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Blue Note: A Story Of Modern Jazz

21 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

"It must schwing!" was the motto of Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff, two German Jewish immigrants who in 1939 set up Blue Note Records, the jazz label that was home to such greats as Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, Thelonious Monk, Art Blakey, Dexter Gordon and Sonny Rollins. Blue Note, the most successful movie ever made about jazz, is a testimony to the passion and vision of these two men and certainly swings like the propulsive sounds that made their label so famous.


The film incorporates gobs of classic Blue Note music -- the label's roster included just about every viable figure in modern jazz -- along with live footage both vintage and more modern, scads of black-and-white still photos, interviews (Herbie Hancock, Max Roach and any number of behind-the-scenes folk), anecdotes and more. -- Creative Loafing/Tampa, Eric Snider, October 1, 2008<br \><br \>"The film is packed with performances and interviews from many jazz legends and jazz lovers, a true testament to the legacy of Blue Note, with an acknowledgment of the label's rebirth and its quest to continue the work that Lion and Wolff started almost 70 years ago.." --<br \><br \>...this was a film I could not stop watching once it started. Director Julian Benedikt did a masterful job of interweaving oral history, first-hand accounts of the way the label worked, performance clips, and both still photos and film of the label's founders. What emerges from this kaleidoscopic view is essentially the truth: that Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff initiated the label in response to a personal vision and somehow, stubbornly, maintained that vision until the jazz world collapsed. -- Fanfare Magazine, Lynn Rene Bayley, June 2008<br \><br \>Although that might sound like something straight out of a hipster's Aesop's Fables or, maybe, Steve Allen's 'Bebop's Fables', the story of Blue Note Records is a real-life, triumphant tale recounted with narrative skill in an invaluable documentary...Using rare archival footage, classic Blue Note recordings, still photographs and the recollections of musicians, critics and other observers, 'Blue Note-A Story of Modern Jazz' colorfully recounts the story of the label and its prime movers, Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff, the Romulus and Remus of the jazz recording business. -- Hartford Courant, Owen McNally, August 2008<br \><br \>Ask mountain climbers about peaks, and they start with Everest. Ask jazz fans about record labels, and it's Blue Note. Founded in 1939 by Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff, a pair of Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, Blue Note set an unmatched standard for consistent quality, innovation, and devotion to jazz.

There's nothing quite like that unmistakable Blue Note sound - crisp, solid, densely propulsive. Lion and Wolff recorded everything from trad and boogie-woogie to avant-garde, but its musical home was hard bop - jazz at its most muscularly swinging. "Even in the ballads," bassist Ron Carter says in the 1997 documentary "Blue Note: A Story of Modern Jazz," "there was some swing going on." (Or as Lion and Wolff would say in their accented English, "schwing.") There's also nothing quite like the look of Blue Note albums. Wolff was a gifted photographer, and the pictures he took of Blue Note recording sessions are classics. Art director Reid Miles did things with layout, typeface, and Wolff's photos that were every bit as innovative as the music.

Directed by Julian Benedikt, the film concentrates on the label's glory days, the '40s, '50s, and early '60s. (Lion and Wolff sold the company, which is still in operation, in 1965.) There's a wealth of archival footage - much of it jaw-droppingly good - from a wide range of sources, as well as numerous interviews with Blue Note artists and fans. An unexpected treat for jazz cognoscenti is getting to see Lorraine Gordon, Lion's first wife and the proprietor of the Village Vanguard, pick up a phone during an interview and take a reservation for that night's show.

After a fairly chronological start, Benedikt takes an impressionistic approach, which may make the documentary hard going for the uninitiated. Conversely, devotees will be dismayed by the amount of time spent on fans (Kareem Abdu, June 2008, Glenn Astarita

The performances are, predictably, wonderful: Besides vintage performance footage (again, mostly from Europe), there is also quite a bit from a 1985 celebration of Blue Note featuring Freddie Hubbard and others-good stuff. --Mix, Blair's DVD Watch, July 2008

This artwork and selected concert footage is used intelligently and appropriately, making Blue Note: A Story of Modern Jazz an enjoyable and informative documentary on jazz., Micheal C. Bailey

