Perhaps the most iconic jazz label in history, Blue Note Records has been responsible for many of the most famous jazz albums of all time .
For this article, we’ve highlighted 10 of the most iconic and best-loved Blue Note albums from jazz history.
In 1939, German record executive Alfred Lion and acclaimed photographer Francis Wolff formed Blue Note Records, with financial help from their associate Max Margullis.
Little did they know that their label would be seen as a cornerstone of jazz throughout the world and be successfully running eight decades later.
Not only have many of their still-expanding roster of musicians become true giants of the music, their cover art – the product of Wolff – has been engraved on the minds of all who have treasured the music.
A key element of their success has without doubt been the association with the highly acclaimed recording engineer Rudy Van Gelder who, from his studios in Hackensack, New Jersey, gave the label its state-of-the-art signature sound until his death in 2016.
And whilst the core music of the project could best be described as with the hard bop genre, recent releases have seen them follow some of the sounds of more modern jazz; a recent double album release “ Blue Note Re: Imagined 2020 ” being a good example.
For this round up, though, we’ve travelled back in time to highlight 10 of the most legendary Blue Note recordings and the artists that made them.
Jim Burlong has been a jazz fanatic since the age of fourteen and currently writes for British publications Jazzviews and the Sussex Jazz Magazine. He is also an active contributor to various jazz appreciation groups online.
1) Bud Powell – The Amazing Bud Powell (Vol 1) 1949
Born in 1924, pianist Bud Powell was a product of the famous “Minton’s Playhouse” in Harlem, the prime spot for the early pioneers of Bebop .
An improvisor of enormous talent he was influenced by the contrasting styles of both Thelonious Monk and Teddy Wilson.
His life was to change dramatically, both physically and mentally in 1945, when he received devastating injuries from a policeman’s baton following a confrontation at a rail station.
However, despite considerable periods of hospitalisation, he went on to become one of the most admired players on the scene until his premature death aged just forty one in 1966.
Many will remember him for his dazzling performance alongside Dizzy, Bird, Mingus and Max Roach at the famous “ Jazz at Massey Hall ” concert of 1953 in Toronto, when not only did he play a key part within the quintet, but stunned the audience with a great set of solo piano pieces during the interval.
Volume 1 of the Amazing Bud Powell sessions was recorded over two days at the WOR Studios in New York under recording engineer Doug Hawkins and subsequently re- mastered by Rudy Van Gelder over half a century later. It was only the third recording of a career that included over fifty releases as a leader and many more as a sideman.
The twenty album tracks were split between both the quintet and Bud’s favourite line up of the piano trio .
For the first session the pianist was joined by Fats Navarro on trumpet, the nineteen year old Sonny Rollins on tenor, bass man Tommy Potter and drummer Roy Haynes. It was a set of top quality bebop, but without doubt pointing the way forwards to the more integrated ensemble sound that was to follow a few years later.
They covered classics of the day, such as Parker’s Ornithology, Dizzy’s You Go to My Head and Monk’s masterful 52nd Street Theme.
The playing throughout was of the highest level, as it was with the nine trio tracks which included bass man Curly Russell and the then up and coming drummer Max Roach.
These pieces highlight even more than the quintet session the pure exuberance of Bud Powell’s piano style.
Each improvisation seems to have more to say than the last from the contrasts of the Gillespie/ Paparelli jazz standard A Night in Tunisia through Parisian Thoroughfare to his very own exotic creation Un Poco Loco.
The alternate takes on this brilliant Blue Note album only go to emphasise the breadth of Bud’s agile musical thought process and confirm him as a true genius of the music.
2) Clifford Brown – Memorial Album 1956
On 26th June 1956, when the 25 year old jazz trumpet phenomenon Clifford Brown died in a car crash on the way to a gig, it robbed the world of a musician who was more than likely to hold a place at the top table of jazz for decades to come.
“Brownie” as he was known, started his musical career with Tadd Dameron’s band but such was his prominence on the instrument that he very soon became a leader in his own right.
Clifford Brown processed an easily identifiable clear, precise and lyrical delivery, seldom witnessed before and over his brief recording career of only four years stamped an everlasting mark on the music that was to follow.
Despite his youth he had a profound influence on many trumpet players that followed including three of the all time greats: Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan and Donald Byrd.
With over 30 albums under his own name, Clifford Brown also became a noted composer; his compositions “Daahood” and “Joy Spring” (which he wrote for his wife Emma LaRue Anderson) become famous jazz standards that have held a place in the repertoire of countless musicians over the years.
