Apple Music Launches Celebration of Blue Note Records in Honor of 80th Anniversary

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On January 6, 1939, a German Jewish immigrant and passionate Jazz fan named Alfred Lion produced his first recording session in New York City with two Boogie Woogie pianists—Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis—founding what would become the most-respected and longest-running Jazz label in the world. Blue Note Records has gone on to represent The Finest In Jazz for the past 80 years, and today Apple Music has begun a celebration of that legacy in honor of the label’s 80th Anniversary with the launch of a new feature dedicated to Blue Note’s fabled 1500 Series that presents a collector’s savvy curation of 10 classic albums with studio quality sound via Apple Digital Masters and the new playlist Blue Note Records Essentials. Explore the feature here.


Blue Note was already a major force in Jazz by the early ’50s—a name synonymous with the rise of bebop and the reframing of jazz as a genuine art form. But the label had hit a rough patch: The market was unpredictable, and the industry was shifting toward a 12-inch LP format that Lion was reluctant to embrace. At one point, Lion and his co-founder Francis Wolff even considered selling Blue Note to Atlantic.

Instead, the label evolved. In 1953, Lion had met Rudy Van Gelder, an optometrist with a tinkerer’s obsession for audio who had jury-rigged a recording studio in the front room of his parents’ house across the river in Hackensack, New Jersey. Warm, present, and uncannily three-dimensional, Van Gelder’s sound came to define the label, an aural watermark that helped not only stabilize the brand but advance the art.

Along with a shift in sound came a shift in image—which would coalesce in Blue Note’s 1500 series, a reference to the catalog numbers of roughly 100 LPs cut between 1955 and 1958. The label had already developed something of a reputation for its covers, often anchored by Wolff’s photography. Around 1956, the label started working with a graphic designer named Reid Miles. Miles’ design—a Bauhaus-inspired mix of limited color palettes, sans-serif typefaces, and bold textual arrangements—was stark, but had a tightly bottled energy that echoed not only Wolff’s photos but the music itself. In the synthesis of Wolff’s photography and Miles’ design, Blue Note found a visual identity that made their records not only distinctive objects in the marketplace, but interjections in a broader conversation about design that cemented the label not just as a bastion of jazz but of American art. That identity found its ideal canvas on the larger album cover jackets of the 12-inch format that Lion finally embraced.

These early LPs constituted both a rebirth and a missing link, bridging the look and sound of the label’s early 78s with Miles and Wolff’s iconic collaborations on later series like the 4000s. Original pressings also constitute grails on the vinyl market—some of the rarest Blue Notes in the world. In celebration of the label’s rich 80-year history, Apple Music presents a stack of 10 of their favorites from the 1500 series, polished off as Apple Digital Masters—an approach that mines high-quality sources designed to cut noise while maximizing clarity and efficiency, bringing the listener a sound virtually indistinguishable from the 24-bit masters. “They sound f*ing great,” Blue Note president Don Was told Apple Music. “They really uphold the integrity of the music.”

Stay tuned for a Blue Note takeover of Apple Music’s Pure Jazz radio station, and follow the Blue Note Records curator profile for more of The Finest In Jazz Since 1939.

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Other highlights of Blue Note’s 80th Anniversary celebrations include:

Tone Poet Audiophile Vinyl Reissue Series: “Tone Poet” Joe Harley—co-founder and co-producer of the acclaimed Music Matters audiophile vinyl series—is the producer of this series of all-analog, mastered-from-the-original-master-tape 180g audiophile vinyl reissues in deluxe gatefold packaging. Mastering is by Kevin Gray and vinyl is manufactured at RTI. The titles were handpicked by Harley and cover lesser-known Blue Note classics, modern era standouts, and albums from other labels under the Blue Note catalog.

Blue Note 80 Vinyl Reissue Series: A series of mid-priced 180g vinyl releases in standard packaging curated by Don Was and Cem Kurosman with albums presented by themes: Blue Note Debuts, Blue Grooves, Great Reid Miles Covers, Blue Note Live, and Blue Note Drummer Leaders. The releases will be all-analog whenever an analog source is available with Kevin Gray mastering directly from the original master tapes, and vinyl pressed at Optimal.

Blue Note Review: The 2nd edition of our vinyl boxset subscription series Blue Note Review: Volume Two – Spirit & Time is currently available at Curated by Don Was, the set encapsulates the past, present, and future of Blue Note by celebrating the brilliant late-career albums of the legendary Tony Williams with a tribute album by current drummers, as well as audiophile reissues of Africaine by Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers and Patterns by Bobby Hutcherson, the book Spirit & Time: Jazz Drummers On Their Art, the zine Out of the Blue, a set of Topps Blue Note Trading Cards, and a Blue Note carbon fiber anti-static record brush.

Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes Documentary: Director Sophie Huber’s acclaimed award-winning documentary Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2018 and has since played at over 50 international film festivals and had successful theatrical runs in New York, Los Angeles, and London with additional theatrical openings happening around the globe this Summer and Fall. The film will get a will get a DVD, Blu-ray, and digital release on September 6 in addition to upcoming TV broadcasts.

