Apple Music is celebrating the legacy of Blue Note Records, in honor of the label’s 80th anniversary, with the launch of a new feature dedicated to Blue Note’s fabled 1500 Series.
Fans can listen to 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. Click here to explore the feature.
The term “1500 Series” refers to the catalog numbers of about 100 Blue Note LPs recorded between 1955 and 1958. At the time, the label was undergoing a shift, both musically and image-wise.
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 the musicas 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 label founder Alfred 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.
Sometime in 1956, the label started working with a graphic designer named Reid Miles. Miles’ designs had striking covers featuring photos of the musicians at work along with bold textual arrangements, clean typefaces, and limited color palettes.
These early LPs include John Coltrane’s Blue Train, Jimmy Smith’s Jimmy Smith at the Organ (Vol. 3), Sonny Clark’s Cool Struttin’, and many more. They constituted both a rebirth and a missing link, bridging the look and sound of the label’s early 78s with that of later series like the 4000s. Original pressings are also highly coveted on the vinyl market—some of the rarest Blue Notes in the world.