Hitting the Blue Notes

Miles Davis

Jazz is the untamable offspring from the turn of the twentieth century.  Fueled by the ever-escalating emotions of Blues, Ragtime, Swing, and Dixieland all swirled together, Jazz erupted onto the scene throughout the Southern U.S., riding an uptempo whirlwind of inspiration and improvisation.  It was birthed from all the sounds and songs that preceded it, but where Jazz really came from was the gut, a free-flowing genre that ebbed and flowed with the mercuriality of the artist.  As volatile as it was beautiful, early Jazz gave a howling voice to those that had been silenced for far too long.  America was in flux, and Jazz was the beast that ran wild across the ever-evolving streets of this country.  As the Prohibition Era was ushered in, Jazz became the soundtrack for revelry and sheer joy in the face of suppression and flat out boredom.  It was the music of the passionately misunderstood, and the understandably passionate, played by those who couldn’t find the words to express themselves, but could certainly find the notes.

Bud Powell

A decade or so later, out from the speakeasies, Jazz went from sprint to full-blown stride, flowing it’s way through dance halls, dark cafes, and corner stores, eventually leaping on into Europe, where it found an audience eager for a taste of the provocative.  It was during the late twenties, that Alfred Lion, a sixteen year old Berliner first discovered Jazz, an act that changed the genre forever.  Lion was immediately consumed with a love for Jazz and so just over ten years later, he immigrated to New York, and with funding from writer Max Margulis, founded Blue Note Records, a label that would become arguably one of the most important companies not only for Jazz, but for all music.  Lion went straight to work, wrangling up musicians from every corner of the city and bringing them into the studio.  After their sets were over for the night, Blue Notes’ acts would come down to the studio and during those strange few hours that straddle the line between last night and this morning, they’d sit down and play again, not for an audience, but for a mic.

Thelonious Monk

As the night went down and the day went up, New York’s finest Jazz musicians would record in smoke-filled studios, burning through take after take as they smoke and drank the hours away.  The atmosphere was as important as the songs themselves, conversations ran as long as the songs, drinks were shared, there was never any rush, the only goal was to encapsulate, for one brief moment the emotion of the era.  Some of Jazz’s greatest artist came through those studios, putting their hearts on wax and making themselves immortal.  Their respective styles reflected the feeling of their work.  Dark suits with worn-down ties hanging off their necks, high collared cable knits, or even just a simple white shirt, it was all very much like Jazz itself.  The base was there, crisp and clean to set up those points of emotion and personality just right.  It would be wrong to call them flashy, for they were impassioned.  Across the board they had style that was simply organic, a piece of them coming through in everything they did.  Lion choose the name of his label because it signified any note hit at a lower pitch as a way of unexpected expression in a song.  The label’s roster didn’t just play those Blue Notes, they lived in them.

Jimmy Smith

Thad Jones

Horace Silver

Kenny Burrell

Kenny Dorham

Clifford Brown

Fats Navarro

J. R. Monterose

Dizzy Reece

Lee Morgan

John Coltrane

Curtis Fuller

Bennie Green

Hank Mobley and Alfred Lion

Alfred Lion and Thelonious Monk

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  1. chuck said:

    Good write up. Jazz was Black rebel music….the Hip Hop of its day…it’s sad to see the art form largely in museum form like it is today, but the good thing is that it’s sound is still found in just about every form of popular music….you just have to listen hard enough.

  2. Love this post and the pic of Miles Davis! Good job ;)

  3. simon said:

    i dont know much about blues jazz. but Bennie green is my god

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