Blue Word Data: A Brief Historical past Of A Jazz Establishment

Pictures: Francis Wolff, Copyright: Blue Word Data, Courtesy of Blue Word Data

Blue Word is liked, revered, revered, and acknowledged as probably the most essential report labels within the historical past of common music. Based in 1939 by Alfred Lion, who had solely arrived in America just a few years earlier had fled the oppressive Nazi regime in his native Germany, Blue Word has frequently blazed a path of innovation in each music and design. Its catalogue of nice albums, long-playing information, and even 78rpm and 45rpm information is for a lot of the holy grail of jazz.

The beginnings of Blue Word Data

All of it started when Alfred Lion went to the “Spirituals to Swing” live performance at New York’s Carnegie Corridor just a few days earlier than Christmas 1938. Every week or so later he went to Café Society, a newly opened membership, to speak to Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis, who Lion had seen play at Carnegie Corridor. He proposed the thought of recording them, assuring the 2 pianists that they’d be paid, and once they agreed, Lion booked a studio for January 6, 1939, at a location thought to have been radio station WMGM on the West Facet of Manhattan. In addition to Ammons and Lewis, the engineer and Lion have been the one folks to witness this second of historical past.

Along with paying Ammons and Lewis, Lion introduced whiskey to lubricate the pianists’ fingers and it labored as they accomplished nineteen takes that evening. When the session ended and Lion had paid their charges, he didn’t find the money for to cowl the price of the studio time. The would-be entrepreneur left empty-handed, returning just a few weeks later to pay for the masters. Later whereas listening to the discs at his residence, he knew this music deserved to be extra extensively heard. Based on Lion, “I made a decision to make some pressings and go into the music enterprise.”

The primary Blue Word report

Friday, March 3, 1939, was the discharge date for the primary two recordings on the label Lion and two fellow travellers determined to call Blue Word. On BN 1 have been two gradual blues tunes, “Melancholy” and “Solitude”: BN2 was two up-tempo numbers by Ammons, “Boogie Woogie Stomp” and “Boogie Woogie Blues.” With no actual distribution in place, Lion provided the information by mail order at $1.50 every, double the usual retail value for a ten-inch report, having initially pressed twenty-five of every disc – it was hardly an bold launch schedule. The preliminary Blue Word 78-rpm recordings, as an alternative of the standard ten-inch discs, have been twelve-inch information, the format usually reserved for classical artists. In Lion’s view, “Ten-inch information have been so brief. Folks might do perhaps two or three choruses and the report was over. I all the time figured, my gosh, these guys want extra room to stretch out.”

Alfred Lion later recalled the massive problem Blue Word confronted: “There was nothing in ’39. No {music commerce] books the place you may take a look at issues. Nothing. You needed to go by your wits.” By means of his friendship with Milt Gabler, Lion persuaded Commodore Music Store in Manhattan to promote Blue Word’s information and a number of other different report shops adopted swimsuit.

Alongside Lion on the daybreak of Blue Word have been Max Margulis, a author and later voice coach and Emanuel Eisenberg – poet, theater critic, and author for the New Yorker. Blue Word’s standing amongst jazz lovers was elevated by the way in which the label offered its music. Lion and Margulis intuitively understood the significance of fine advertising at a time when it was barely a acknowledged idea. In Might 1939, Max Margulis wrote the label’s manifesto, and though there are shades of his communist leanings, the assertion completely sums up what Blue Word was attempting to attain in 1939. Its message has been on the coronary heart of the corporate ever since and continues to be held pricey by Don Was, the label’s president within the 21st century:

Blue Word Data are designed to serve the uncompromising expressions of sizzling jazz or swing. Direct and sincere sizzling jazz is a approach of feeling, a musical and social manifestation, and Blue Word information are involved with figuring out its impulse, not its sensational and business adornments.

Blue Word within the Forties

Two releases don’t make a report label, and 5 weeks after their first two information got here out Lion was again within the studio for Blue Word’s second session. Sidney Bechet, who Lion had briefly met in Berlin, was there and he recorded a model of George Gershwin’s “Summertime.” This was a pivotal second within the historical past of the fledgling label as Bechet turns in probably the most lovely readings of this most lovely tune. Issued as BN6, this was not solely a wonderful report; it additionally grew to become the label’s first hit with as many as thirty copies a day bought at Commodore Music Store alone. Quickly Blue Word started recording extra classes, however the struggle quickly intervened and Lion joined the US Military the place he was stationed in Texas till medical discharge in 1944 allowed him to as soon as once more begin recording.