Canvas Art Prints of Classic Blue Note Album Covers: A new series of limited-edition wall art that celebrates the iconic imagery of Blue Note’s classic era. Blue Note is offering archival-quality, framed canvas prints in dynamic scale (22”x22”, 32”x32”, 42”x42”) that present the legendary album cover designs of Reid Miles and photography of Francis Wolff. 12 album covers are currently available in the Blue Note Store with additional prints to be made available later this year.

Vinyl Me, Please Anthology: The Story of Blue Note Records: A special partnership with the record club Vinyl Me, Please who presented an exclusive, limited-edition boxset that sold out in under three hours. The Anthology experience included a 6-album, 7-LP premium boxset plus a private fan community and an exclusive podcast series, which took listeners on a 6-week journey into the history and music of jazz’s most legendary label as it celebrates its 80th anniversary.

Blue Note X G-SHOCK G-STEEL Timepiece: Casio G-SHOCK released a limited-edition Blue Note Records G-STEEL men’s watch made in honor of our 80th Anniversary. The unique timepiece nods to both iconic brands by featuring bright blue accents and engravings of the G-SHOCK and Blue Note logos. Watch the video celebrating the new Blue Note X G-SHOCK timepiece starring Blue Note artists Charles Lloyd, Kendrick Scott, and lophiile. The watch is available for purchase at select jewelers, fashion boutiques, the G-SHOCK Soho Store and

Blue Note 80th Anniversary Tour: This Fall, a triple-bill of current Blue Note artists—Kandace Springs, James Francies, and James Carter—will embark on a U.S. tour of performing arts centers around the country.

Blue Note Tent at Monterey Jazz Festival: The return of the popular Blue Note Tent at the venerable Monterey Jazz Festival in September will feature anniversary programming including special artist conversations and performances, a screening of Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes, and more.

Blue Note at Sea: The sold-out 2019 Blue Note at Sea sailed to the Caribbean in January with hosts Don Was, Robert Glasper, and Marcus Miller featuring artist performances, conversations on the history of Blue Note, and screenings of Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes. The 2020 sailing is currently on sale and will feature Glasper, Miller, Gregory Porter, Kamasi Washington, Christian McBride, and more.

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It took the joining of many natural forces to create and define one of the greatest Jazz labels there has ever been: Jazz-loving German Jewish immigrants on the run from Nazism (Alfred Lion & Francis Wolff), a New Jersey optometrist moonlighting as a recording engineer (Rudy Van Gelder), a classical music-loving graphic designer (Reid Miles), and the most incredible musicians that have ever walked the earth. The elements that each brought to the table—boundless passion and impeccable A&R instincts, elegant and insightful photography, sterling sound quality, strikingly original cover artwork, and consistently transcendent music—were all essential to the label’s early success. Together they created a vivid Blue Note aesthetic. The whole could not have existed without each of the parts.

Blue Note Records was founded in 1939, and the label’s legendary catalog traces the entirety of Jazz history from Hot Jazz, Boogie Woogie, and Swing, through Bebop, Hard Bop, Post-Bop, Soul Jazz, Avant-Garde, and Fusion, and into the diverse and vibrant sounds of today. The artists Blue Note has recorded represent the pillars of Jazz: Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Horace Silver, Art Blakey, Jimmy Smith, Dexter Gordon, Grant Green, Lou Donaldson, Donald Byrd, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, McCoy Tyner, Andrew Hill, Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, and many more.

After a brief dormancy from 1981-1984 during which producer/historian Michael Cuscuna kept the label’s legacy alive with a series of reissues on EMI, Blue Note returned reinvigorated by the leadership of Bruce Lundvall and has since established itself as the most-respected and longest-running Jazz label in the world, remaining home to some of the most prominent stars and cutting-edge innovators in Jazz while at the same time broadening its horizons to include quality music in many genres. During Lundvall’s 30-year tenure, Blue Note remained a haven for the most creative voices in Jazz, and also had its share of commercial successes from Bobby McFerrin, Dianne Reeves, Cassandra Wilson, Us3, Norah Jones, Al Green, Amos Lee, Medeski Martin & Wood, Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis.

The same must be said of Don Was, the consummate music man who joined Blue Note in 2011 as Chief Creative Officer and became President of the label in 2012. With Was at the helm, Blue Note has renewed its dedication to Lion’s original vision that “any particular style of playing which represents an authentic way of musical feeling is genuine expression.” Lion’s words still ring true and provide a blueprint that includes Robert Glasper’s visionary melding of Jazz, R&B, and Hip-Hop; eclectic singers from Norah Jones to Gregory Porter to Kandace Springs; and the full spectrum of instrumental Jazz artists from legends like Wayne Shorter, Charles Lloyd, and Dr. Lonnie Smith to future legends including Ambrose Akinmusire, James Francies, and Joel Ross. Blue Note Records is one of the flagship labels of the Capitol Music Group and Universal Music Group.

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