blue Note Japan)
John Scofield/Pat Metheny: I Can See Your House From Here (1994)
Medeski, Martin and Wood: Combustication (1998)
Greg Osby: Banned in New York (1998)
Brian Blade Fellowship (1998)
Charlie Hunter: Bing! Bing! Bing! (1995)
Brian Blade Fellowship: Perceptual (2001)
Pat Martino: Live at Yoshi’s (2001)
Terence Blanchard: Flow (2005)
Lionel Loueke: Karibu (2008)
Ambrose Akinmusire: When the Heart Emerges Glistening (2011)
Robert Glasper Experiment: Black Radio (2012)
Ravi Coltrane: Spirit Fiction (2012)
Wayne Shorter Quartet: Without a Net (2013)
Derrick Hodge: Live Today (2013)
Jose James: No End (2013)
Takuya Kuroda: Rising Son (2014)
Brian Blade Fellowship: Landmarks (2014)
Ambrose Akinmusire: The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier to Paint (2014)