In July 1944, Blue Word took its first tentative steps in the direction of modernity when a brand new title appeared on a studio log: that of twenty-five-year-old tenor saxophonist, Ike Quebec. Ike Quebec’s Swingtet, because the title suggests, a swing-based band however there are shades of one thing new creeping in. In one of many journal’s very earliest mentions of the label, Billboard acknowledged that Lion and Blue Word acknowledged “throughout the tracks jazz as a coming pressure.”

Be-bop was the newest craze in jazz and for some time Blue Word’s recordings appeared out of step with vogue, being extra firmly rooted in conventional jazz. Quebec had turn out to be one thing of an unofficial A & R man to the label. The primary of the “new” artists to report was a singer (and Errol Flynn’s former chauffeur) Babs Gonzales, who embraced the fundamentals of bop when he recorded “Oop-Pop-A-Da,” as 3 Bips and a Bop in 1947.

Quebec additionally helped introduce Lion and Francis Wolff, one other exile from Germany who grew to become Alfred’s accomplice and took the fantastic pictures which graced so lots of the Blue Word albums, to the music of Thelonious Monk. Monk recorded for Blue Word for the primary time at WOR Studios on 15 October 1947 and his first 78-rpm launch from that session, BN 542, was, appropriately, “Thelonious.” DownBeat gave the report two stars, commenting, “From the Monk, we anticipate higher.” A number of months later Artwork Blakey and His Messengers made their first recording for the label; Blakey would stay a stalwart of the label for the following 15 years.

Earlier than lengthy different Bopsters started recording for Blue Word – there have been trumpeters Howard McGhee and Fat Navarro, pianist Bud Powell and Wynton Kelly and in 1952 Miles Davis recorded for the label. Additionally in 1952, 24-year-old Horace Silver was recorded by Blue Word; he would stay with the label for the following three a long time. One other star title was Clifford Brown who tragically died very younger, however not earlier than releasing a string of basic recordings on the label.

All through the late Forties and early Nineteen Fifties, Blue Word discovered it powerful going competing with main report corporations who have been beginning to launch long-playing information on the 33 1/3 rpm format; whereas the 45 was turning into the brand new format for singles. It was throughout the Nineteen Fifties that Blue Word discovered its fashion, its pure rhythm, and actually started to ship on the unique founding principals. It was a decade of “uncompromising expressions” by younger musicians who have been on the reducing fringe of jazz. Alfred Lion’s imaginative and prescient had turn out to be a dream, his dream had turn out to be actuality, and with the corporate’s single-minded method, jazz was reinventing itself by way of each aspect of Blue Word.

The arrival of Rudy Van Gelder

On the final day of January 1953, there was a seismic shift within the recordings issued by the label. Tenor saxophonist Gil Melle had caught Lion’s curiosity by taking part in him 4 sides he had recorded at a studio in Hackensack, New Jersey. Consequently, Lion agreed to launch the information as singles and provided Melle a recording contract. The recording studio belonged to Rudy Van Gelder – for the following 12 years, just about every little thing was recorded by Van Gelder. Initially, his studio was situated in his father or mother’s lounge and in response to Blue Word producer and archivist Michael Cuscuna, the idea of a studio in Van Gelder’s father or mother’s lounge was not as outrageous because it sounds: “They have been constructing a brand new home. Rudy had been performing some recording with a makeshift set-up, and he stated he actually wished to construct a recording studio. So, in the lounge, they constructed all types of alcoves, nooks, and little archways that they designed as a result of Rudy had concepts for them acoustically. On the finish of the lounge, he constructed a management room with soundproof glass. So it was skilled.”

In 1955 “The Preacher,” a forty five by Horace Silver was an enormous vendor for the label, and shortly thereafter organist Jimmy Smith signed to Blue Word promoting properly on the album, partly by way of the publicity his singles have been getting on jukeboxes. All through the 50s the checklist of artists releasing Blue Word information was spectacular – Lou Donaldson, J.J. Johnson, Sonny Rollins, Kenny Burrell, Hank Mobley, Curtis Fuller, and John Coltrane who’s one Blue Word album, Blue Prepare is one in every of his most interesting. The Blue Word brand appeared on albums by Sonny Clark, The Three Sounds, Cannonball Adderley, Dizzy Reece, Jackie McLean, Freddie Hubbard, Stanley Turrentine, Dexter Gordon, Tina Brooks, and Grant Inexperienced throughout the latter years of the 50s and early 60s.

