Blue Note Records

Blue Note Records

Blue Note Records
Parent company Universal Music Group
Founded 1939
1985 (relaunch)
Founder Alfred Lion
Francis Wolff
Max Margulis
Distributor(s) Capitol Music Group
Genre Jazz
Country of origin US
Official website

Blue Note Records is an American jazz record label, established in 1939 by Alfred Lion and Max Margulis. Francis Wolff became involved shortly afterwards. It derives its name from the characteristic "blue notes" of jazz and the blues.

Originally dedicated to recording traditional jazz and small group swing, from 1947 the label began to switch its attention to modern jazz. While the original company did not itself record many of the pioneers of bebop, significant exceptions are Thelonious Monk, Fats Navarro and Bud Powell.

Historically, Blue Note has principally been associated with the "Art Blakey, Grant Green, Hank Mobley, Wayne Shorter, Bobby Hutcherson, and Jackie McLean were among the label's leading artists. During its heyday, the 1950s and 60s, the photography and graphic art of Reid Miles created a series of iconic album covers, often incorporating session photos by Wolff, which added to Blue Note's artistic reputation.

The label is currently owned by the Universal Music Group and in 2006 was expanded to fill the role of an umbrella label group bringing together a wide variety of then EMI-owned labels and imprints specializing in the growing market segment of music for adults.


  • History 1
    • Early years 1.1
    • Lion and Wolff embrace bebop 1.2
    • Hard bop and beyond 1.3
    • The avant-garde 1.4
    • Cover art 1.5
    • Lion and Wolff retire 1.6
    • Revival and ownership history 1.7
  • Legacy 2
  • Discography 3
  • Subsidiaries 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


Early years

Lion first heard jazz as a young boy in Berlin. He settled in New York in 1937, and shortly after the first From Spirituals to Swing concert, recorded pianists Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis in 1939 during a one-day session in a rented studio. The Blue Note label initially consisted of Lion and Max Margulis, a communist writer who funded the project. The label's first releases were traditional "hot" jazz and boogie woogie, and the label's first hit was a performance of "Summertime" by soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet, which Bechet had been unable to record for the established companies. Musicians were supplied with alcoholic refreshments, and recorded in the early hours of the morning after their evening's work in clubs and bars had finished. The label soon became known for treating musicians uncommonly well - setting up recording sessions at congenial times, and allowing the artists to be involved in all aspects of the record's production.

Francis Wolff, a professional photographer, emigrated to the USA at the end of 1939 and soon joined forces with Lion, a childhood friend. In 1941, Lion was drafted into the army for two years. Milt Gabler at the Commodore Music Store offered storage facilities and helped keep the catalog in print, with Wolff working for him. By late 1943, the label was back in business recording musicians and supplying records to the armed forces. Willing to record artists that most other labels would consider to be uncommercial, in December 1943 the label initiated more sessions with artists such as pianist Art Hodes, trumpeter Sidney DeParis, clarinetist Edmond Hall, and Harlem stride pianist James P. Johnson, who was returning to a high degree of musical activity after having largely recovered from a stroke suffered in 1940.

Lion and Wolff embrace bebop

Towards the end of the war, saxophonist Ike Quebec was among those who recorded for the label. Quebec would act as a talent scout for the label until his death in 1963. Although stylistically belonging to a previous generation, he could appreciate the new bebop style of jazz, the creation of which is usually attributed to Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker.

In 1947, pianist Thelonious Monk recorded his first sessions as a leader for the label, which were also the Blue Note debut of drummer Art Blakey, who also recorded his first session as leader for the label at this time. Lion recorded several Monk sessions before he began to release the resulting sides. Monk's recordings for Blue Note between 1947 and 1952 did not sell well for some years, but have since come to be regarded as the most important of his career. Other bebop or modernist musicians who recorded for Blue Note during the late forties and early fifties were pianist Tadd Dameron, trumpeters Fats Navarro and Howard McGhee, saxophonist James Moody and pianist Bud Powell. The sessions by Powell are commonly ranked among his best. J. J. Johnson and trumpeter Miles Davis both recorded several sessions for Blue Note between 1952 and 1954, but by then the musicians who had created bebop were starting to explore other styles.

The recording of musicians performing in an earlier jazz idiom, such as George Lewis, continued into the 1950s.

Hard bop and beyond

In 1951 Blue Note issued their first vinyl 10" releases. The label was soon recording emerging talent such as Horace Silver (who would stay with Blue Note for a quarter of a century) and

The mid to late 1950s saw debut recordings for Blue Note by (among others) Herbie Nichols, Sonny Clark, Kenny Dorham, Kenny Burrell, Jackie McLean, Donald Byrd and Lou Donaldson. Sonny Rollins recorded for the label in 1956 and 1957 and Bud Powell briefly returned. John Coltrane's Blue Train, and Cannonball Adderley's Somethin' Else (featuring Miles Davis in one of his last supporting roles) were guest appearances on the label. Blue Note was by then recording a mixture of established acts (Rollins, Adderley) and artists who in some cases had recorded before, but often produced performances for the label which by far exceeded earlier recordings in quality (Blue Train is often considered to be the first significant recording by Coltrane as a leader). Horace Silver and Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers continued to release a series of artistically and commercially successful recordings.

