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

Lion Cecil's Killing Sparks 'Canned Hunting' Debate in S. Africa

Conservationists believe incident, which triggered worldwide outrage, will reshape debate about practice in which hunters are allowed to target animals bred for hunting More

Taliban's New Leader Says Jihad Will Continue

Top US Afghan diplomat also meets with Pakistani, Afghan officials following news of Mullah Omar's death More

Environmentalists Issue Warning on Mekong Biodiversity

Scientists say decades of economic development, hydropower-dam construction, lax law enforcement and trafficking have taken their toll More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missionsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
July 30, 2015 8:59 PM
Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.

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.”