Blue Word within the Nineteen Sixties

For Alfred Lion, Blue Word Data was by no means about making his fortune. Like so many different pioneers within the music enterprise, he did what he did as a result of he liked the music. Granted, he discovered success and made cash, however nothing just like the sort of return achieved by others working in a extra mainstream area. Alfred, by his personal admission, felt that there was “room for every little thing,” musically talking, a philosophy that led him to proceed recording work that even he knew wouldn’t promote in giant numbers. His ethos was to permit the better-selling information to subsidize these with much less business enchantment. Come the Nineteen Sixties, nevertheless, and his distinctive mixture of instinct, nurturing, single-mindedness and, most of all, his innate sense of sophistication resulted in Blue Word releasing a number of the best jazz information ever made.

In 1962, simply as Jimmy Smith was about to go away Blue Word for Verve Data, he had successful on the Billboard bestseller checklist when “Midnight Particular components 1 & 2” went to No.69 on the pop charts, a number of extra information additionally made the decrease reaches of the chart, all of which helped introduce extra folks to his sound. In 1964 trumpeter, Lee Morgan additionally had successful with “The Sidewinder.” Different names that joined the label’s spectacular roster included Herbie Hancock, Joe Henderson, Wayne Shorter, Eric Dolphy, Andrew Hill, Tony Williams, Don Cherry, Larry Younger, Grant Inexperienced, and Ornette Coleman. If all of it appears like a who’s who in jazz, it’s as a result of it’s.

In Might 1966, Liberty Data bought what Billboard known as “the Cadillac of the jazz traces.” Alfred Lion had determined to promote his 26-year-old report label to at least one that had been in enterprise for nearly a decade. Liberty was good sufficient to signal Francis Wolff and Blue Word’s founder to 2-year unique contracts to run the label. Lion by his personal admission had not gone on the lookout for a purchaser, however Liberty got here alongside on the proper time, notably as Lion had suffered a minor coronary heart assault, which anxious his second spouse, Ruth. Nonetheless, Lion didn’t final lengthy on the new company Blue Word and stop the next 12 months.

Blue Word within the Seventies

By 1970 Blue Word had gone by way of many modifications, jazz, typically, was discovering it powerful. The “British Invasion” spearheaded by The Beatles might not have affected jazz instantly however it was a part of the heady combine that gave rise to different cultures and concepts. These dubbed the “Woodstock Technology,” following the 1969 Competition did embrace some jazz artists, however in the principle, that they had their very own music – progressive music. Jazz wanted to discover a new route residence and as soon as it did it was to not everybody’s liking.

Donald Byrd, who had been recording for Blue Word since 1956 started taking his music in one thing of a brand new route, and whereas many didn’t prefer it, there was undoubtedly acceptance from the general public for his award-winning album Black Byrd, which made the Billboard charts, as did the title tune that made the decrease reaches of the singles chart. In an analogous vein Bobbi Humphrey, Ronnie Legal guidelines, and Marlena Shaw made information that bought properly sufficient to make the R&B charts – though some will inform you this isn’t jazz it helped hold the corporate alive and in a position to journey out the powerful occasions – many information from this period impressed the acid jazz and hip-hop actions that got here later.

Blue Word within the 80s and past

Within the early 80s, after a interval of hiatus by which Blue Word lay dormant, the corporate was resurrected beneath new boss Bruce Lundvall. An skilled report firm man, and most significantly for Blue Word a jazz lover, Lundvall set about making information that may promote. One in every of his earliest signings was Bobby McFerrin; Lundvall’s instincts have been proved proper, particularly when two years later McFerrin had a worldwide smash hit with “Don’t Fear Be Glad” – though it was on the EMI label relatively than Blue Word (EMI had bought Blue Word by this time).

In 1993 Us3’s debut Blue Word album, Hand on the Torch featured eclectic sampling from, amongst others, Thelonious Monk, Donald Byrd, Artwork Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, and Horace Silver. In January 1994 the album entered the Billboard chart and made it to No.31, with “Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)” making the US singles chart high ten and promoting 1,000,000 copies within the course of.