Highlights of his career include The Clifford Brown/ Max Roach Quintet , a band featuring Sonny Rollins (that was without parallel in its day), his “Night at Birdland” series of recordings with Art Blakey and his wonderful album with Sarah Vaughan , just two years before his death.
He won the Downbeat “New Star” poll in 1954 and was posthumously inaugurated into the Downbeat Hall of Fame in 1972.
The Memorial Album recordings are taken from two Blue Note sessions in 1953 and even so early in his career find him in top form.
In the first session he’s joined by alto sax giant Lou Donaldson with a rhythm section of Elmo Hope on piano, Percy Heath on bass and Philly Joe Jones at the drums.
The set contains nine pieces from the hard bop repertoire of the day including two great compositions by the very underrated Elmo Hope.
The opener, Bellarosa, carries a strong, sprightly theme and is optimistic in outlook with superb solos from both “Brownie” and Lou Donaldson and the strangely named De-Dah contains a telling interlude by the composer.
In contrast, Carvin’ the Rock (a joint composition between the pianist and Sonny Rollins) is a far more complex and fiery piece over its two takes and almost develops into a cutting contest between the two frontline horns.
Recorded some seven weeks later, set two features a stellar sextet with saxophonists Gigi Gryce and Charlie Rouse joining Clifford in front of a rhythm section comprising pianist John Lewis, bassist Percy Heath and the great Art Blakey on drums.
The fuller sound of this group offers even more possibilities and contains two versions of Ray Noble’s famous Cherokee, both showcases for the leader’s trumpet at the highest of tempos alongside the striking Hymn of the Orient that highlights the broad joint input from the two reedmen, Charlie Rouse and the composer Gigi Gryce.
Clifford Brown contributes his own fine ballad Minor Mood but perhaps the highlight for many will be wonderful arrangement for the whole group by Quincy Jones on his own Wail Bait.
Even by the standards of many great jazz musicians Clifford Brown’s musical life was short, but his legacy will last for many more decades to come.
3) Sonny Rollins – A Night At The Village Vanguard 1957
It is without any doubt that Sonny Rollins has, for very many years, been at the very top of the saxophone pyramid in jazz alongside the likes of John Coltrane and Charlie Parker.
Born in New York City on 7th September 1930, and for many years a resident in the melting pot of jazz that is Harlem, it was not far into his high school days that he found himself gigging with the likes of Kenny Drew, Jackie McClean and Art Taylor.
Rollins was a perfectionist of the highest degree and, although his performances and recordings during the early part of his career found favour with both audiences and the music press alike, he was not satisfied; he famously stepped aside from recording and formal public performance, between 1959 and 1961 to practice daily on New York’s Williamsburg Bridge.
It was time well spent as his subsequent album “ The Bridge” was one of the great masterpieces of the genre and gained him entry to The Grammy Hall of Fame.
Many other accolades have followed including a Lifetime Achievement Award and The National Medal of the Arts .
During the past seven decades Sonny Rollins has been responsible for many great compositions, including jazz standards such as St Thomas , Doxy , Oleo and Aregin .
He has recorded over sixty albums under his own name, a list of which would include cornerstones of the music such as Saxophone Colossus, Tenor Madness, East Broadway Rundown, Way Out West and The Freedom Suite.
His sound on the tenor saxophone is his and his alone.
Rollins has the inbuilt ability to take a tune in any direction he pleases, be it by embellishing the melody or improvising on it. His methods are basically very straightforward and simple, it is the sound he achieves that has led to his greatness.
1957’s A Night At The Village Vanguard is a double Blue Note album and the first ever to be recorded at the famous club for public consumption.
The 1999 re-mastering of the recording by Rudy Van Gelder includes spoken intros by Sonny for some numbers and all the available performances from both the afternoon and evening sets.
Almost all of the music was played by the trio of Sonny with Wilbur Ware on bass and Elvin Jones on drums.
However, the first two pieces from the afternoon – A Night in Tunisia and I’ve Got You Under My Skin – are played by drummer Pete La Roca and the mysterious shady figure of Donald Bailey (not to be confused with the drummer of the same name) on bass.
According to the prominent jazz author Leonard Feather, Bailey was from Baltimore, vanished from sight soon afterwards only to turn up again some years later on a Jimmy Smith session.
