Riding On A Blue Note: Jazz And American Pop

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The establishment of jazz as art during the s changed the mechanisms of jazz performance and recording. This is not to say that the musicians did not already take themselves seriously, but now the social context of their performances encouraged a more serious regard for their music. It may have been a his- torical accident that Blue Note was so well placed to take advantage of the new move to jazz as art music; nevertheless the organizational innovations of Alfred Lion reinforced and expanded the possibilities of this particular moment for the label.

Indeed, many of the key artists in the new forms of jazz that were being developed in the s appeared on Blue Note. And not only did they appear on Blue Note, over the years many critics have regarded their Blue Note releases as their best, while also nominating Blue Note releases as among the best jazz LPs ever released.

This critical acclaim has much to do with the work practices mentioned above. The shift of jazz from a music that was largely confined to night-clubs to a form that was becoming recognized as an art music was prompted partly by the record companies and partly by the musicians themselves.

The major record companies, seeking a new market to exploit in the mid-fifties, not only sought out early rock and roll, but also looked to the jazz market, as a way of expanding sales and escaping from the post-war depression that continued to affect the industry. Thus, one method was to talk up the value of jazz to a middle-class audience who had the disposable income to spend on purchases of the new long-playing discs and the equipment to play them Lopes — Indeed, the context in which Blue Note thrived as an independent was a period when market concentration in the recorded music market was at a fifty-year low Dowd , figure 2 , allowing greater possibility for the marketing of independent jazz releases to this new audience in a market relatively less dominated by the majors than it would be some fifteen years later as the label began to decline.

The advent of bebop and the move to playing for listeners rather than dancers had also started to encourage musicians to see themselves less as entertainers and more as artists Lopes Thus, as jazz musicians started to have a more artistic self-image, so the idea of documentation of performances and compositions became more important driving forces in their recording careers. The style of Blue Note album covers has been often noted, and is of course continually reproduced on re-releases with facsimiles of the origi- nal sleeve artwork.

The key combination of naturalistic photographs and strong graphic statements gave the covers the sort of value that Blue Note also achieved for the music itself.

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As with any field seeking to establish itself, there is already a perception of the need to construct a canon. This historical narrative almost by definition identifies recordings that through repetition become to be regarded as canonical. And thus, as there has been considerable interest in jazz studies in the small group period in the twenty years from to , encompassing be-bop and its associ- ated styles DeVeaux []: —19 , a period that represents the heyday of Blue Note, such a focus helps establish the centrality of the label to the dominant discourse of the new academic subject.

This burgeoning interest in the history of jazz in university and college programmes has also coincided with the massive CD reissue programmes that were initiated by the major record companies and their affiliates in the s and have continued into the new millennium. No room for squares 37 but, whatever one thinks about this movement, it has emphasized the centrality to jazz history of the period between the mid s and the early s, which almost directly coincides with the rise and maturation of the Blue Note label.

Thus, while there are considerable artistic difficulties with the championing of the classics of modern jazz for the development and commercial support of new styles, for the record labels this has been a life line in a period which has seen jazz increasingly marginalized in record company strategy, and remain- ing only a small and possibly shrinking niche in the overall market for recorded music.

Fantasy also acquired other former independents such as Milestone and Contemporary allowing the programme to grow into a major stock of classic material available first as vinyl reissues in replicas of their original covers , and subsequently on CDs with the original artwork and liner notes. Again, this suggests that Blue Note and its catalogue remain marketable even into the new millennium. Given that Lion had generally sought only to release one LP per year per artist, there was much of quality still unreleased Mathieson 61, Thus the discovery of unreleased ses- sions allowed the label to not only gain sales from those wishing to buy the classics, but also from established customers that might already have been expected to own copies of the original now re-released sessions.

Riding on a Blue Note: Jazz and American Pop (Galaxy Books)

And even then this was mostly achieved by the licensing of earlier releases and un-released tapes to Japanese affiliates who started the ball rolling on the now almost continuous reissue programme. Thus, despite most of the sales of Blue Note records being to an LP-buying audience, in some cases Lion ran extra sessions or extra takes within sessions to produce tracks that could be released as singles, partly to get radio play for market- ing purposes but also to cater to the then still extensive jukebox business in the US Cuscuna [n. No room for squares 39 charge in by EMI America where he remains today and employed Cuscuna to continue these reissues in-house.

