A Collective of Musicians Re:imagined the Blue Note Catalogue

Ever since its birth, jazz music has continuously evolved into various subgenres. The American record label Blue Note Records, which got established in 1939, played a significant role in this evolution. The company is a landmark in jazz music and has an extensive song catalogue that includes many acclaimed jazz standards. Their new release Re:imagined is a compilation of Blue Note originals brought to you by a unique selection of musicians who’ve taken on jazz, soul, hip-hop, and R&B as their musical narrative.

Blue Note describes the album as “a bridge between the ground-breaking label’s past and future“. The driving force behind this highly anticipated project is a new and vibrant scene of mostly UK-based musicians. They are a group of forward-thinking artists that innovate, even reinvent, the genre through sampling, hip-hop, afrobeat, and dance music.

The compilation album features, among others, Shabaka Hutchings, Nubya Garcia, Alfa Mist, and Jorja Smith. They perform their take on Blue Note classics, often transformed into an easy-to-absorb contemporary remake.

“This 16-track compilation finds today’s youthful, often London-based renaissance in dialogue with the revered New York label’s deep back catalogue.”

The Guardian (review by Kitty Empire)

Not all songs on the album are adaptations of historic jazz standards. Singer-songwriter Jorja Smith opens the album with an electronic and upbeat transformation of St Germain‘s hit song Rose Rouge.

Inner sleeve artwork

Noticeable are the transformations of four original compositions by Wayne Shorter. The American jazz saxophonist composed many acclaimed jazz standards and, it’s no surprise that he is listed here multiple times. He had an influential career and, his contributions to jazz were paramount. In 1959, he joined Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, where he replaced Hank Mobley. And in 1964, he joined Miles Davis‘ second (great) quintet and co-founded jazz fusion.

His compositions spotlighted on Blue Note‘s Re:imagined are Footprints, Armageddon, Speak No Evil, and Night Dreamer.

Footprints is a composition that was originally recorded for his album Adam’s Apple. The track got reworked by the London-based Ezra Collective, who are adding beats to the original. The jazz standard Armageddon got transformed by the Norwegian group Fieh into something that best can be described as neo-soul. The last two, Speak No Evil and Night Dreamer, are cleverly fused into one by Emma- jean Thackray. The songs transform into an adventurous arrangement where, also here, beats dominate.

London Jazz News writes in their review that “for some heritage-loving jazzers this whole vault-raiding exercise will be sacrilege“. They also comment on the life expectations of these adaptations versus the originals: “Some of Blue Note Re:Imagined‘s supposed updates will vanish long before the originals fade and the results often aren’t “jazz” – but the spirit of adventure and imagination in a good number most definitely is.

All in all, despite how the album is being viewed by “heritage-loving jazzers“, and despite it being a compilation, the record is spirited and exhilarating. It’s shelved among the best albums released in 2020 as it spotlights a new wave, and helps you discover the latest in music.

Tony Allen’s Tribute To Art Blakey

Afrobeat legend and drummer, Tony Allen, was strongly influenced by the recordings of Art Blakey. For his first release on Blue Note Records, he pays a tribute to one of the greatest hard bop drummers in jazz history by blending hard bop with the afrobeat rhythmic subtlety. The recordings got released in May 2017. That year, Tony Allen continued returning to his jazz roots and, a couple of months later, he released his first full-length album on Blue Note titled The Source.

The recordings for the extended play of A Tribute To Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers were an opportunity to document his interpretations. “I’m trying to change the pages,” Allen explains during a live performance. Tony Allen plays afrobeat and, he does not compromise, even when playing jazz standards. In the mini-album, he shows his jazz side and the way he is fusing the genres.

Allen doesn’t actually “swing” at all on these four standards associated with Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, instead putting each through his own Afrobeat prism.” London-based journalist and editor John Lewis explains in his review for The Guardian.

Moanin’ is reinvented in straight eighths, Politely is played in a rocking 6/8 rhythm, while A Night in Tunisia is transformed into a series of wonderfully jerky, disjointed riffs. Throughout, Allen’s Parisian septet improvises inventively around these unusual meters, most impressively on the Drum Thunder Suite, where one of Blakey’s many flirtations with West African music is, in turn, Africanised.