The early 1960s saw Blue Mitchell, Hank Mobley and many others) who would record as sidemen on each other's albums without necessarily being part of the leader's working group.

The early 1960s also saw three major Blue Note recordings by pianist/composer Freddie Redd, one of which - The Connection - went on to be a major international success as the score for the eponymous film.

In 1963 Lee Morgan scored a significant hit with the title track of The Sidewinder album, and Horace Silver did the same the following year with Song for My Father. As a result, Lion was under pressure by independent distributors to come up with similar successes, with the result that many Blue Note albums of this era start with a catchy tune intended for heavy airplay in the United States.

At the end of the 1950s, and in the early 1960s, Blue Note headquarters were located in New York City, at West 61st Street,[2][3][4] and at 47 W 63rd Street.[5]

The avant-garde

Although many of the acts on Blue Note were recording jazz for a wide audience, the label also documented some of the emerging avant-garde and Larry Young also recorded albums which diverged from the "hard bop" style usually associated with the label.

Saxophonist Jackie McLean, a stalwart of the label's hard bop output since the late 1950s, also crossed over into the avant-garde in the early 1960s, whose notable avant-garde albums included One Step Beyond, Destination Out and on (as a side man) trombonist Grachan Moncur III' s "Evolution"

Though these avant-garde records did not sell as well as some other Blue Note releases, Lion thought it was important to document new developments in jazz.

Cover art

In 1956, Blue Note employed Reid Miles, an artist who worked for Esquire magazine. The cover art produced by Miles, often featuring Wolff's photographs of musicians in the studio, was as influential in the world of graphic design as the music within would be in the world of jazz.[6] Under Miles, Blue Note was known for their striking and unusual album cover designs. Miles' graphical design was distinguished by its tinted black and white photographs, creative use of sans-serif typefaces, and restricted color palette (often black and white with a single color), and frequent use of solid rectangular bands of color or white, influenced by the Bauhaus school of design.[7]

Though Miles' work is closely associated with Blue Note and has earned iconic status and frequent homage, Miles was only a casual jazz fan, according to Richard Cook;[8] Blue Note gave him several copies of each of the many dozens of albums he designed, but Miles gave most to friends or sold them to second-hand record shops. A few mid-fifties album covers featured drawings by an as-yet-little-known Andy Warhol.[9]

Some of his most celebrated designs adorned the sleeves of albums such as Midnight Blue, Out to Lunch!, Unity, Somethin' Else, Let Freedom Ring, Hub-Tones, No Room for Squares, Cool Struttin', and The Sidewinder.

Lion and Wolff retire

Blue Note was acquired by

At the end of the 1960s, the company headquarters were moved to 1776 Broadway.[10]

Revival and ownership history

In 1979 EMI purchased United Artists Records, which had absorbed Liberty Records in 1969, and phased out the Blue Note label, which lay dormant until 1985, when it was relaunched as part of EMI Manhattan Records, both for re-issues and new recordings for which Bruce Lundvall was appointed. Some artists previously associated with Blue Note, such as McCoy Tyner, made new recordings, while younger musicians such as Bennie Wallace, Joe Lovano, John Scofield, Greg Osby, Jason Moran and arranger–composer Bob Belden have established notable reputations through their Blue Note albums. The label has also found great commercial success with the vocalist Norah Jones, and released new albums by established artists on the fringes of jazz such as Van Morrison, Al Green, Anita Baker and newcomer Amos Lee, sometimes referred to as the "male Norah Jones". Two of the leading trumpeters of the 1980s Jazz Resurgence, Wynton Marsalis and Terence Blanchard signed with the label in 2003. Hip-hop producer Madlib recorded Shades of Blue in 2003 as a tribute to Blue Note with samples earlier records on the label.

Blue Note has pursued an active reissue program since the mid-1980s revival. and Michael Cuscuna has worked as freelance advisor and reissue producer. Some of the original Blue Note's output has appeared in CD box sets issued by Mosaic Records (also involving Cuscuna). Blue Note Records became the flagship jazz label for Capitol Jazz, and was the parent label for the Capitol Jazz, Pacific Jazz, Roulette and other labels within Capitol's holdings which had possessed a jazz line. The "RVG series", Rudy Van Gelder remastering his own recordings from decades earlier began around 1998.

