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Blue Note Records: The Biography by Richard Cook

It would be all too easy to plunge deep into fandom when writing a biography such as this. After all, it’s Blue Note Records, the most revered and instantly recognized label in the music’s history. British author Richard Cook certainly brings a lot of love to the table, painting saintly portraits of the label’s founders, Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff, and then unraveling their trials and tribulations with sepia-toned appeal as other significant characters-Rudy Van Gelder, Reid Miles, Michael Cuscuna, Bruce Lundvall and the litany of jazz greats-come into play. Cook should be commended, though, for his level-headedness in not triumphing every single session Blue Note committed to wax, even displaying reservations for some of the label’s more celebrated artists such as Donald Byrd and Stanley Turrentine.

Cook keeps his focus, using the significant recording sessions as signposts of the label’s history. Sometimes, though, other potential insights are sacrificed: there’s hardly any talk about the U.S.’s race and social relations or WWII in this book. And when it gets to more recent times, particularly the ’70s, the book takes the stance of Ken Burns’ Jazz documentary by almost totally discrediting jazz’s flirtations with fusion and funk. Thanks largely to Cook’s dry wit and splendid flair for turning a phrase, Blue Note Records: The Biography compels with an effective balance of restraint and enthusiasm, resulting in an ideal source for record collectors needing help discerning which old Blue Note dusty grooves are worth digging.

Originally Published