The release features four tracks associated with Art Blakey. It opens with Bobby Timmons’ celebrated composition Moanin’. The song got first recorded by Art Blakey’s band in 1958 and was released the following year on the album originally titled Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers (BLP 4003). The Blue Note original album also includes Benny Golson’s and Art Blakey’s track The Drum Thunder Suite, which is the final and fourth song on Allen’s homage.

The second track is the signature piece of Dizzy Gillespie’s bebop big band, A Night in Tunisia. The song has associations with Art Blakey thanks to trumpeter Lee Morgan, who was part of Gillespie’s band between 1956 and 1958. Morgan got spotlighted with his solo work during live performances of A Night in Tunisia. He joined Art Blakey’s band, and in 1961, they released the album titled A Night In Tunisia (BLP 4049). The album opens with a hard bop adaptation of Gillespie’s composition, giving the drums a significant solo status.

The third track is the jazz standard Politely, composed by trumpeter Bill Hardman. The song got originally released on the Blue Note album titled The Big Beat (BLP 4029) by Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers (released in 1960). Bill Hardman, who was part of The Jazz Messengers between 1956 and 1958 (called the “Second” Messengers), did not take part in the recordings. Instead, Lee Morgan, who was the main trumpeter of The Jazz Messengers between 1959 and 1961, provided the trumpet line.

Youthful Enthusiasm: The Cooker by Lee Morgan

Trumpeter Lee Morgan was only 19 years old when he led the recording of his Blue Note original album titled The Cooker. The album is a demonstration of Morgan’s early bop-oriented influence and contains improvisation that communicates to the listener. He is playing with a kind of youthful enthusiasm and spontaneity.

Morgan plays exceptionally well for his age. When comparing this album to his previous work, we can notice the speedy development of his skills as a musician and bandleader. Lee Morgan will soon grow to become the greatest hard bop trumpeter in jazz history. He would be listed next to other trumpet legends like Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie.

Bebop pioneer Dizzy Gillespie was also his mentor. He hired the 18-year-old Lee Morgan to replace Joe Gordon in his big band. Morgan’s solo work was spotlighted during the many live performances of A Night In Tunisia, a Gillespie original and signature of bebop. The Cooker opens with this song, and his solo for this album is claimed to be the best recording of Morgan’s career.

Aside from performing with Dizzy Gillespie, Morgan also recorded in the studio during that time. He recorded several albums with jazz icons Hank Mobley and John Coltrane. His most notable work is the recording of Coltrane’s Blue Train in 1957 (Blue Note 1577), which got recorded in the same studio, and only 2 weeks before Morgan recorded The Cooker.

In 1958, Gillespie’s band split, and Morgan joined Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers where he continued to develop his talents, now mainly as a composer. He brought a new potential to the band as they returned to Blue Note and released the jazz standard Moanin’ (composed by Bobby Timmons).

The Cooker got recorded in the Van Gelder Studio on September 29, 1957. It was the fifth Blue Note recording of the young trumpeter as a leader. He got the support from bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Philly Joe Jones, who he knew from the Blue Train recordings two weeks earlier. Pepper Adams joins on the baritone saxophone, and Bobby Timmons sits behind the piano during this vigorous recording session.

The album (BLP 1578) got released in March the following year. It features five tracks including A Night In Tunisia (D. Gillespie), Heavy Dipper (L. Morgan), Just One Of Those Things (C. Porter), Lover Man (R. Ramirez), and New-Ma (L. Morgan).

In April 2020 the album got reissued as part of the Blue Note Tone Poet Audiophile Vinyl Reissue Series (Blue Note 81578). An initiative from Blue Note Records President Don Was. It’s a reissue series of all-analog vinyl records mastered from the original master tapes.

