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If you're into jazz at all, some of your favorite albums were probably issued by Blue Note Records. Aficionados celebrate the label for putting out some of the definitive recordings in jazz history, spanning from before bebop to the present day. Even the cover art, with its Francis Wolff photography, elegant design and sleek typesetting, has become iconic in jazz lore.
This year, Blue Note celebrates its 70th anniversary — and the 25th anniversary of its relaunch after being acquired by EMI Records. The label was co-founded on a shoestring budget by a German emigre named Alfred Lion. But Lion was both meticulous and passionate about recording music that he believed in.
"Alfred was a short man, maybe 5'3" or 5'4". But when the groove was right in the studio, he used to start to jump around and dance to the music in the studio," says Michael Cuscuna, a jazz record producer and archivist who has worked extensively with Blue Note. "And a lot of the musicians said that's when they knew they had the right take, when Alfred got out of his chair and started dancing."
On Talk of the Nation, host Neal Conan discussed the history and legacy of the label with Cuscuna, Blue Note CEO Bruce Lundvall and pianist Bill Charlap, who records for Blue Note. Lundvall says he's confident that the label will continue to enjoy success.
"The artists drive the business forward, and when original artists come along, the business will pick up, there's no question about it," Lundvall says. "We're just middlemen in this business, those of use who run record companies and work at record labels ... So you have to choose the right artists. And I think we have a lot of those."
This year, Blue Note put together the Blue Note 7, an all-star sextet playing all across North America in celebration of the label's 70-year milestone. Before he left on tour with the group, musical director Bill Charlap picked some of his favorite Blue Note classics for NPR Music.