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  Blue Note's Legacy  
  by Dustin Garlitz  

        January 2005:

       During the 1950s and 1960s, Blue Note recorded some of the best albums in jazz history.  Produced by Alfred Lion and photographed by Francis Wolff, these sessions were completely legendary.  The sound characteristics were so great because Rudy Van Gelder recorded them with top of the line equipment (in his studio in Hackensack, and then later Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey). Blue Note’s preeminent graphic designer, Reid Miles, created some of the best cover art in the music industry’s history.  A top critic like Ira Gitler, Leonard Feather, or Nat Hentoff would almost always write the impressive liner notes.  From start to finish, a classically thorough Blue Note production left nothing out.  Their albums from this period are still today considered the most entertaining to listen to, look at and read through.  

       In the recorded history of the music, the best jazz records have been made by Verve, Columbia, Atlantic, Blue Note and Impulse!  Today all of these companies are making records (as wholly owned subsidiaries of new, publicly owned parent corporations) and also compete for sales with the popular Warner Brothers label.  The specialty free jazz labels are EMI, FMP, Palmetto, Silkheart and Cadence’s CIMP.  Although all great, none of the labels compare to what Blue Note was recording in the 1950s and 1960s.  Each album had at least one track that really swung, and each session was very well rehearsed.  The company first gained notoriety by recording people like Thelonious Monk and Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers (the group with alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson) and then continued by releasing groundbreaking records from Jimmy Smith, Kenny Dorham, and later John Coltrane.  Next, Blue Note would record pianist Cecil Taylor and saxophonists Ornette Coleman, Sam Rivers, and Wayne Shorter.  The company had its own distinctive sound, one that the major record labels of today, with its motley range of artists, just don’t have. 

       You must check out the top selling Blue Note album of all time: John Coltrane's Blue Train.  Continue by buying a Wayne Shorter album (my jazz school’s faculty member Joe Chambers does such a good job drumming on Wayne’s classic Blue Note releases), I like the album Schizophrenia because it has a groovy first track.  Go on by listening to Cecil Taylor's Unit Structures and if you’re really adventurous buy trombonist Grachan Moncur’s album Evolution (you can hear alto saxophonist Jackie Mclean really letting loose on this session).  Don’t forget about tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins (I recommend buying the 5 disc box set) and pianist Andrew Hill.  If you want some real funk check trumpeter Donald Byrd or alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson’s Blues Walk.  Whatever type of jazz listener you are, you can find something that you really dig from Blue Note’s classic era.  Let’s hope this company’s innovative spirit inspires more labels today to make some hot music.