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Celebrating Blue Note

Kristine England

This year, Blue Note Records celebrates its 85th anniversary. I worked at the label during another anniversary year, and after seeing some Top 10 lists, I felt compelled to make my own. 

Blue Note Records was founded on January 6, 1939, by Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff. German immigrants who fled the horrors of the Nazis, their passion for jazz created a home for some of the most venerated jazz musicians of all time. The output from the label’s A-list roster during the 60s, with Rudy Van Gelder usually at the helm in the studio, is the very finest in jazz and constitutes some of the most vibrant, inventive, and enduring music that was ever captured on tape.

Not meant to be representative of the label’s legacy nor  claiming it's the very best music ever released on Blue Note, here’s my top ten in no particular order (except Ike. He’s definitely Number One).

Ike Quebec

Bossa Nova Soul Samba

Soul Samba was the last recording from Ike Quebec before his untimely passing. Released in 1962, it is a sultry and alluring record. Personnel: Ike Quebec - tenor saxophone, Kenny Burrell - guitar, Wendell Marshall - bass, Willie Bobo - drums, Garvin Masseaux - chekere



Lee Morgan


Recorded in 1965 but inexplicably not released for nearly two decades, Infinity is my favorite Morgan album -- hard bop at its finest. Personnel: Lee Morgan - trumpet, Jackie McLean - alto saxophone, Larry Willis - piano, Reggie Workman - bass, Billy Higgins - drums



John Coltrane

Blue Train

Gotta include Blue Train. This recording was Coltrane’s sole recording as a leader for the label, recorded in 1957 during his residency with the Thelonious Monk Quartet at the 5 Spot in NYC. Personnel: John Coltrane – tenor saxophone, Lee Morgan – trumpet, Curtis Fuller – trombone, Kenny Drew – piano, Paul Chambers – bass, Philly Joe Jones – drums

FEATURED TRACK: "Locomotion"


Grant Green

Green Is Beautiful

The tune I listen to the most is invariably his James Brown cover, so…Personnel: Grant Green - guitar, Blue Mitchell - trumpet, Claude Bartee - tenor saxophone, Neal Creque (track 3), Emmanuel Riggins - organ, Jimmy Lewis - electric bass, Idris Muhammad - drums, Candido Camero - conga, Richie "Pablo" Landrum - bongos


FEATURED TRACK: “Ain't It Funky Now”

Bobby Hutcherson


The soundtrack for Blow Up (Herbie Hancock) was the first jazz album I ever owned, but it’s not on Blue Note. I chose Hutcherson’s version as a worthy substitute. Personnel: Bobby Hutcherson - vibes, drums, Herbie Hancock - piano, Albert Stinson - bass, Joe Chambers - drums, tympani, gong

FEATURED TRACK: "Theme from Blow Up"


Herbie Hancock

Empyrean Isles

Considered one of Hancock’s most important albums, his fourth release as a leader (1964) pushed the boundaries of hard bop. His playing is truly inspired. Personnel: Herbie Hancock – piano, Freddie Hubbard – cornet, Ron Carter – double bass, Tony Williams – drums


FEATURED TRACK: “Oliloqui Valley”

Donald Byrd


This was a tough choice (his records from the 60s and 70s are among my favorites as well). Released in 1959, Fuego finds Donald Byrd initiating his the journey to post bop on his third outing with Blue Note. Personnel: Donald Byrd – trumpet, Jackie McLean – alto saxophone, Duke Pearson – piano, Doug Watkins – bass, Lex Humphries – drums



Lonnie Smith


Lonnie Smith was one of the most incredible musician I had the pleasure of seeing live. The man seemed transported to another realm when he was playing. Miss you, Lonnie. Personnel: Lonnie Smith - organ, Dave Hubbard - tenor saxophone, Ronnie Cuber - baritone saxophone, Larry McGee - guitar, Joe Dukes - drums

FEATURED TRACK: "Psychedelic Pi"


Ronnie Foster

Two Headed Freap

This funky record was all the rage at the label when we reissued it and a favorite of hip-hop artists. Personnel: Ronnie Foster – organ, Eugene Bianco – harp, George Devens – vibes, cabasa, shaker, cowbell, Gene Bertoncini – Jazz guitar, George Duvivier – double bass, Gordon Edwards – bass guitar, Jimmy Johnson – drums, Arthur Jenkins – congas, Wade Marcus – arranger



Kenny Burrell

Midnight Blue

One of NPR’s picks for its "Basic Jazz Library," this 1963 record is a true gem. Burrell also lends his talents to my number one pick. Personnel: Kenny Burrell – guitar, Stanley Turrentine – tenor saxophone, Major Holley - bass Bill English – drums, Ray Barretto – conga



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