Digging the Archives: Previously Unissued Jazz Recordings

There are various reasons for record companies to decide not to release an album. Labels such as Blue Note recorded more than they could release and had to prioritize. Sometimes recordings remained unfinished and would be completed when the time is right. Live recordings nobody knew existed surfaced decades later and were released to continue the musician’s legacy.

Here are five unissued jazz recordings that were released recently.

Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers – Just Coolin’

Recorded in 1959 – Released 2020 / Blue Note Records

Just Coolin’ is the result of a unique but short-lived ensemble of The Jazz Messengers collective.

The studio album was recorded on a single day in March 1959 at the famous Rudy Van Gelder studio in New Jersey. However, Blue Note Records co-founder Alfred Lion decided not to release the album and instead record a live performance at the famous Birdland club in New York. The live album titled At the Jazz Corner of the World was released in 1959 and remained the only issued recording of this jazz ensemble until Just Coolin’ was released in 2020.

Thelonious Monk – Palo Alto

Recorded in 1964 – Released 2020 / Impulse Records

When jazz drummer T.S. Monk was contacted regarding an old concert recording, he was amazed by his father’s performance and the background story behind the session. Danny Scher, sixteen at the time, organized benefit concerts to raise money for the Peace Corps and construction projects in Kenya and Peru. Although many people did not believe it would actually happen, he successfully hosted a concert with the jazz titan, Thelonious Monk.

T.S. Monk, knowing most of his father’s live recordings, understood how unique this recording was and how it contributes to the legacy of Thelonious Monk. In cooperation with the label Impulse Records, he released the album in September 2020.

Tony Allen And Hugh Masekela – Rejoice

Recorded 2010 – Released 2020 / World Circuit Records

Trumpeter Hugh Masekela and drummer Tony Allen met in the seventies thanks to their associations with Fela Kuti (Africa ’70). In the decades to come, they talked about making an album together. In 2010, producer Nick Gold took the opportunity and recorded the encounter.

The recording remained unfinished and got stored in the archives. With Hugh Masekela’s passing in 2018, Tony Allen and Nick Gold continued working on the original tapes during the summer of 2019. They finished the recording at the same studio where the original sessions took place, the Livingston Recording Studios in London. The album got released in 2020.

John Coltrane ‎– Blue World

Recorded 1964 – Released 2019 / Impulse Records

For every admirer of the saxophonist, composer, and bandleader, this release is very welcomed. It gives another insight into the confidence Coltrane and his band had that year. 

The recording was commissioned for the film Le Chat Dans Le Sac and after the movie was put online for streaming, the search for the original recording tapes began. They were stored in the archives of the National Film Board of Canada. After discovering and clearing out the legal constraints, the music was released to the public in 2019.

The album features two alternate takes on the song “Naima“, a ballad he composed for his wife Juanita Naima Grubbs (married 1955-66) in 1959 and which was originally released on the album Giant Steps. Also notable are the three takes on his composition “Village Blues“, a song that was originally released on the studio album Coltrane Jazz.

The Dave Brubeck Quartet – Time OutTakes

Recorded in 1959 – Released 2020 / Brubeck Editions

When author Philip Clark was researching for his biography Dave Brubeck: A Life in Time, he discovered previously unissued tapes from the recording sessions of Time Out in 1959. Time Out, a studio album by The Dave Brubeck Quartet, was the first jazz record to sell over one million copies.

Apart from alternate takes on Take Five and Blue Rondo à la Turk on the A-side, we get some newly issued materials on the B-side.

The outtakes give us a look into the creation of this iconic album. You can ask yourself: “What if the record label decided to release a different version of the song?”. Song details that fans are so familiar with today could have looked different.

Please visit the following articles for more details about each album:

The Pioneers of Boogie-woogie: Lewis, Ammons, & Johnson

When looking back at the development of boogie-woogie piano music, three pianists stand out. Their names are Meade ‘Lux’ Lewis, Albert Ammons, and Pete Johnson. They are responsible for getting the attention of the public and consequently increasing the music’s popularity.

