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Alfred Lion

Alfred Lion - Blue Note founder, producer, (1908 - 1987)


In 1925, 16-year old Alfred Lion noticed a concert poster for Sam Wooding's orchestra near his favorite ice-skating arena in his native Berlin, Germany. He'd heard many of his mother's jazz records and began to take an interest in the music, but that night his life was changed. The impact of what he heard live touched a deep passion within him. His thirst for the music temporarily brought him to New York in 1928 where he worked on the docks and slept in Central Park to get closer to the music.

On December 23, 1938, Lion attended the celebrated Spirituals to Swing concert at Carnegie Hall. The power, soul and beauty with which boogie woogie piano masters Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis rocked the stage gripped him. Exactly two weeks later, on January 6 at 2 in the afternoon, he brought them into a New York studio to make some recordings. They took turns at the one piano, recording four solos each before relinquishing the bench to the other man. The long session ended with two stunning duets. Blue Note Records was finally a reality.

The label's first brochure in May of 1939 carried a statement of purpose that Lion rarely strayed from throughout the many styles and years during which he built one of the greatest jazz record companies in the world. It read: "Blue Note Records are designed simply to serve the uncompromising expressions of hot jazz or swing, in general. Any particular style of playing which represents an authentic way of musical feeling is genuine expression. By virtue of its significance in place, time and circumstance, it possesses its own tradition, artistic standards and audience that keeps it alive. Hot jazz, therefore, is expression and communication, a musical and social manifestation, and Blue Note records are concerned with identifying its impulse, not its sensational and commercial adornments.”

At the end of 1939, Lion's childhood friend Francis Wolff caught the last boat out of Nazi-controlled Germany bound for America. He found employment at a photographic studio and joined forces with Lion at night to continue Blue Note. In the late 1940s, jazz had changed again, and Lion and Wolff could no longer resist the be-bop movement. Saxophonist Ike Quebec had become a close friend and advisor to both of them. Just as he had ushered in their swingtet phase, he would also bring them into modern jazz, introducing them to many of the new music's innovators and encouraging them to document it. Soon they were recording Fats Navarro and Bud Powell and giving Tadd Dameron, Thelonious Monk, Art Blakey, among others, their first dates as leaders. Lion and Wolff became especially fascinated with Monk and helped his career in every conceivable way. Despite critical resistance and poor sales, they recorded him frequently until 1952.

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Book Review

Uncompromising Expression: 75 Years of the Finest in Jazz

Read "Uncompromising Expression: 75 Years of the Finest in Jazz" reviewed by C. Andrew Hovan

Uncompromising Expression:75 Years of the Finest in Jazz Richard Havers 400 pages ISBN: # 978-1-4521-4144-2 Chronicle Books 2014 It's probably still a bit of an understatement to suggest that Blue Note Records has become one of the most iconic labels associated with recorded jazz. Now in its 75th year, the label has undergone radical changes over the course of its history, not the least of which has been the recent appointment of Don ...

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