Sonny Rollins was only twenty seven at the time and pre-Williamsburg, but there was some very fine jazz to be heard at “The Vanguard” that day.
The Hammerstein/Romberg classic Softly as in a Morning Sunrise has two takes, the first showing Sonny at his most laid back and languid mode as he investigates almost every possibility of the tune. The second, a slightly more free and joyous approach, includes some telling bass lines from Wilbur Ware.
Other highlights on this Blue Note outing include a totally cliché-free Latin tinged adventure on Old Devil Moon from Finian’s Rainbow and a slow tempo investigation of the Vernon Duke classic I Can’t Get Started which illustrates both the saxophonist’s free-wheeling improvising and melodic concept.
Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler’s Get Happy also receives two airings on the day, one being a dramatic closer to the evening with Sonny taking a free and sideways look at the melody with Elvin Jones left to explore in his own unique way.
Despite this Blue Note album being relatively early in the great saxophonist’s career, the quality of the music is staggering and gives a fine early insight into one of the music’s true giants.
4) John Coltrane – Blue Train 1958
There was an individuality about saxophonist John Coltrane that few other musicians processed.
Born in Hamlet, North Carolina on September 1926, he first started taking up music while in the U.S. military, where he was present at Pearl Harbour.
He started out as a blues orientated player with the King Kolax band before making the transition to jazz, where he made such an impact that he was invited to join the Miles Davis band in the mid fifties alongside Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones.
He went on to perform with Thelonious Monk and was part of the famous “Five Spot Cafe” dates before returning to Miles and playing a major part in Kind of Blue, thought by most to be the most important record in jazz history .
Despite this elevation, he was determined to plough his own furrow and left to form his own bands.
Over time, this led to his most famous recordings including Giant Steps, Blue Train and the revolutionary A Love Supreme , in 1964.
When he recruited pianist McCoy Tyner, and drummer Elvin Jones, alongside a number of bass players including Jimmy Garrison and Reggie Workman he had settled into a style of playing known as the “sheets of sound” approach and this band earned him more long term success with albums such as Crescent, Impressions and Live at the Village Vanguard.
Like many players before him, he became addicted to class A drugs, but at the same time developed a strong spiritual element to his personality which was shared by his wife Alice Coltrane, also a major performer on the jazz scene.
With some notable exceptions, this Blue Note album being one, most of John Coltrane’s most successful output was in a quartet setting.
For Blue Train though – one of his most admired recordings – he chose a high profile sextet line-up of trumpeter Lee Morgan, Curtis Fuller on trombone, pianist Kenny Drew, bassist Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones on drums.
Coltrane himself, who usually played some numbers on soprano saxophone , used only tenor on the date which comprised of four of his own originals plus the standard I’m Old Fashioned by Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer.
Above everything, this recording is a great example of the leader’s sound at its strongest and most dynamic.
Even when his playing is most complex – such as during Moments Notice and Locomotion – there’s is a defined logic in his solos that keeps the listener comfortably locked in.
The twenty year old trumpeter Lee Morgan also plays magnificently throughout, particularly on the lengthy opener and title track Blue Train with a lip bursting trumpet interlude signposting what was to come from him later.
Curtis Fuller, thought to be second only to the trombone master of the day J.J. Johnson, proves his worth with some extended solo passages, pushed on to greater heights by the company he finds himself in.
Kenny Drew – a pianist who is comfortable in any setting – succeeds in quelling the fire of Morgan and Coltrane with some well constructed contributions of his own.
Lazy Bird also features fine playing by all three front line horns, along with solo passages from both Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones who completed a fine rhythm section.
If there is a standout track, it must be the Jerome Kern piece, which is a complete triumph for the leader.
Coltrane plays in a laid back, inventive and controlled way on this superb ballad, one of the many abilities that this long mourned master of the music processed.
5) Art Blakey – Moanin’ 1959 (Blue Note)
Drummer Arthur “Art” Blakey was born in Pittsburgh on 11th October 1919.
He was one of those very rare musicians, like Duke Ellington , who were not only great players themselves, but able to draw other top performers into their bands, through the strength of their own character and stature in the music.
In his early career Art played in the big bands of Fletcher Henderson and Billy Eckstine, but was soon drawn to the more exciting world of Be-Bop on offer by the likes of Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, all of whom he began to gig with in New York and beyond.
Soon the famous “Jazz Messengers” were born, playing in the style of the even more popular and appealing “Hard-Bop” genre.
