News / Arts & Entertainment

Blue Note Records Celebrates 75th Anniversary

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.
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

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies More

Judge Declares Washington DC Ban on Public Handguns Unconstitutional

Ruling overturns capital city's prohibition on carrying guns in pubic More

Pricey Hepatitis C Drug Draws Criticism

Activists are using the International AIDS Conference to criticize drug companies for charging high prices for life-saving therapies More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

The Hamilton Live

Acclaimed jazz saxophonist Tia Fuller has made a name for herself appearing with such high-profile artists as Beyonce, Esperanza Spalding, and Terri Lyne Carrington. Tia and her quartet performed music from her CD “Angelic Warrior” on our latest edition of "The Hamilton Live."