A Cultural Manifesto: 75 years of Blue Note

 

I've written often in this column about the importance of Indianapolis' historic jazz scene. During the 1940s, and '50s Indianapolis produced a generation of jazz musicians who occupied a vanguard position in the music's development, pushing the sound of jazz forward while participating in many genre-defining recordings of the period. Nothing illustrates this point more potently than the Blue Note Records 75th anniversary vinyl initiative, a reissue series featuring remastered editions of 100 classic Blue Note recordings. 

Blue Note Records was founded in New York in 1939 by a jazz-obsessed German immigrant named Alfred Lion. By the 50s, Lion had guided Blue Note to a position as the benchmark label in jazz music. Blue Note didn't rely on star power or hit records to achieve this level of prominence; instead, Lion focused on delivering a product of extremely high artistic value. From the iconic cover designs of Reid Miles to the highly lauded engineering skills of Rudy Van Gelder, every aspect of a Blue Note release was born from the thoughtful consideration of Lion's direction. Lion also established an innovative approach to artist relations, scheduling after-hours recording sessions to accommodate the schedules of musicians working late-night gigs, and providing artists with a full day of paid rehearsals prior to a recording session. Lion created Blue Note out of a passion for jazz music, and each of the label's releases was treated as a unique artistic work, not a commodity.

During Blue Note's heyday a handful of Indianapolis musicians made significant contributions to the label's catalog. While Freddie Hubbard, and J.J. Johnson released classic solo titles, artists like Larry Ridley, James Spaulding, and Billy Wooten played crucial roles as sidemen on many quintessential Blue Note releases. In all, Indianapolis musicians contributed to around 60 LPs in Blue Note's catalog of nearly 1,000 releases. Those 60 recordings represent some of the finest material released by the label, and the 75th anniversary vinyl series attests to that, with 20 of the 100 classic LPs selected for reissue drawn from sessions featuring Indianapolis players.

Trombonist J.J. Johnson was the first Indy musician to record for Blue Note, first appearing on the label in 1955 with a double volume solo work titled The Eminent Jay Jay Johnson and an appearance on Kenny Dorham's Latin jazz classic Afro-Cuban. In all Johnson appeared on seven Blue Note releases. Of all the Indy players who worked with Blue Note, trumpet player Freddie Hubbard had the most prolific relationship with the label. During Hubbard's time at Blue Note he recorded 10 solo releases and appeared on 33 of the label's recordings in total - a staggering number of which are considered among the greatest recordings in jazz history. Flautist and alto sax player James Spaulding never released a solo LP with Blue Note, but appeared as a sideman on 21 important titles in the label's catalog. Bassist Larry Ridley appeared as a sideman on seven excellent Blue Note Sides. And finally Indy-transplant and vibraphonist Billy Wooten recorded two LPs with Blue Note during his tenure with guitarist Grant Green.

As the music fans around the world take time to honor the 75th birthday of Blue Note Records, it's a great time for Indianapolis to acknowledge the important contributions our city's musicians made to the legacy of a company many consider the greatest independent record label ever.

Here's a look at all the releases in Blue Note's current 75th anniversary 100 essential remastered LPs reissue series featuring Indianapolis musicians. The contributing Indy musicians are noted in bold. All of these titles can be special ordered at local vinyl merchants like LUNA and Indy CD and Vinyl.

Art Blakey Free For All 1964 - Freddie Hubbard

Art Blakey Mosaic 1961 - Freddie Hubbard

Tina Brooks True Blue 1960 - Freddie Hubbard

Miles Davis Volume 1 1956 - J.J. Johnson

Miles Davis Volume 2 1956 - J.J. Johnson

Eric Dolphy Out to Lunch! 1964 - Freddie Hubbard

Lou Donaldson Lush Life 1967 - Freddie Hubbard

Kenny Dorham Afro-Cuban 1955 - J.J. Johnson

Kenny Drew Undercurrent 1961 - Freddie Hubbard

Herbie Hancock Maiden Voyage 1965 - Freddie Hubbard

Herbie Hancock Empyrean Isles 1964 - Freddie Hubbard

Freddie Hubbard Blue Spirits 1965 - James Spaulding, Larry Ridley

Freddie Hubbard Breaking Point! 1964 - James Spaulding

Freddie Hubbard Ready for Freddie 1966 - Freddie Hubbard

Bobby Hutcherson Components 1965 - Freddie Hubbard, James Spaulding

Hank Mobley The Turnaround! 1965 - Freddie Hubbard

Lee Morgan Cornbread 1967 - Larry Ridley

Sonny Rollins Volume 2 1957 - J.J. Johnson

Wayne Shorter Speak No Evil 1965 - Freddie Hubbard

Horace Silver Cape Verdean Blues 1965 - J.J. Johnson

A Cultural Manifesto is now available on WFYI's HD2 radio. Tune in Wednesdays at 7 p.m. and Saturdays at 3 p.m. as NUVO's Kyle Long explores the merging of a wide variety of music from around the globe with American genres like hip-hop, jazz, and soul.

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Kyle Long pens A Cultural Manifesto for NUVO Newsweekly and in 2014 began broadcasting a version of his column on WFYI.