The first one on the list, Meade ‘Lux’ Lewis, was born in 1905. His birthplace is not confirmed, and some sources claim he was born in Louisville, Kentucky. However, most literature about his life states Chicago, Illinois, to be his birthplace. His father played the guitar and originally introduced Lewis to the violin. At the age of 16, Lewis traded the violin for the piano. His piano work got strongly influenced by the Thomas brothers – whose composition The Five’s established boogie-woogie as a genre – and pianist Jimmy Yancey. Lewis already had a close friendship with Albert Ammons during his childhood and, they would practice the piano together. 

Lewis had the habit to imitate characters from the comic strip Alphonse and Gaston, a duo of Frenchmen with a tendency of good manners and etiquette. For that reason, his friends, among them Albert Ammons, would start calling him The Duke of Luxembourg. And so, the nickname “Lux” was born. 

During his adolescent years, Lewis would combine performances at bars with different jobs such as driving a cab and washing cars. In 1929, he published his debut ‘Honky Tonk Train Blues’, one of the most exciting boogie-woogie piano compositions ever recorded. The work was recorded in 1927 and would only become known in mid-1935. As a result, many other artists would play the song during the second half of the 1930s. In 1938, Lewis got invited to play at the ‘From Spirituals to Swing’ festival at Carnegie Hall where he was joined by Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson, Joe Turner, and many more. The festival was a real game-changer for him personally and for the craze of boogie-woogie. 

Most of Meade ‘Lux’ Lewis’ work and recordings got unfortunately destroyed in The 2008 Universal Studio Disaster. An event described by The New York Times as “The day the Music burned”. It was one of the biggest disasters in music history as many original recordings, from which all subsequent copies are obtained, got destroyed.

Albert Ammons was also born in Chicago, Illinois (1907). Both Ammons’ parents were pianists and, he learned to play at the age of ten. He became interested in boogie-woogie piano thanks to his friendship with Meade ‘Lux’ Lewis. It doesn’t come as a surprise that also Ammons was influenced by the same group of people. Like Lewis, Ammons would combine his performances in bars with regular day jobs such as driving a cab. 

Albert Ammons and Meade ‘Lux’ Lewis would often perform together during the early days. At the start of 1936, Ammons would record with a supporting band under the name, Albert Ammons and The Rhythm Kings. Their songs, Swanee River Boogie and ‘Boogie Woogie Stomp’ had success and got played by many other jazz bands during the late-1930s. Following this success, Ammons moved to New York City, where he teamed up with Pete Johnson. They performed and got often joined by Benny Goodman and his clarinet. Just as Meade ‘Lux’ Lewis, Ammons was selected to perform at the ‘From Spirituals to Swing’ concert. What set his success because weeks after the concert, he got approached by Alfred Lion, co-founder of Blue Note Records. He got signed for a couple of recordings where he got the support of Lewis.

Finally, we have Pete Johnson (born in 1904 as Kermit H. Johnson). Johnson was born in Missouri, Kansas City. He came from a poor background. His father deserted him at a very young age. Because of financial issues, his mother placed him in an orphanage when he was only three. He, however, ran away and started living back home. To contribute financially, he sought out work at a very young age. 

Johnson started his musical career as a drummer in 1922. He simultaneously learned to play the piano and, from 1926, he became a full-time pianist. His known work is mostly in cooperation with Big Joe Turner. His most-celebrated contribution is ‘Roll ‘em Pete’ (1938), with Johnson on the piano and Turner on the vocals. The song is credited to be one of the first rock-and-roll recordings made. Pete Johnson got also invited to perform at the ‘From Spirituals to Swing’ concert. Also for him, this was a game-changer.

Meade ‘Lux’ Lewis, Albert Ammons, and Pete Johnson would often perform boogie-woogie together. The setup would be three pianos, six hands – three right and three left. They caused the upswing of boogie-woogie during the swing era and elevated the genre.

Time OutTakes: A Peek Into The Studio With The Dave Brubeck Quartet

When author Philip Clark was researching for his biography Dave Brubeck: A Life in Time, he discovered previously unissued tapes from the recording sessions of Time Out in 1959. Time Out, a studio album by The Dave Brubeck Quartet, was the first jazz record to sell over one million copies. The recently released outtakes give us an idea of how the album came to life.