Indeed, given the use of black artists to signify authenticity, that Blue Note was at the centre of the hard bop and soul jazz movement in the late s and early s recording mainly black musicians has helped the label maintain a reputation for authentic jazz.

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Once again, the period when Blue Note was thriving is identified as the key period in the development of jazz. Here Blue Note was able to profit from the interest in non-mainstream musics that self- depicting counter-cultural disc-jockeys and audiences around the world developed as a reaction to the inauthentic mainstream music on offer from the majors Straw Thus, while Blue Note has remained profitable this has largely been because of the reissues; most of its more recent new releases are no longer available while the reissues continue to be produced and to sell Woodward Indeed as Michael Cuscuna has noted, it is the income from the continuing programme of reissues that allows the contemporary Blue Note to record new sessions Cuscuna Most recently Blue Note has moved into the field of mobile phone ring-tones, once again focusing on the period between the mids to mids for the tones that it will be marketing Blue Note No room for squares 41 selling mostly from its back catalogue says much for the artistic value Alfred Lion established and the continued commercial potential of these older recordings.

Destination… Out! Jackie McLean BST Blue Note was not the only label to follow the path from enthusiastic found- ers through to corporate ownership, which prospered during a key period of jazz history, and enjoy a similar political economy; as I have already noted, a partly similar set of circumstances could be related for Prestige and Riverside. While the musical and commercial aspects of the history of the label underpin its continued brand visibility, style is the final piece of the jigsaw that explains why Blue Note remains so well known.

It is this unique political economic combination of musical integrity, historical significance, stylistic coherence and strategic reaction to com- mercial pressures that established Blue Note as the best known jazz record label in the world. Likewise, Manfred Eicher, founder and owner of ECM Records, has adopted a significantly similar set of priorities in the management of his record label.

Like Lion and Wolf, Eicher has developed a reputation for trust and fairness in his dealings with his artists and thus retains many for long careers , has a well-developed visual identity for his releases, and has always released well-organized, well-recorded and well-conceived records and now CDs Hudson Perhaps more importantly, as the advantages of size that have previously underpinned the domination of the global music market by the major companies have been increasingly chal- lenged by technological change most obviously the digital online distribu- tion of music , so the artisanal integrity of the approach pioneered by Lion and Wolff is again likely to underpin successful independent labels in jazz and other musics.

In Martin T. Williams, ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press].

Riding On A Blue Note: Jazz And American Pop

The Rise and Fall of the Record Industry. London: Atlantic Books. Seller Inventory Xn. Gary Giddins. Publisher: Oxford University Press Inc , This specific ISBN edition is currently not available.


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View all copies of this ISBN edition:. Synopsis About this title Gary Giddins, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, has a following that includes not only jazz enthusiasts but also pop music fans of every stripe. Synopsis : Essays consider the contributions of top jazz and pop singers, musicians, and composers, the problem of commercialization, and the history of jazz. Buy New Learn more about this copy. About AbeBooks. Other Popular Editions of the Same Title.

One Night With Blue Note (1985)

But there's more to the label than Norah, he suggests, pointing to its contemporary artists and lucrative catalog of classics. The label has drawn criticism for some of its experiments, such as a hip-hop remix album by the group Us3 in the early s. Still, Lundvall shows little sign of being intimidated by the "jazz police," as he calls purists.

The label's credibility is hard to question, he says, pointing out that in the past couple of years he has signed Mr. Marsalis, and is nurturing young performers such as Jason Moran and Stephon Harris. I'm not saying that we make pop records," he says. Lundvall sees his role as that of advocate or middleman. Already a subscriber? This website uses cookies to improve functionality and performance. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Monitor Daily Current Issue. Monitor Political Cartoons.

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Monitor Daily. Photos of the Week. The famed jazz label is riding high, thanks in large part to its CEO. Related stories Warriors for jazz Marian McPartland, jazz legend, dies Jazz aficionados remember legendary harmonicist Toots Thielemans.

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