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Blue Note at 70

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He's a major force in jazz and the music business. He loves music and understands the soul of the musician. He's one of a kind. —Eliane Elias on Blue Note president Bruce Lundvall
No label in jazz can match the history and legacy of Blue Note Records. Since its founding in New York in 1939 by German emigre Alfred Lion, Blue Note has been associated with an amazing assortment of jazz luminaries including Horace Silver
Horace Silver
Horace Silver
1928 - 2014
piano
, Art Blakey
Art Blakey
Art Blakey
1919 - 1990
drums
, Jimmy Smith
Jimmy Smith
Jimmy Smith
1925 - 2005
organ, Hammond B3
, Lee Morgan
Lee Morgan
Lee Morgan
1938 - 1972
trumpet
, Freddie Hubbard
Freddie Hubbard
Freddie Hubbard
1938 - 2008
trumpet
, Joe Henderson
Joe Henderson
Joe Henderson
1937 - 2001
sax, tenor
, Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
b.1940
piano
, Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
Wayne Shorter
b.1933
saxophone
, McCoy Tyner
McCoy Tyner
McCoy Tyner
b.1938
piano
, Andrew Hill
Andrew Hill
Andrew Hill
1937 - 2007
piano
, Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
1917 - 1982
piano
, Miles Davis
Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
trumpet
, John Coltrane
John Coltrane
John Coltrane
1926 - 1967
saxophone
, Julian "Cannonball" Adderley
Julian
Julian "Cannonball" Adderley
1928 - 1975
saxophone
and Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman
Ornette Coleman
b.1930
sax, alto
, among many others.

While hundreds of jazz labels have come and gone over the past 70 years, Blue Note continues to survive and thrive with an impressive roster featuring some of today's most important jazz voices such as Terence Blanchard
Terence Blanchard
Terence Blanchard
b.1962
trumpet
, Bill Charlap
Bill Charlap
Bill Charlap
b.1966
piano
, Eliane Elias
Eliane Elias
Eliane Elias
b.1960
piano
, Joe Lovano
Joe Lovano
Joe Lovano
b.1952
saxophone
, Wynton Marsalis
Wynton Marsalis
Wynton Marsalis
b.1961
trumpet
, Jason Moran
Jason Moran
Jason Moran
b.1975
piano
, Gonzalo Rubalcaba
Gonzalo Rubalcaba
Gonzalo Rubalcaba
b.1963
piano
and Cassandra Wilson
Cassandra Wilson
Cassandra Wilson
b.1955
vocalist
.

"We've always been driven by artists we believe in," said Blue Note president Bruce Lundvall, who has been at the label's helm since it was relaunched in 1984 after a brief hiatus. "We never panicked in bad times and tried to second guess the public, signing artists somebody else thinks can be 'hits.' That has derailed labels in terms of their marketing spending and their direction. We try to make as few bad decisions as possible."

To commemorate the label's 70th anniversary, as well as the 25th anniversary of its revival, a slew of special album releases, concerts and tributes are planned in New York and throughout the US and the world, including a salute to Blue Note at this month's Grammy Awards.

In February alone, as part of what's being billed as "Blue Note Records Takes New York," area jazz fans can look forward to performances at various local venues by label artists like Blanchard, Charlap, Robert Glasper
Robert Glasper
Robert Glasper
b.1978
piano
, Lionel Loueke
Lionel Loueke
Lionel Loueke
b.1973
guitar
, Lovano and Dianne Reeves
Dianne Reeves
Dianne Reeves
b.1956
vocalist
(with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra), Wynton Marsalis and Willie Nelson (with Norah Jones
Norah Jones
Norah Jones
b.1979
piano
) and Moran, among others.

Blue Note has also released Mosaic: A Celebration of Blue Note Records, an eight-song disc revisiting some of the label's classic repertoire, by the Blue Note 7, an all-star septet led by pianist Bill Charlap and featuring Ravi Coltrane
Ravi Coltrane
Ravi Coltrane
b.1965
sax, tenor
, Nicholas Payton
Nicholas Payton
Nicholas Payton
b.1973
trumpet
, Steve Wilson
Steve Wilson
Steve Wilson
b.1961
sax, alto
, Peter Bernstein
Peter Bernstein
Peter Bernstein
b.1967
guitar
, Peter Washington and Lewis Nash
Lewis Nash
Lewis Nash
b.1958
drums
.

So why has Blue Note been so successful for so long? Much of the credit goes to Lundvall.

"He's the inspiration and force behind the label," said pianist-vocalist Elias, who has recorded 18 albums for Blue Note, including her latest, Bossa Nova Stories. "He's a major force in jazz and the music business. He loves music and understands the soul of the musician. He's one of a kind," Elias said.

That sentiment is echoed by another longtime Blue Note artist, saxophonist Lovano. "It's been a thrill and a pleasure to work with someone like Bruce," said Lovano, whose latest release, Symphonica, is his 20th for the label. "Bruce encouraged me to be myself."

Lovano said Lundvall "first heard me at Sweet Basil with the Peter Erskine
Peter Erskine
Peter Erskine
b.1954
drums
band" around 1990. "I didn't know who he was, but from the first moments I walked into his office he really knew who I was. He was so warm, so incredible. I never had to prove myself."

For his part, Lundvall says his friendships with musicians are the things he cherishes most. "The best part of the job is hearing and facilitating great music and having relationships with so many wonderful artists," Lundvall said. "They are not just fantastic musicians; they are unique, interesting and brilliant people... It's been an honor and I consider myself to be extremely lucky to be doing this."

While it remains an artist-centered label, Blue Note has certainly changed since its heyday in the '50s and '60s when there was a clearly defined Blue Note sound, rooted in hard bop, as well as a Blue Note look thanks to the label's striking album design and photography. "There isn't a Blue Note sound today," said Lundvall. "It's a different world. We record a greater variety of music. Individual artists have preferences in studios, producers, album designers, etc. So it's not all Alfred Lion, Francis Wolff [label executive and photographer], Rudy Van Gelder [engineer] and Reid Miles [designer] and a circle of great New York-based jazz artists anymore."

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