Many versions of the “Messengers” carried all before them for an incredible thirty five years. So many top players joined the band, or were made by it, including Wayne Shorter, Benny Golson, Donald Byrd, Freddie Hubbard and very many more.
The music they performed was led by Blakey’s up front yet eclectic drumming, but never overwhelmed by it.
It was a heady ride producing over seventy albums and numerous sell out concerts around the world until the leader’s death just after their final performance in July 1990 aged 70.
Art Blakey received many awards during his long career including entry to both the Grammy and Downbeat halls of fame and an American life time achievement medal.
He was married four times and had many other long term relationships during his life time, but most importantly his music and sheer presence of his overwhelming personality will live on for decades to come, as will his abiding quote “ Jazz washes away the dust of everyday life “.
Moanin’, which is one of the bands most successful recordings, started life as self titled issue “Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers”.
The title was changed after the first batch of albums was issued, due to the sheer popularity of the opening track which was written by the group’s pianist Bobby Timmons.
Moanin’ became a jazz standard, both in its raw state and even more so when Jon Hendricks, then of the close harmony group Lambert, Hendricks and Ross added some highly memorable lyrics.
The record itself has been elevated to a position as one of the most important albums in jazz by many well known commentators.
Most of the music was written by saxophonist Benny Golson who, despite not playing with the band for very long, has become recognised as one of the premier composers in this period of jazz.
It is, however, the nine plus minutes of the Bobby Timmons piece that firmly sets the theme of compulsive, dramatic and compelling jazz that is maintained throughout.
The piano intro leads to blues-drenched solos by both the young Lee Morgan and Benny Golson, followed by a spacious and patient piano solo over Jymie Merritt’s rock-like bass and Art Blakey’s driving drums.
Are You Real? and Along Came Betty are two Golson classics that have stood the test of time; full of sophisticated harmonies and compulsive melodic structures, they both find the composer on top playing form with two fine and rousing tenor solos right.
Blakey allows himself just one feature: The Drum Thunder Suite.
Thunder it certainly is, with the solo drum breaks punctuated by striking ensemble passages from the horns, emphasising the quality and dynamism of the leaders playing.
As you might guess from the title, Blues March has an initial military feel about it from the opening drums, but soon develops into a mid tempo excursion.
Another track with a strong melodic line, you can hear fine solos from both trumpet and tenor sax, before the album closes with the only piece not composed by a band member: Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer’s Come Rain or Come Shine (written for the 1946 musical St Louis Woman).
Here the performance maintains a strong hard bop edge, whilst maintaining with full respect to the original, and showcases more striking improvising from pianist Bobby Timmons.
The word ‘ essential ‘ is often overused but in this case Moanin’ is certainly a Blue Note album that should have a place in every jazz lover’s collection.
6) Kenny Burrell – Midnight Blue (1963)
Born on 31st July 1931 in Detroit, Kenny Burrell is one of the most prominent and admired jazz guitarists in history and an artist inextricably linked with the Blue Note record label.
Influenced in his early years by both Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian he soon developed his own unique style.
He played with The Benny Goodman Orchestra, Dizzy Gillespie and Oscar Peterson (where he deputised for Herb Ellis) where he developed his precise, single-note method of delivery coupled with his enormous talent as a melodic improvisor.
A prolific recording artist with over eighty albums as a leader, Kenny Burrell was also a first-call sideman for many other bands, including most notably with organist Jimmy Smith on the legendary “Organ Grinder Swing” recording in 1965, and a superb partnership with John Coltrane on their stunning self-titled release in 1958.
In later years he also became Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Southern California.
Our pick – Midnight Blue – is a cornerstone album of the Blue Note Record label and was recorded (as were so many others) at the Van Gelder studios in New Jersey.
Burrell teamed up with the powerful blues-orientated tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine as his frontline partner, supported by bassist Major Holley JR, Bill English on drums and the Latin-influenced conga specialist from Porta Rica, Ray Barretto.
The music they produced was both high-level and easy to listen to, making it a favourite album of jazz fans of many different persuasions.
The set opens with the popular Chitlins Con Carne where the entire rhythm section conjures up the most exotic of back drops for solos from both tenor saxophone and the leader’s guitar.
Mule co-written by Kenny with his bassist is a reflective piece with intricate guitar lines and a strong central theme.