In 2006, EMI expanded Blue Note to create the Blue Note Label Group by moving its Narada group of labels to New York to join with Blue Note, centralizing EMI's approach to music for the adult market segment. The labels newly under the Blue Note umbrella are Angel Records, EMI Classics and Virgin Classics (classical music), Narada Productions (contemporary jazz and world-influenced music, including exclusively licensed sub-label Real World Records), Back Porch Records (folk and Americana), Higher Octave Records (smooth jazz and New Age music), and Mosaic Records (devoted exclusively to reissuing jazz recordings in limited-edition boxed sets).[11][12] As of June 2007, Bruce Lundvall, founder of Manhattan Records, as President/CEO of the Blue Note Label Group, was at the time reporting directly to Eric Nicoli, then Chief Executive Officer of EMI Group.[13]

In 2008, the Blue Note 7, a jazz septet, was formed in honor of the 70th anniversary of Blue Note Records. The group recorded an album in 2008, entitled Mosaic, which was released in 2009 on Blue Note Records/EMI, and toured the United States in promotion of the album from January until April 2009.[14] The group consists of Peter Bernstein (guitar), Bill Charlap (piano), Ravi Coltrane (tenor saxophone), Lewis Nash (drums), Nicholas Payton (trumpet), Peter Washington (bass), and Steve Wilson (alto saxophone, flute). The group plays the music of Blue Note Records from various artists, with arrangements by members of the band and Renee Rosnes.

Following the acquisition of EMI by Universal, Don Was became President of Blue Note in January 2012, after an appointment as CEO a few months earlier, in succession to Bruce Lundvall. Lundvall, who stood down in 2010, became Chairman Emeritus[15]

In May 2013, Blue Note Records partnered with Brian Camelio, Bruce Lundvall, and Don Was.[16]


There has been much sampling of classic Blue Note tracks by both hip hop artists and for mashing projects. In 1993, the group Us3 designed the entirety of its debut album upon samples from classic Blue Note records. In 2003, hip-hop producer Madlib released Shades of Blue: Madlib Invades Blue Note, a collection of his remixes and interpretations of Blue Note music. Pete Rock, J. Dilla, and DJ Spinna have likewise been involved in similar projects. In 2004, Burning Vision Entertainment created the video for Helicopter Girl's "Angel City",[17] using the art from numerous Blue Note LP sleeves to startling effect. In 2008, hip-hop producer Questlove of The Roots compiled Droppin' Science: Greatest Samples from the Blue Note Lab, a collection of original Blue Note recordings sampled by modern-day hip-hop artists such as Dr. Dre and A Tribe Called Quest.




  1. ^ [6] Archived March 13, 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ "Google Maps". Retrieved 2015-05-20. 
  3. ^ Liner notes to Tender Feelin's by Leonard Feather
  4. ^ Liner notes to Feelin' Good.
  5. ^ LP liner notes to Blues in Trinity.
  6. ^ "Creative Bloq". 2013-09-06. Retrieved 2015-05-20. 
  7. ^ Martin Gayford , 15 July 2009.Daily Telegraph"Blue Note Records: from Ammons to Monk, it was home to the jazz idealists",
  8. ^ Cook, Richard, Blue Note Records: The Biography, Boston: Justin Charles, 2003; ISBN 1-932112-10-3
  9. ^ [7] Archived November 4, 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ Original LP liner notes to Open House
  11. ^ "Label News: EMI Combines Blue Note & Narada. Sanctuary Ups Cahill To GM - hypebot". 2006-07-19. Retrieved 2015-05-20. 
  12. ^ [8] Archived February 6, 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ [9] Archived February 6, 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ "The Blue Note 7 Celebrates 70 Years of Blue Note Records With Album Release and 50+ City North American Tour". Retrieved 2015-05-20. 
  15. ^ Chinen, Nate (May 2, 2012). "Exuberance Is Just One of His Skills".  
  16. ^ Chinen, Nate (May 8, 2013). "Blue Note to Partner With ArtistShare". The New York Times. Retrieved October 26, 2013. 
  17. ^ [10] Archived July 17, 2012 at the Wayback Machine


  • Cook, Richard. Blue Note Records: A Biography. ISBN 1-932112-10-3.
  • Cuscuna, Michael & Ruppli, Michel. The Blue Note Label: A Discography. ISBN 0-313-31826-3 [2nd ed 2001]
  • Marsh, Graham & Callingham, Glyn. Blue Note: Album Cover Art. ISBN 0-8118-3688-6.
  • Marsh, Graham. Blue Note 2: the Album Cover Art: The Finest in Jazz Since 1939. ISBN 0-8118-1853-5 [US edition]
  • Wolff, Francis, et al. Blue Note Jazz Photography of Francis Wolff. ISBN 0-7893-0493-7.

External links

  • Blue Note at 60
  • Blue Note Official Site
  • Blue Note Discography
  • A video interview with Bruce Lundvall on Blue Note Records
    • Business data for Blue Note Records: Google Finance
  • Yahoo! Finance
  • Hoover's