Dave Brubeck formed his first group in 1946. In 1951, composer and alto saxophonist Paul Desmond joined the current trio, creating the first quartet. Over the years, Desmond and Brubeck remained the only constants in the group. In 1956 drummer Joe Morello replaced Lloyd Davis, and in 1958 double bass player Eugene “The Senator” Wright joined the group replacing Norman Bates. They would form The Dave Brubeck Quartet for the next decade. Time Out, recorded in 1959, features these musicians.

Starting in 1955, The American State Department saw the potential of jazz music as propaganda for the American way of life during the Cold War. They would send their most acclaimed jazz musicians, including pianist Dave Brubeck, to countries that recently became independent. These so-called Jazz Ambassadors would promote the western way of life via jazz music. Brubeck, fascinated about folkloric rhythms, picked up inspiration for his compositions while traveling around. In, for example, his composition Blue Rondo à la Turk he got inspired by rhythms played by Turkish street musicians.

The ensemble became known for its use of unusual rhythms. In the jazz standard Take Five, composed by Paul Desmond, the uncommon time signature 5/4 was used. It was the first jazz composition using another signature other than the standard 4/4 or 3/4 times. The song became a widely acknowledged jazz classic and one of the best-selling jazz singles of all time.

With the release of Time OutTakes on the family label Brubeck Editions, we can peek into the studio and have a look at how the album came to life. Apart from alternate takes on Take Five and Blue Rondo à la Turk on the A-side, we get some newly issued materials on the B-side.

The outtakes give us a look into the creation of this iconic album. You can ask yourself: “What if the record label decided to release a different version of the song?”. Song details that fans are so familiar with today could have looked different.

“It’s this outtake of “Take Five” that provides the most revealing insights into the quartet’s humility and clear-eyed approach to making the adjustments that would best serve each tune and the album’s aesthetic as a whole.”

Matt Silver (Review for WRTI Radio)

The Album That Documented Ethio-Jazz: Mulatu Of Ethiopia

Ethiopian jazz musician and composer Mulatu Astatke had one important goal. He got inspired by jazz music and wanted to promote and actively use Ethiopian music in his jazz compositions. “The Nigerian and Ghanaian people living in London, they were very active in promoting it [their local music] so, I decided to start working more on our Ethiopian music.” he said, referring to his time in London during the 1950s. And so he did. Mulatu Astatke focused on fusing the Ethiopian 5 note scales against the 12 note scales of jazz. He created a different sound without losing the subtlety of both genres. The new sound got documented as Ethio-jazz, and Mulatu Astatke was its father.

Mulatu Astatke is the inventor of Ethio-jazz. The album Mulatu Of Ethiopia, recorded and released in 1972, is a well-documented proof of that. As a multi-instrumentalist, focussing mainly on percussion and the vibraphone, he brings moody rhythmical patterns influenced by jazz, funk, Latin and African music.

Mulatu Astatke got inspired by jazz music in the fifties while studying music in London. He continued his passion and, in 1958, he moved to the United States where he enrolled as the first African at the Berklee College of Music in Boston (whose alumni include vibraphonist Gary Burton and icon Quincy Jones). There he mastered the technical aspects of jazz music as a vibraphonist, and he learned how to arrange music as a composer.

After graduating, halfway through the sixties, he moved back to Ethiopia and introduced his people to the new sound. At first, his music was received with mistrust. Ethiopians, who have a history of occupation by European countries (the so-called “scramble for Africa”), tried to avoid cultural contamination of any form. Eventually, Mulatu Astatke convinced the people and, more musicians picked up the sound.

Living back in Ethiopia, Mulatu Astatke kept working in New York. The New York jazz scene compelled him, so he traveled between both cities regularly for years. In New York, he formed his Ethiopian Quintet. The group is an ensemble of Ethiopian, Latin, and African-American musicians. “There just weren’t many Ethiopian musicians in America 50 years ago,” he explained. The group would mainly play Latin jazz and western jazz. Mulatu Astatke explains during an interview with the founder of Strut records, Quinton Scott, that he noticed a strong connection between Latin and African music when he was visiting Cuba.