The wonderfully laid back performance of the Don Redman/ Andy Razaf jazz standard Gee Baby Ain’t I Good to You, is simply a masterclass of guitar melodic improvisation.
Other highlights include the deep and melancholy, ballad Soul Lament and the engaging, up tempo Saturday Night Blues which finds Stanley Turrentine fully in his element.
It is, however, the album’s title track that does most to elevate the album to the level of the extraordinary: a memorable up-beat melodic line with Burrell’s fluid and inventive playing fully demonstrating why he has become one of the leading jazz guitarists of his generation.
7) Horace Silver – Song For My Father (1963)
Pianist, composer, bandleader and arranger Horace Silver was born in Norwalk Connecticut on 2nd September 1928.
He was one of the most important originators of the hard bop movement in jazz, with his mid fifties time in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers (with whom he made five albums) bringing him initially to wide public attention.
Silver was a musician more concerned with the melodic side of the music – rather than the more complex and challenging elements of original bebop – and the jazz standards he composed (such as Doodlin’, Sister Sadie, Opus De Funk and Peace) fully reflect this.
His early jazz piano influences stretched from Nat King Cole to Art Tatum and traits of these players that can be heard in his early work as a sideman and with his own bands.
There was a strong commerciality to some of the output which, strangely for a top jazzman in those days, was released on thirty singles from 1952 to 1976.
Many of these had a strong gospel feel, which went a long way to increasing both the popularity of his bands with the record-buying audience.
Horace Silver died in 2014 aged seventy five and remains a very important figure in jazz, not only for his most lauded Blue Note recordings, but also due to the immense influence he had on many twentieth century players.
Song for my Father is both the signature composition and album title by Horace Silver and the recording has been described by leading American jazz journalist Scott Yanow as one of the most important of the genre in jazz history.
The recording took place over a number of sessions with some personnel changes, most of which only revealed themselves on the additional CD remasters of the 90s.
The original vinyl record featured six tunes, five of which were by the leader himself.
Whilst Horace Silver, of course, took the piano seat on all tracks, the line up shifted across the album.
Four of the tracks featured a line up of Kansas City trumpet man Carmell Jones, the prolific Joe Henderson on tenor, bassist Teddy Smith and Ray Charles drummer Roger Humphries.
One track – C alcutta Cutie – features Horace with Blue Mitchell on trumpet, tenor player Junior Cook, Gene Taylor bass and Roy Brooks on drums.
And a final song – Lonely Woman – showcased a piano trio from this set of players.
The title track of the Blue Note record Song for my Father was dedicated to Horace’s Portuguese-born father whose picture adorns the cover of the album.
Things get under way with the easily recognisable opening statements from the leader before the well-balanced ensemble sound kicks in leading to the easy paced extended piano solo which is at the heart of the piece.
Joe Henderson’s tenor answers the leader with an upbeat passage of his own with many twists and turns before a bluesy reprise of the theme by the whole quintet close out a performance which can only be described as masterful.
The pace quickens on the intriguingly titled The Natives are Restless Tonight, with Carmell Jones taking the early lead with an opening high note statement of the theme.
Joe Henderson, who was at his very best for the whole date, takes things to the very edge, before Horace Silver centres the whole thing with a trademark calmness.
Calcutta Cutie is a strongly themed atmospheric reflection of that city. Full of mystery, it breaks free as the leader takes hold with yet another stunning solo full of imagination and creativity.
Que Pasa? follows: a laid back performance with a trademark melodic line from the pianist with fine use of time and space until Henderson, purposely subdued this time, answers in kind.
In stark contrast, the Joe Henderson tune The Kicker is another thing altogether.
It’s a vehicle for a fiery and rampant tenor saxophone performance played at breakneck speed, followed by a solo passage by trumpeter Carmel Jones in the same vein.
A trio rendition of the wonderful Lonely Woman ( with Gene Taylor on bass and Roy Brooks on drums) brings the original vinyl version of the recording to a close.
It’s another piano classic of serene and thoughtful beauty with the leader at his most sensitive, both in his treatment of the theme and his carefully constructed improvisations.
Four more pieces totalling around 20 minutes appear on the CD reissues some thirty years later, including a fine version of Silver Threads Among My Soul and a trio reprise of Que Pasa?
8) Lee Morgan – The Sidewinder 1963
Philadelphian jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan , who was born on 10th July 1938, was influenced as a teenager by the distinctive sound of Clifford Brown.
