10 Essential Albums From Blue Note Records

Posted by Billy Gil, September 29, 2014 06:35pm | Post a Comment

Some of our staff have picked out essential albums from Blue Note Records that should satisfy both the purist and the newcomer to go along with Sonos Studio’s brilliant exhibition celebrating the label's 75th anniversary.

A bit about Blue Note’s history: The label was in 1939 by Alfred Lion and Max Margulis, getting its name from the “blue notes” of blues and jazz, or notes sung a bit lower than the major scale for expressive purposes. Moving from traditional jazz to some bebop (including artists like Thelonious Monk) in the 1940s and hard bop (artists such as Horace Silver) in the 1950s, Blue Note distinguished itself by paying musicians for rehearsals as well as recordings, in order to ensure a better final product. With iconic album artwork by Esquire designer Reid Miles (using photographs of the musician in session, taken by Blue Note’s Francis Wolff), Blue Note made its name as one of the most influential labels in jazz music, later issuing records by free jazz musicians like Ornette Coleman and popular musicians like Herbie Hancock, having records sampled in hip-hop records by the likes of Madlib and, now, seeing massive success with mainstream artists like Norah Jones.

Whether you traditional jazz or hard bop, piano or saxophone, introspective sounds or jamming quartets ... it’s all there in the history of this amazing label. If you're in Los Angeles, head over to the Blue Note exhibition at Sonos Studio and give these records a spin! And enter to win a SONOS 3 Music System and hand-picked Blue Note vinyl here.


Sidney Bechet Jazz Classics, Vol. 1 (1950)

Sidney Bechet defined Blue Note’s early success with his hit recording of “Summertime”; this compilation gathers many of the New Orleans jazz legend’s early recordings.


Sonny Rollins - Newk’s Time (1958)

Perhaps the tenor saxophonist’s best album for Blue Note, one of several he did for the label in the late '50s.


John Coltrane - Blue Train (1957)

Coltrane’s second solo album is his first crucial release as a band leader, representing the beginning of his transition from hard bop to the new ground he’d break in later albums like Giant Steps.


Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers - Moanin’ (1959)

One of the essential hard bop albums of the 1950s, filtering gospel and blues influences into a sophisticated set.


Ornette Coleman The Empty Foxhole (1967)

Briefly tenured at Blue Note, Ornette Coleman represents the avant-garde/free jazz movement that Blue Note, despite primarily a hard bop label, also sought to document.



Kenny BurrellMidnight Blue (1963)

One of the most popular jazz blues records in Blue Note’s history. According to Jazz Imrpov Magazine, “[i]f you need to know ‘the Blue Note sound.’ here it is.”


Lee Morgan - The Sidewinder (1964)

A defining record of the soul jazz subgenre, featuring the title track, which has been called “as sinuous and stinging as the beast of the title” by The Penguin Guide to Jazz.


Herbie Hancock - Maiden Voyage (1965)

Before there was “Rocket,” Herbie Hancock was one of the most popular musicians for Blue Note, and his fifth album of oceanic-themed accessible hard bop is his ’60s pinnacle.


The Horace Silver Quintet Song For My Father (1965)

Another of Blue Note’s most famous musicians, Horace Silver’s fifth album was inspired by a trip to Brazil and features the title track, a tribute to his late father. Bits from the album were later nicked by musicians like Steely Dan, Stevie Wonder and The Style Council.


Robert Glasper Experiment - Black Radio (2012)

Indicative of Blue Note’s ability to bravely carry the torch into the new millennium, Glasper’s Black Radio uses jazz as a blueprint to craft a unique sound that draws from hip-hop, soul and rock, with appearances by Me’Shell Ndegeocello, Lupe Fiasco and Erykah Badu. See also: genre-blending soul man Jose James.

Want even more Blue Note records to check out? Check out what champions of Blue Note like Robert Glasper and FattyDL picked as their favorite Blue Note records of all time (via The Vinyl Factory).

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Robert Glasper (6), Horace Silver (2), John Coltrane (25), Sonny Rollins (3), Sidney Bechet (1), Blues (32), Jazz (153), Blue Note Records (1), Sonos (1), Sonos Studio (2), Essential Records (35), Art Blakey (2), Blue Note (10), Herbie Hancock (17), Lists (63), Ornette Coleman (5), Kenny Burrell (1), Lee Morgan (1), "weird Al" Yankovic (5)