“New York in 1966 was a very interesting time. I was there at the same time as Hugh Masekela from South Africa and Fela Kuti from Nigeria. In our own different ways, we were all working to put Africa into the modern concept of jazz music”

Mulatu Astatke (interview by Quinton Scott)

His musical career matured during his time in New York. During the second half of the sixties, he spent time with other musicians who fused jazz with African music. Amongst them the South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela and the Nigerian multi-instrumentalist Fela Kuti (known from Africa ’70).

In New York, Mulatu Astatke recorded albums where different cultures are mixed. Including two volumes named Afro-Latin Soul (1966). These albums documented Astatke’s new-found directions for the first time.

Both albums got recorded before Mulatu Astatke began to develop his sound further. After their releases, he infused more native sounds into his compositions and, he started to experiment with seventies funk. In 1972, he recorded and released the album Mulatu of Ethiopia. The album became a landmark for African music and the first representation of Ethio-jazz.

When a coup d’état established Ethiopia as a communist state in 1974, the country’s culture collapsed. Ethio-jazz was considered a western product and got censored. Musicians left the country, and for one generation, Mulatu Astatke’s sound disappeared. In 1991 Ethiopia became a democracy, and Ethio-jazz went through a revival. Producers started to collect the old recordings and would supplement the archives by making new ones. The collected music got released under the name Éthiopiques and, the fourth volume focusses on Astatke’s work (Éthiopiques 4: Ethio Jazz & Musique Instrumentale 1969-1974). The popularity grew and, by the start of the new millennial, Ethio-jazz got known worldwide.

The album was never officially reissued and became hard to find. Today, you would pay three-digit sums for an original of good quality. In 2017, Strut Records decided to reissue the album officially for the first time on vinyl (although there is an unofficial 2003 reissue in circulation).

The vinyl reissue includes three discs: the original stereo release, the pre-mix mono master recordings, and unissued session outtakes.

The outtakes give a peek of what was going on in the studio. These behind-the-scenes recordings are a part of history. They give us an idea of how the album came to life and consequently how Ethio-jazz was created. In these outtakes, instruments would often be rearranged, causing some takes to be more focussed on percussion and others on wind instruments. You can hear Mulatu Astatke position himself as bandleader and arranger.

John Coltrane’s Blue World

By 1964 saxophonist John Coltrane was one of the leading figures in jazz music. Mainly, thanks to his release of Giant Steps in 1960. Officially, he recorded and released two albums that year: the often-overlooked album Crescent, and the well-known masterpiece A Love Supreme. With the recent release of his recording Blue World, we can add a third “album” to the list.

Blue World, recorded in the Rudy Van Gelder Studio on June 24 (1964), is a composition for the movie: Le Chat Dans Le Sac (Gilles Groulx, 1964). The soundtrack was fully composed by John Coltrane. For the recording, he invited his classic 1960s quartet featuring McCoy Tyner on the piano, Jimmy Garrison on the bass, and Elvin Jones behind the drums. It was also with these musicians that he recorded Crescent (April/June 1964) and A Love Supreme (December 1964).

For every admirer of the saxophonist, composer, and bandleader, this release is very welcome. It gives another insight into the confidence Coltrane and his band had that year.

The album features two alternate takes on the song “Naima“, a ballad he composed for his wife Juanita Naima Grubbs (married 1955-66) in 1959 and which was originally released on the album Giant Steps. Also notable are the three takes on his composition “Village Blues“, a song that was originally released on the studio album Coltrane Jazz with Steve Davis on the bass. The Blue World recordings would feature Jimmy Garrison who replaced Steve Davis in 1961.

After Le Chat Dans Le Sac was put online for streaming, the search for the original recording tapes began. They were stored in the archives of the National Film Board of Canada. After discovering and clearing out the legal constraints, the music was released to the public in 2019.

Naima – John Coltrane Quartet – Belgium 1965