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Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes

Just after returning from Italy I decided to take a break from writing and watch “Born to be Blue” with Ethan Hawke playing trumpeter and vocalist Chet Baker known to some as the Founder of West Coast Swing. Well poor Chet really messed up his life for a bit due to heroin addiction. He died after falling off his hotel balcony in Amsterdam and both heroin and cocaine were found in his blood. The soundtrack was great.

The above referenced film has an even better soundtrack, incredible stills and great banter. Blue Note records was the premier jazz label founded in 1939 by two Jewish refugees Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff. It took them years to make any real money but what kept them going on was their love of jazz. They also had a superb sound engineer Rudy Van Geller.

I have been listening to jazz for many years and used to watch a bit of it in Montreal jazz clubs. Not really understanding the significance of these musicians only rather bothers me now.

I mean you are going to hear Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Art Blakey, Lee Morgan and John Coltrane to name a few. Although the theme of the movie is documenting the rise of Blue Note there is enough jazz to choke a horse. And if you love jazz you’ll love this film. Isn’t it strange that the modern recordings of jazz and hip-hop still are clearly influenced by the older masters.

Lion and Wolff were extra-ordinary men that seemed to like nothing more than to have the musicians discover their love and talent for jazz. They hung out with the musicians and lived a hand to mouth existence. They witnessed the creation of several genres of jazz with the best jazz musicians in the world. I mean listen to parts of John Coltrane’s “Blue Train” and tell me that is not great jazz. They hung by Thelonious Monk for 5 recordings despite that fact he records were not selling. I suppose you could say they treated jazz musicians as artists. They realized that great musicians were beyond the notes.

You’ll see in a perfunctory way how jazz influenced hip-hop. As one hip-hop musician said hip-hop vocalized what jazz did not. Blue Notes was reborn in 1984 by its acquisition by EMI Records and really launched forward by Norah Jones in 2002.

Watch this documentary and you’ll quickly see what Blue Note Records did for jazz.

The film opens in Los Angeles on June 28th and in New York on June 14th. The film is directed by Sophie Huber and is her second documentary record. This film is so good for jazz lovers it is an embarrassment of riches. No details yet on Canadian distribution.

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