Blue Note Records is a jazz label responsible for the birth and proliferation of Hard Bop-a merge of Be-Bop Jazz and other genres of music like blues, gospel and soul. Its peak era was from the late 30's to the late 50's. After which, the label was bought by a new owner who attempted to preserve its original integrity. The label was daring for several reasons: it was independent; funded by a known communist; and founded/administered by Jewish immigrants that recorded and paid Black musicians. Most of the acts during the peak era were largely lesser known, more obscure or sidemen at the time of their solo debuts.
Blue Note served as their initial introduction to jazz listeners for several artists that went on to have grand careers. Miles Davis played back up for Cannonball Adderley, Herbie Hancock put out his first solo LP, Eric Dolphy, Freddie Hubbard, Lou Donaldson, Grant Green, Ron Carter, Donald Byrd, Sidney Bechet, Art Blakely and Horace Silver all recorded classic LPs on Blue Note during the peak era.
Blue Note maintained a great roster of artists. Many of them stayed loyal throughout the peak period. Blur Note was unique in that it allowed the artist to have a say in the entire process of making the LP. It had some of the most intriguing LP covers usually black and white photos taken during the actual recording sessions.
Be sure to view: Blue Note-A Story of Modern Jazz for more information on its history and the significant role the label played in shaping modern jazz music during the late 30's to late 50's.
Jazz happens to be one of my favorite genres of music. It's spontaneous but rhythmic, lyrical but largely instrumental and complex but simple. The ironies within the music play an important role in why I like jazz so much. life is ironic, or can be at times and this irony is present in most things, jazz music being one. It accurately reflects 'real' life. Aside from it sounding good, you can 'feel' the emotion in the songs as well as the soloists. 1959 is the year jazz made a lot of these characteristics more audible within the music. It's an hour long documentary that reviews four LPs that changed the genre forever:
The new direction that jazz would embark on contained within these four LPs was heavily influenced by the pioneers of Be-Bop, Charlie Parker & Dizzy Gillespie. Miles Davis' Kind of Blue LP was probably the most powerful of the four. However, Miles had one up on the others. He was part of Charlie's and Dizzy's group during the infancy and peak of Be-Bop. He was directly trained by the Masters. His LP sold very well and turned more middle Americans into jazz listeners than any of the other LPs. His solos and phrasing was reminiscent of segmented Be-Bop solos. As Stanley Crouch put it, "Charlie may have played 12 notes for a solo, where as Miles would play four and get the same feel." Miles used more space and silence in his solos and songs. Kind of Blue is a unique LP in that the majority of the songs were recorded as 1st takes and the session to make the entire LP only took about 6-7 hours. Miles had a gem and didn't realize it until after it dropped. Many of the songs on the LP are considered Jazz Standards. These are songs current jazz musicians practice and play. Miles' LP summed up in two words is Timeless artistry!
Dave Brubeck's Quartet for the Time Out LP was a lot different, from a visual standpoint, than any of the other jazz groups of the time. They were all Caucasian. This later led to criticism by Black Jazz musicians that were unable to gain the same caliber or amount of gigs because of racial discrimination. The Black Jazz musicians also claimed that Dave was exploiting their music to White audiences without paying proper homage to the Black inventors of the genre. Racial controversies aside, this is a banging LP! Dave took an entirely different direction than Miles with the music. Instead of focusing on the segments, pauses and silence within the music, he decided to base his changes on time measures. Most jazz compositions of the time used a 4/4 measure. Dave used a myriad of time measures outside of the standard 4/4. The most infamous of these songs being Time Out on a 5/4 measure with an extended drum solo. Most people know this jazz song above all others. Dave opened the music up to a wider audience. He also gave them an ear that would be more open, appreciative and receptive for variations in style and rhythm when listening to or playing jazz. Essentially, he's a largely responsible for jazz 'crossing over' and introducing the concept of changing standard time measures in jazz.
Charles Mingus' Ah Um LP is one of the most revolutionary LPs of the four based on his use of vocals and their content. Most notably is Fables of Faubus which comically and brutally degraded then racist governor of Alabama-Faubus, for his lack of empathy and law enforcement mobilization to catch the culprits responsible for bombing the Birmingham church that killed three young Black females in the segregated south during the late 50's. Mingus' lyircs and band members use a call and response technique to say that Faubus was sick and ridiculous amongst other things. The sheer volume of courage it took to record a song like this at the time of the Pre-Civil Rights Movement is astounding to behold. Charles was very revolutionary and famous for his physical size and his public demeanor. Never one to back down or hold his tongue, he was rumored to have fired band members on the bandstand for playing without emotion and original style. He would soon hire them back in most cases. Another revolutionary trait contained in this LP is that Charles wrote and composed all 9 of the tracks. Songs like Better Git it in Your Soul, Boogie Stop Shuffle, Self-Portrait in Three Colors, Goodbye Pork Pie Hat and Pussycat Dues are original in title alone. Again we see the apparent influence of Be-Bop on the musicians of time in Mingus' song titled Bird Calls. In sum, Charles Mingus' Ah Um LP was a revolutionary self composed and vocally innovative sound for the transformation of modern jazz.
Ornette Coleman's The Shape of Jazz to Come LP was responsible for changing Jazz in three major ways:
Ornette is one of the original innovators of Free Jazz that infamous players like Coltrane (John & Alice), Pharaoh Sanders, Sun Ra, Albert Ayler and Sonny Rollins would later become famous for playing. Free Jazz was largely based on Be-Bop solos. However, Coleman sought to do the opposite of what Davis did. Davis condensed the solo/phrasing, Coleman extended it and took it a step further by allowing the solo to become the basic rhythm of the song and then he could continue to solo within the solo, if that makes sense. Listening to the music of Free Jazz has confused many that have trained ears in jazz. It's a love it or hate it sound so to say. My father was not a fan of a lot of the Free Jazz musicians, he would say it sounded like all of the band members were tuning their instruments at the same time as loud as they could. This may be an accurate description of the overall sound of Free Jazz, it indeed is intricate and Free. This LP also showcased Ornette playing a white plastic saxophone with a racially mixed (Black & White) band. Dave Brubeck later added a Black Bassist to his quartet, but Ornette was the first of the four to step out with his interracial band. Ornette invented a new subgenre of Jazz-Free Jazz, that lives on today. He was the only one of the four that was able to achieve this feat.
There you have it, a concise review of how these four LPs forever changed the sound of Jazz in 1959. Check out the documentary for a closer look.