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Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes (Eagle Rock) 

Review of documentary film about the iconic jazz record label

Is it possible to be a fan of jazz and not be a fan of Blue Note Records? At once a kind of steward station, hooking listeners up with recordings that change their lives, and a beacon pointing out where to locate sounds that recalibrate jazz’s possibilities, the label has always been a conductor of comfort and community. Both are on ready display in this Sophie Huber documentary. It’s a highly conversational affair but never too talky, with cherished grooves of yore wafting through the various reminiscences and anecdotes.

Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter are on hand to sing myriad praises of label honchos Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff, men who had the spirit of the animals in their names, who somehow fostered a record company where a house ethos didn’t curtail anyone’s individuality. The doc plays up the romance the pair had with Thelonious Monk, despite the fact that his music practically bankrupted them. They had escaped the horrors of 1930s Germany, and for such men, Monk must have been the very symbol of freedom. The latest generation of Blue Noters have a lot of say as well, with an articulate Robert Glasper keenly noting that “what you’ve been through in your life makes you sound the way you sound,” while still acknowledging that artistic greatness can come from a place beyond any one human being’s experience.

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Originally Published

Colin Fleming

Colin Fleming writes fiction and nonfiction on myriad topics—art, film, music, sports, literature—for a wide range of publications. He also talks regularly on the radio for the likes of NPR and Downtown with Rich Kimball. His most recent book, Buried on the Beaches: Cape Stories for Hooked Hearts and Driftwood Souls (Tailwinds), was published in 2019, with an entry in Bloomsbury’s 33 1/3 series on Sam Cooke’s Live at the Harlem Square Club to follow in 2020. Find him on the web at (where you’ll also find his unique online journal, the Many Moments More blog) and on Twitter @colinfleminglit. He lives in Boston and has contributed to JazzTimes since 2006.