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Half Note Records: Live from the Blue Note

Bob Kenselaar By

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As he goes about his day-to-day work, Levenson is mindful of what brought him to the Blue Note and Half Note Records. "I think my mission was to create a record label that was worthy of the Blue Note name. I considered the Blue Note to be pretty much at the top of the pyramid. To this day, I think in the entire planet there are two jazz clubs, the Blue Note and the Village Vanguard. So, when I got here, I knew of the Blue Note's reach. I knew of its overall sense of achievement. I also wanted to set the bar at a particular level, so that I could do the kinds of things that, ironically, were very difficult for me to do both at Columbia Records and at Warner Brothers. In larger record companies, one would think that you would have the benefit of the large corporate machinery to aid and assist you. But, in fact, those gears grind you down and make life really, really difficult.

"I'm a New York kid. I grew up in the shadows of Yankee Stadium. So, this notion that I should be working for a company wants to capture the sound of New York appealed to me a great deal. And I believe that's what's happening. Half Note reflects a particular time and place. This is what it sounds like. This is the sound of jazz.

"When I first got on the scene in the late '70s and early '80s, I experienced a New York that was very, very vital. The previous generation bragged about 52nd Street. I didn't get to see that. I was too young. But in the New York of my time there were a lot of clubs, a lot of action. The musicians ranged from staunch traditionalists to progressive avant gardists. The full range of jazz was being heard on the streets of New York, and I liked that.

"I thought that was emblematic of the spirit that I attribute to us all as New Yorkers. I wanted Half Note to be heard as the sound of New York. And I wanted it to cover stylistic gamuts that fairly replicate what's going on. I don't believe that I have the capabilities to portray every single side of jazz. It's a mighty wide spectrum. But I try to cover a lot of it."

Levenson sees the jazz spectrum as continuing to broaden. "It's expanded and evolved over the years, definitionally speaking. Jazz is something different now than when I started. And I think it's interesting programmatically that through technology and global economics, jazz is now a hyphenated music. Jazz is totally informed and colored by global elements the world over. I just consider that normal growth and expansion and maturation. To the degree that I can either capture that or throw the spotlight on it or gently massage it—I give it my best."

Selected Half Note Discography

Lee Konitz/Bill Frisell/Gary Peacock/Joey Baron, Enfants Terribles: Live at the Blue Note (Half Note, 2012)
Randy Brecker, The Jazz Ballad Songbook (Half Note, 2011)
Kenny Werner, Institute of Higher Learning (Half Note, 2011)
Kenny Werner, Baloons (Half Note, 2011)
Conrad Herwig, The Latin Side of Herbie Hancock (Half Note, 2010)
Kenny Werner, No Beginning, No End (Half Note, 2010)
Omar Sosa, Across the Divide: A Tale of Rhythm & Ancestry (Half Note, 2009)
McCoy Tyner, Solo: Live in San Francisco (Half Note/McCoy Tyner Music, 2009)
McCoy Tyner, Guitars (Half Note/McCoy Tyner Music, 2008)
Conrad Herwig, The Latin Side of Wayne Shorter (Half Note, 2008)
McCoy Tyner Quartet (Half Note/McCoy Tyner Music, 2007)
Conrad Herwig, Sketches of Spain y Mas (Half Note, 2006)
Gil Goldstein, Under the Rousseau Moon (Half Note, 2006)
Odean Pope Saxophone Choir, Locked & Loaded (Half Note, 2006)
Kenny Werner, Peace (Half Note, 2004)
Elvin Jones Jazz Machine, The Truth: Heard Live at the Blue Note (Half Note, 2004)
Conrad Herwig, Another Kind of Blue: The Latin Side of Miles Davis (Half Note, 2004)
Paquito D'Rivera, Live at the Blue Note (Half Note, 2000)

Photo Credits
Jeff Levenson photographed by Herb Scher.
The Blue Note photographed by Jesse Merz.


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