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Various
  • Directors: Julian Benedikt
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Color, Dolby, DTS Surround Sound, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: Dutch (Unknown), English (Unknown), French (Unknown)
  • Subtitles: German, English, French
  • Dubbed: German, French, Spanish
  • Region: All Regions
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: EuroArts
  • DVD Release Date: February 26, 2008
  • Run Time: 91 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0012K53U4
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #53,338 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 28 people found the following review helpful By C. Rotolo on March 17, 2003
Format: VHS Tape
Well, as a fan of jazz I simply never get tired of this film! This 1997 documentary covers all the bases - the background and perspective of Blue Note's founder, Alfred Lion, the recording session atmosphere, the enthusiasm and dedication of the musicians, Francis Wolff's photographs, Reid Miles' covers and Rudy Van Gelder's sound. If you own the Burns series, this film fills in some of the gaps and corrects some of the misconceptions perpetrated by that series' final few episodes, and it does so without all the constant cloying narration. The director does a masterful job of editing and sequencing the various segments to provide an expert and entertaining balance between interviews and performance footage and between coverage of the label's heyday and its contemporary influence. The performance footage for the most part is electrifying, including period clips of Art Blakey, Horace Silver and Thelonious Monk, the Town Hall concert of '85 (showcasing Freddie Hubbard's virtuosity), and Junko Onishi from '96. There is one b&w clip of a Sonny Rollins performance that is just mesmerizing to watch! (The only soft segment for me is a clip of Cassandra Wilson performing one of her tunes in a "smooth jazz" arrangement - ugh!) The interviews are in a variety of settings and include all the right folks such as Blue Note heroes Herbie Hancock and Horace Silver, session players Bob Cranshaw and Tommy Turrentine, industry figures Gil Melle and Michael Cuscuna, Alfred Lion's former wife Lorraine Gordon (interviewed while taking reservations at the Village Vanguard!)and his widow, Ruth Lion, plus several of Lion and Wolff's colleagues from Europe, who give a valuable perspective on the reception of jazz as high art.Read more ›
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34 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Dean R. Brierly on April 5, 2008
Format: DVD
When Julian Benedikt's documentary on the famous Blue Note record label aired as a two-part television special in 1997, it was cause for celebration among jazz fans, albeit tempered with a sense of frustration. The small, independent company, founded by German immigrants Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff in 1939, played a seminal role in the development of jazz from the postwar period through the late 1960s. Lion and Wolff privileged quality over all other considerations, and recorded artists when other labels wouldn't touch them. (Thelonious Monk is a prime example.) Such an enlightened and progressive corporate attitude would be unthinkable in today's bottom-line climate. Blue Note had a sound, a style and a look all its own. The label arguably reached its artistic peak in the late-50s to early 60s with its roster of powerhouse hard bop players as Hank Mobley, Jackie McLean, Art Blakey and dozens of others. If Benedikt had simply focused his camera on the surviving musicians and included generous amounts of archival concert footage, this could have been one of the greatest music documentaries ever. Unfortunately, his film goes off in a number of inexplicable directions that seriously compromise its impact. In a misguided attempt to give the film "relevance," Benedikt accords an inordinate amount of camera time to the likes of Carlos Santana, Taj Mahal, and DJ Smash. Their perspectives, while sincere, lack the kind of insight that the original artists, many of them happily still alive, could have provided.Read more ›
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Joe Owen VINE VOICE on October 8, 2000
Format: VHS Tape
This is quite an enjoyable video that explains the history of one of the most important recording labels in Jazz, Blue Note. From its founding in the 1930's to the late 1990's, this video showcases the founders of the label, to the legendary artists that recorded with the Blue Note label. Legendary performers include John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Theolonius Monk, Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter, just to name a few.
Personal views from the musicians themselves enhance this video and it is captivating to learn how these musicians got together in the studios and collaborated to make some of the best Jazz the world ever heard or will ever hear.
The music is highlighted taking the best of beebop, fusion and avant guarde and is evolved through time. Blue Note has evolved to Jazz's ever changing sphere of music, but its re-releases of classic recordings still (in my opinion) make it the best of the Jazz labels.
This video is highly recommended to all who enjoy the history of Jazz and want to learn something about the evolution of Jazz in the last 60 years.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By political idiot on November 5, 1999
Format: VHS Tape
This is an enjoyable film about the life and partnership of Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff of Blue Note records. Blue Note is my favorite jazz label and their story is heart warming. They deeply loved jazz --especially the bluesier stuff and they loved and respected the musicians. Many Blue Note artists appear in this ninty or so minute film along with the great music from this label. The only shortcomming is the lack of extended performances of some of the artists, but I guess then it would have been five hours long :-)
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