Both were to go on to have spectacular, but very short, careers in the music.
After a short period with Dizzy Gillespie’s big band , where he was often the principal soloist, Lee Morgan shot to stardom with his performance on John Coltrane’s Blue Train recording.
From there, he joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers where between 1958 and 1961 he appeared on many of the great leaders’ most successful Blue Note albums.
Such was his prowess that he decided to leave Blakey to form his own bands but, after three years of successful recording, including his signature album The Sidewinder , he was persuaded to re-join The Messengers for another two-year stint.
By 1970 Lee Morgan was one of the biggest draws on the U.S. scene and beyond in his own right.
He had become a prolific recording artist, with over thirty titles under his own name, and in 1970 recorded another landmark album the spectacular three disc set “Lee Morgan Live at the Lighthouse”, which was recorded at the famous jazz haunt in Hermosa Beach California.
Although blighted by substance addiction, like so many others at the time, he had climbed to the very summit of jazz hierarchy when tragedy struck.
On 19th February 1972 aged 34, he was shot by his common law wife Helen Moore, outside of Slugs Saloon in New Yorks East Village, and died some hours later in hospital.
The story of both Lee’s spectacular career and his relationship with Helen is the subject of a documentary film “I Called him Morgan” which was directed by the Swedish film maker Kasper Collin and released in 2016.
The legacy of Lee Morgan as one of the greatest trumpet players in jazz will live on through both his own recordings and those he made with other major bands.
So strong and instantly engaging is Lee Morgan’s composition The Sidewinder that, over the years, it has gained vast popularity well outside the jazz bubble and can even be heard in the background of a television commercials for Chrysler!
For the 1963 album date Lee chose tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson, who was the first call reedman for many Blue Note recordings of the day.
The quintet was completed by Barry Harris on piano, bassist Bob Cranshaw and drummer Billy Higgins (who also held the chair for musical stylists as far apart as Ornette Coleman and Pat Metheny).
All the music on the album was written by Lee Morgan and it’s the title cut that is first up.
The Sidewinder really is an exotic piece with a central theme that stays in the mind well after the first listen.
On this original take, after a piano intro and the main theme statement from the two horns, Lee breaks free with a lengthy rapier-like solo that builds layers upon layers of tension.
His sound is clear and precise as he hands over to Joe Henderson for his first of many imaginative passages that he contributes throughout the whole set before Barry Harris’s blues tinged piano adds a touch of calm.
The standard throughout the album does not drop with two takes of the atmospheric Totem Pole almost having an equal effect to the title piece.
It’s a laid back performance with both horns in quiet conversation like two old friends, before the pedal goes down for a rousing re-statement on the second example driven on brilliantly by Billy Higgins drums.
The other pieces, while relevant in their own right, stand primarily as vehicles for improvisation.
The melodic Gary’s Note Book, the raucous Boy, What A Night and the more complex and quick-fire Hocus Pocus close out an album of dizzy high class hard bop by a quintet that demonstrate total empathy with each other from first note to last.
9) Eric Dolphy – Out To Lunch 1964
Multiple reed man Eric Dolphy was born on 20th June 1928 in Los Angeles and became one of the early icons of a more contemporary and free style jazz than most people had experienced before, especially on the Blue Note label.
After his very early days in The U.S. School Of Music he joined Chico Hamilton’s quartet where he soon made a name for himself with a stunning performance on flute at The Newport Jazz Festival of 1958.
Dolphy was invited by Charles Mingus to join the infamous “jazz workshop” which became a major turning point in his career and led to his inclusion on twelve of the bass giants subsequent recordings.
He also forged partnerships with the likes of leaders Oliver Nelson and Booker Little where he was part of the famous “Five Spot Cafe Sessions”.
Unsurprisingly, Dolphy formed a bond with the like-minded John Coltrane and, together, they pushed the music to it’s very limits with releases like Impressions, Africa Brass and Live At The Village Vanguard.
Although Eric Dolphy was a true master on nearly all of the saxophone family , it was his command and superb tonality on bass clarinet that will always be to the forefront of his legacy in most people’s minds.
He only released seven albums under his own name before his death in Berlin in 1964, aged only 36, but there were a further 25 albums of archived material released in subsequent years.
Eric Dolphy will be remembered as a truly unique musician and composer who was a key figure in the advancement of jazz during his short life.
“Out to Lunch” was one of the very last projects that Eric Dolphy was involved with and went on not only to become the signature statement of his career, but a standout record within the Blue Note catalogue.
