News / Arts & Entertainment

Blue Note Records Celebrates 75th Anniversary

FILE - An original handwritten song by Lionel Hampton titled
FILE - An original handwritten song by Lionel Hampton titled "Hamp's Boogie Woogie" is seen at the Colored Musicians Club in Buffalo, New York, Jan. 14, 2005.
Richard Paul
This year marks an important anniversary for American jazz, one that - on a number of occasions - looked like it would never arrive.  The legendary Blue Note record label is celebratating its 75th birthday.

Nothing that becomes legendary starts out that way.  In 1939 Blue Notes Records was the grain of an idea by Alfred Lion and Frank Wolff - two Germans who fell in love with music like that by the boogie-woogie piano player, Albert Ammons.

They first heard jazz improvisation as young men in Germany during the early years of the Nazi regime.  Richard Havers is writing a book about Blue Note, called "Uncompromising Expressions."  He says that, to the Nazis …“jazz was everything that they hated. It was freedom of expression. It was not regimented. It didn't go to a militaristic beat.”

Lion and Wolff pursued their love of jazz and freedom by leaving Germany for the United States.  Shortly after arriving and hearing Ammons and another boogie-woogie piano-player, Meade “Lux” Lewis, they scratched together some money, put Ammons in a studio, and Blue Note Records was born.  The label was swimming against the tide by promoting boogie-woogie.  
 
Blue Note Records Celebrates 75th Anniversary
Blue Note Records Celebrates 75th Anniversaryi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

“Back then it was all about dancing,” said Dan Ouellette, who has written a book about Blue Note called "Playing By Ear." .

And people were not dancing to boogie-woogie piano.  Ouellette says Alfred Lion’s approach was more like a museum curator than a record producer.

“He wanted to document this music," he said. "His whole philosophy is that jazz is an art form.”

Treating artists as artists and swimming against the tide became hallmarks of Blue Note jazz, an approach that finally paid off in the 1940s, when jazz shifted, away from the dance music of the Big Band Era and toward a new form that came to be called “Bebop.”

According to Havers, “Lion quickly realized that jazz was moving in a different direction, and the first of the new wave of artists that he recorded was Thelonious Monk, who he absolutely adored.”

“Thelonious Monk was famous for playing the wrong notes," said Ouellette.  "Many people thought it was just rubbish.”
 
But while much of the music business didn’t understand artists like Monk, Richard Havers says this was another example of Blue Note treating artists like artists.  

“Alfred Lion gave his artists the freedom to do what they wanted to do," he said. "They felt they were artists. They were not money machines.”

Blue Note was well respected and had some financial success, but by the 1960s, Ouellette says, things were not looking good for Blue Note or jazz.

“Rock music, and the beginnings of funk were coming around," he said. "People are running away in droves because of rock music."

In 1967, Alfred Lion sold Blue Note to another record company.  They drove it into the ground.  In a rush to make money quickly, they stopped paying for rehearsal time and otherwise alienated the label's biggest stars, most of whom left to go to other record companies. The label got a reprieve in 1981 and had another long run of artistic success, but by the early 2000s, according to the current head of Blue Note, producer Don Was.

“There was a lot of talk about closing the label down, making it a website that sold catalogue and blue t-shirts,” he said.

Instead the label decided to revive itself again.

Mainly by turning back to a way of working that would make Alfred Lion proud.  According to current Blue Note artist, Jason Moran, today, as they did in the past,

“People just went in and they make their music," he said. "You follow the intuition of the artist and the artists that they work with, and you come together to make a recording.”

This return to the old ways is paying off, according to Dan Ouellette.  

“The music that you are hearing today with some young artists like Robert Glasper and Jason Moran, the music is evolving, it's not staying put, it's not dying,” he said.

You May Like

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

New in Music Alley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the latest edition of "Beyond Category" blues singer and guitarist Corey Harris performs with his band and talks about his travels in West Africa tracing the roots of the blues.