It took many natural forces to create America’s best Jazz label: Jazz-loving German immigrants (Alfred Lion & Francis Wolff), a New Jersey optometrist moonlighting as a recording engineer (Rudy Van Gelder), a classical music-loving commercial designer (Reid Miles), and a parade of talented musicians, great and small. National performers with Blue Note have been our well known Monk, Powell, Davis, Coltrane, Adderly, and Shorter.
The elements that each brought to the table — good A&R instincts, elegant photography, sterling sound quality, original cover artwork, and consistently superior music — were all part of the label’s early success. Go to Blue Note’s own site for sound clips and for an open-ended tour of their original album-cover art. They are noted for Wolff’s photo work from the 40’s and especially for Miles’ original art from the mid-50’s on.
Very quickly Blue Note stood out with the artists. Studio times were available for early morning hours, letting players come in after their evening stage gigs. Performers were paid for not only recording time, but also for 2 days rehersal to improve the performance quality. Distinct from other studios, Blue Note would bring in some talented players even though at the time they didn’t sound “commercial” (c.f., A Hoder, S DeParis, E Hall, JP Johnson…).
Recording engineer Rudy Van Gelder came to Blue Note in the early 50’s and proved to be a leader in his field. He gave Blue Note some of the best quality recordings of the age. In the late 50’s when the industry switched from 10″ vinyl to 12″, little Blue Note was thrown a curve ball. Their long-running vintage jazz catalogue of 10″ vinyl would have to be reissued as 12-inch to keep the business going. Rudy delivered. Along with the day-to-day recordings he did the remastering to keep Blue Note afloat. Rudy moved on to other studios in the late 60’s (and continued working into the 2000’s).
Blue Note’s catalog traces the history of the music from Hot Jazz and Swing through Hard Bop, Post Bop, Soul Jazz, Avant-Garde, Fusion, and on.