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

Video Drug Use Rises in Afghanistan

Ninety percent of world’s heroin comes from Afghanistan More

Here's Your Chance to Live in a Deserted Shopping Mall

About one-third of the 1200 enclosed malls in the US are dead or dying. Here's what's being done with them. More

Video NASA: Big Antarctica Ice Shelf Is Disintegrating

US space agency’s new study indicates Larsen B shelf could break up in just a few years More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriagei
X
May 21, 2015 4:14 AM
The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.
Video

Video Women to March for Peace Between Koreas

Prominent female activists from around the world plan to march through the demilitarized zone dividing North and South Korea to call for peace between the two neighbors, divided for more than 60 years. The event, taking place May 24, marks the International Women's Day for Peace and Disarmament and has been approved by both Koreas. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Drug Use Rises in Afghanistan Following Record High Poppy Crops

Afghanistan has seen record high poppy crops during the last few years - and the result has been an alarming rise in illegal drug use and addiction in the war-torn country. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem has this report from Kabul.
Video

Video America’s Front Lawn Gets Overhaul

America’s front yard is getting a much-needed overhaul. Almost two kilometers of lawn stretch from the U.S. Capitol to the Washington Monument. But the expanse of grass known as the National Mall has taken a beating over the years. Now workers are in the middle of restoring the lush, green carpet that fronts some of Washington’s best-known sights. VOA’s Steve Baragona took a look.

VOA Blogs

New in Music Alley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harry Wayne Casey – “KC” of KC and the Sunshine Band – comes to VOA’s Studio 4 to talk with "Border Crossings" host Larry London and perform songs from his new album, “Feeling You! The 60s.”