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: Blue Note: A Story of Modern Jazz

The story of the classic jazz label Blue Note is essentially the story of Alfred Lion, a German emigre whose love affair with jazz began in 1926 when he saw Sam Wooding’s Chocolate Dandies as a young boy in Berlin. “It was the first time I saw colored musicians, and I was flabbergasted,” he recalls in this excellent 90-minute documentary from 1997, written and directed by Julian Benedikt. “It was something brand new and it registered with me right away … it was the beat. That beat got into my bones.”

Lion would eventually leave Nazi Germany in 1938 and seek out the source of that beat in America. A year later, he formed Blue Note Records and debuted with a recording of boogie-woogie pianists Albert Ammons and Meade “Lux” Lewis, who had performed on the “From Spirituals to Swing” program at Carnegie Hall which Lion attended the previous year. He scored his first legitimate hit for the label later in 1939 with Sidney Bechet’s “Summertime.” Lion went on to produce a thousand records in the years that he had Blue Note, and it’s safe to say that a vast majority of those albums have since entered into the pantheon of jazz classics. A catalyst and a visionary, he had an instinctive knack for what sounded good. As he often said, in his thick German accent, “It must schving!” During his tenure at Blue Note, Lion discovered and promoted such uncompromising artists as Thelonious Monk, Herbie Nichols, Andrew Hill, Sam Rivers and Cecil Taylor. But he also produced some hit records, including Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder and Horace Silver’s Song for My Father.

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