Three years into the label’s seventh decade, alongside got here an artist who took even Lundvall and different Blue Word executives abruptly with a report that was each controversial and good – however was it jazz? To some, sitar participant Ravi Shankar’s daughter, Norah Jones, was something however, but in response to Michael Cuscuna: “I used to be completely thrilled when Bruce signed Norah Jones. She was a jazz artist, taking part in piano and singing requirements with acoustic bass and a jazz drummer. When her demos began to point out extra pop and nation instructions, Bruce, together with his entire concern concerning the integrity of Blue Word, provided to signal her to the Manhattan label, which was extra pop-oriented. However Norah stated, ‘No. I need to be on Blue Word. That’s who I signed with. I like that label. I grew up with that, and that’s the place I need to be.’” Her single, “Don’t Know Why” made No.30 on the Billboard chart and later received a Grammy and her album Come Away With Me marked the start of a shift in emphasis for Blue Word Data.

In the summertime of 2003, Otis Jackson Jr, who labored as a producer beneath the title Madlib, launched Shades Of Blue, an album of remixes of tunes from Blue Word’s basic period. In Blue Word phrases, that is arguably the head of the remixer’s artwork and one other of these albums that inspired many followers to set off on a journey into the label’s richly rewarding again catalogue.

The arrival of Don Was

By the second decade of the twenty first century a person who admits, “I’ve spent all my life avoiding having a job, which is why I grew to become a musician,” was invited to take up the newly created function of Chief Inventive Officer at Blue Word. However this was no unusual job and Don Was, musician, songwriter, and Grammy award-winning producer, was an impressed selection. Having labored with artists together with Bob Dylan, Iggy Pop, Bonnie Raitt, Al Inexperienced, B.B. King, and the Rolling Stones, Was’s rock credentials have been impeccable. But on the time of his appointment, few folks realized simply what a jazz-head Don Was is, and has been for all his life.

Underneath Was’ management, Blue Word has entered a brand new period of “uncompromising expression.” Any label that may comfortably launch Robert Glasper, Jose James, Jason Moran, Gregory Porter, Wayne Shorter, Bobby Hutcherson, Rosanne Money, Gregory Porter, and Derrick Hodge alongside each other needs to be taken critically.

New additions to Blue Word’s roster in recent times have contributed extra diversification to the label in addition to cementing its relationship with jazz musicians who’re steeped within the methods of R&B and hip-hop. Representing the latter are saxophonist Marcus Strickland and his band Twi-Life; drummer extraordinaire Chris Dave And The Drumhedz, who made their self-titled debut in 2018; and Nashville chanteuse Kandace Springs, who melds basic soul with jazz and a contact of hip-hop swagger.

Blue Word can also be residence to 2 supergroups – Blue Word All-Stars and R+R=NOW – which each characteristic Robert Glasper. The previous ensemble additionally has trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire in its ranks and performs cutting-edge post-bop jazz, whereas the latter’s lineup consists of producer/saxophonist Terrace Martin, whose presence helps to blur the boundaries between jazz, R&B, and hip-hop. Extra home-grown US expertise comes within the form of an thrilling new Houston pianist referred to as James Francies, whose debut Blue Word album, Flight, launched in October 2018, induced enormous ripples of pleasure within the jazz world.

In addition to younger weapons, Blue Word’s roster is balanced by the presence of two outdated masters, octogenarian saxophonists Wayne Shorter and Charles Lloyd, who each launched robust albums in 2018 (Shorter produced an epic, comic-book-inspired triple-album referred to as Emanon, whereas Lloyd explored the intersection of jazz and Americana within the firm of singer Lucinda Williams and his band The Marvels with the beautiful Vanished Gardens).

The label additionally grew to become a house for legendary Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen – famed for his work with Fela Kuti within the 60s and 70s – who has launched two radically completely different albums, The Supply (a mash-up of exhausting bop and Afrobeat) and Tomorrow Comes The Harvest, a collaboration with techno DJ Jeff Mills. Extra adventures in electronica-inspired sound come from Blue Word’s British connection, a Manchester trio referred to as GoGo Penguin, who’ve damaged new floor with their albums for the label.

Blue Word could also be a long time outdated at this level, however its roster, comprised of each new and older faces, shows a wholesome vigor and sense of intrepid musical journey that has been its hallmark for the reason that label’s inception. There’s little doubt that Don Was nonetheless adheres to its unique mission assertion, which emphasised the necessity to seize and doc what Lion and Wolff described as “uncompromising expression.”

If “uncompromising expression” wants additional definition, then that is it: “Simply do it. You don’t have to explain it.” For Don Was, “It’s a terrific contribution to society to make nice information.” And that’s precisely what Alfred Lion, Francis Wolff, Bruce Lundvall, Michael Cuscuna, and the others which were so carefully concerned with Blue Word have all performed.

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