A 25 year old Freddie Hubbard – already with six Blue Note albums under his belt – was chosen on trumpet alongside Bobby Hutcherson, the most forward thinking vibes player at the time. With Eric himself on alto, flute and bass clarinet they formed a formable front line.
The band was completed by the experienced Chicago bass player Richard Davis alongside the young Tony Williams who was was well on his way to becoming one of the most critically acclaimed drummers ever and a key member of the Miles Davis “second great quintet.
All six compositions on the disc are by Eric himself and, together, they formed an exciting glimpse of where American jazz was to head in the future.
The opening cut – Hat and Beard – features the leader on bass clarinet, along with fine solos by Freddie Hubbard and Bobby Hutcherson, all enhanced with the original and sometimes outrageous drumming of the excellent Tony Williams.
Something Sweet, Something Tender carries an ambient feeling all of its own, with the leader remaining on bass clarinet with Richard Davis contributing a telling arco bass solo.
The more upbeat Gazzelloni showcases the leader’s flute and Bobby Hutcherson’s vibes, while the title track featuring alto saxophone moves in countless multiple directions that are once again perfectly held together by the double bass.
Straight Up and Down is not that at all, but a tune full of excellent tension.
It brings to a close an album of both complexity and good musical humour that is among the most-loved of Blue Notes discography.
10) Herbie Hancock – Maiden Voyage 1965 (Blue Note)
Pianist Herbie Hancock – an evergreen “A” list jazz star well into the 21st Century – was born on 12th April 1940 in Chicago .
A consummate musician on piano and the widest possible range of other keyboard instruments, he is also a superb composer and bandleader, equally comfortable within the realms of both acoustic and crossover music and has been one of the most important figures in jazz for over sixty years.
Classically trained in his early years (he appeared with The Chicago Symphony Orchestra) he initially moved to jazz with trumpeter Donald Byrd’s bands while he was still a university student.
Hancock has always been a strong leader in his own right, but a major turning point in his career came when, from 1963 to 1968, he became a key member of Miles Davis’ second great quintet alongside Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter and Tony Williams.
He made many highly regarded albums with his own bands for the Blue Note label including Empyrean Isles, My Point Of View and particularly Maiden Voyage.
“Maiden Voyage” is a landmark recording, not only in Herbie Hancock’s career but in jazz itself.
Of the six tunes, all written by the pianist, four have a nautical theme and dominate both the album’s atmosphere and listenability.
The song Maiden Voyage itself is a real masterpiece, where the vision of tall ships leaving harbour and making their way to destinations unknown is very clearly apparent.
This track in particular – and the whole album generally – are a triumph for the Memphis born tenor player George Coleman.
Aged only 20 at the time, his telling contribution has been said by many to be a highlight of a long career which culminated in his N.E.A. Masters Jazz Award.
As you would expect, Herbie Hancock was at his dazzling best throughout, prompting the other soloists and creating his own magic. His striking and creative solo during the middle section of an engaging The Eye Of The Hurricane is one such example of this.
Ron Carter who was well on his way to becoming one of the foremost bass players in modern jazz, anchors the group superbly on every track – as he did for many years with Miles.
The ebullient trumpet player Freddie Hubbard was at the height of his very significant musical journey when he appeared on this, his third of nine recordings with Herbie, and provides a dramatic thrust to the music when required.
He also proved to be to be an ideal partner for George Coleman during the ensemble passages, notably on the title track and the off-beat Survival Of The Fittest.
An intriguing piece, it finds the great drummer Tony Williams seemingly playing against the other band members, whilst somehow creating his own unique logic.
There is an understated and extended re-working of Little One a sultry ballad written by Herbie for the Miles album “E. S. P. ” and released later that same year.
In a similar vein to the title track Dolphin Dance is a romantic glimpse into their magical oceanic world and brings to a close an album that easily holds its place with the best of jazz on record.
That’s it: our pick of 10 of the best Blue Note albums in jazz history!
Of course, there are many more that could have been included, so feel free to tell us which ones you think should have made the cut, in the comments section below!
And don’t forget to check our other articles about the best of jazz music .
The label ‘Discover Jazz’ is attached to articles which have been edited and published by Jazzfuel host Matt Fripp, but have been written in collaboration with various different jazz musicians and industry contributors. When appropriate, these musicians are quoted and name-checked inside the article itself!