Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Start of Blue Note Records - 1939

A Port of Harlem Jazzmen BLUE NOTE enters my collection.
Hans Koert

The Start of Blue Note Records - 1939 (English) Een vroege Blue Noteplaat - 1939 (Nederlands)

As a record collector you might run into some special record labels, you should have in your collection, because it has a story to tell. I wrote in a previous blog about the British "V-Disc" (Services Library) and about the Columbia Potato-head record label. Half a year ago I found a Blue Note record I love to introduce to you and share its story. Well, most of you have heard about Blue Note as a prominent record label that still exists and still releases great jazz albums. If you collect 33rpm records I'm sure you will have some 1950s or 60s Blue Note's in your collection. But few people will know that Blue Note started to release 78rpm records in the late 1930s ......... and my record is one of those early 78rpm Blue Note records ............ Blue Note was founded in 1939 by Alfred Lion
WEARY LAND BLUES - IMPROVISATION BY J. C. HIGINBOTHAM QUINTET: J.C.Higginbotham (trombone), Albert Ammons piano, Teddy Bunn guitar, Johnny Williams bass, Sidney Catlett drums. Matrix: GM513A-5. Recorded in New York City the 7th of April, 1939 and released as Blue Note BN 501. (Hans Koert collection)

Alfred Lion was born in Berlin April 1908, where he heard jazz music played for the very first time by the Sam Wooding band. This US band was a regular player of Small's Paradise in New York City during the first half of the 1920s when a Russian producer invited the group for a tour to Europe to play in a music program entitled Chocolate Kiddies. Mind that in those day, the mid twenties, "jazz music" was a rare heard music style in this part of the world.
Two members of Sam Wooding band before a 1925 bill board ( source:
The Sam Wooding band, featured great names like Herb Flemming, Tommy Ladnier, Gene Sedric, who became known as a reed player in Fats Waller's Rhythm, and Garvin Bushell, impressed the young Alfred Lion. One day he wanted to visit the local roller-skating rink when he learned that it was closed due to a concert by the Sam Wooding band ......... He joined the concert and became fascinated by its music. During the 1930s Alfred lived with his family in Chile, where he had several jobs, like being a fisherman for lobsters.
Albert Ammons (1907-1949)
Late 1930s Alfred Lion moved to New York City, where he joined the John Hammond's Spiritual to Swing concert, December 1938 in Carnegie Hall. Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson and
Meade Lux Lewis performed during this concert their latest fast music style, based on the blues, with a walking bass, which would become known as boogie-woogie. This music style would become a hype ..... This concert inspired Alfred Lion to found his own record label, Blue Note and he invited both Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis for a recording session, two weeks after their concert in Carnegie Hall. On a sunny day the 6th of January, 1939, Alfred Lion had, rented a studio and had bought enough booze for the musicians to make the recordings a success ........ As Alfred wasn't an experienced producer at that time, mind it was his first recording session, he gave them a free hand to play whatever they liked. One of the tunes, played by Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis was a long improvisation, entitled The Blues, which was eventually released in four parts on two 12-inch 78rpm records. That day more then a dozen tunes were recorded and released for Blue Note. Although Alfred had intended to give his records a blue-yellow label, these first albums got black and pink coloured labels - a printing error.
The Port of Harlem Jazzmen ( f.l.t.r: J.C. Higginbotham - Sidney Bechet - Sidney Catlett - Johnny Williams and Frank Newton. Teddy Bunn is in front) ( source: Mosaic Records)
Three month later, on the 7th of April 1939 Alfred Lion rented the studio again and invited a group of six musicians, which he named The Port of Harlem Jazzmen. The six men were: Frank Newton on trumpet, J.C. Higgingbotham on trombone, Albert Ammons at the piano, Teddy Bunn at the guitar, Johnny Williams on double bass and Sidney Catlett on drums. They recorded five tunes that day and two titles can be found on "my" Blue Note record BN 501. It was Blue Note's first "regular " 10-inch (25 cm) record with a blue-yellow Blue Note label, which would be replaced later for its regular blue-white label. This early Blue Note record got a honoured place in my collection. Enjoy the tune: Daybreak Blues by the Frank Newton Quintet.
Although Alfred Lion labelled the band as The Port of Harlem Jazzmen, its band name is not on its first record for Blue Note. The band names used are labelled as: Improvisation by Frank Newton Quintet and the reverse as Improvisation by J.C. Higginbotham Quintet. Other recordings by these bands seem to be released as Port of Harlem Jazzmen.

DAYBREAK BLUES - IMPROVISATION BY FRANK NEWTON QUINTET: Frank Newton(trompet), Albert Ammons piano, Teddy Bunn guitar, Johnny Williams bass, Sidney Catlett drums. Matrix: GM512A-6. Recorded in New York City the 7th of April, 1939 and released as Blue Note BN 501.
(Hans Koert collection)
Frank Newton had won his spurs when he was recorded by Blue Note. In the 1920s he played at the famous Cecil Scott Bright Boys Victor recording - tunes that should be in each jazz collection. During the 1930s he played in several swing bands, like the orchestras of Benny Carter, Mezz Mezzrow, Teddy Wilson, Teddy Hill and Charlie Barnett, before he recorded in 1937 under his own name with the Uptown Serenaders, before he joined the January 1939 Alfred Lion recording session. J.C. Higginbotham started his career early 1920s in Wes Helvey's band and recorded for the first time with King Oliver. He was part of Luis Russell's band, he played with the Little Chocolate Dandies of Rex Stewart; he can be heard in Fats Waller's Rhythm; joined the bands of Louis Armstrong, Henry Red Allen and Jelly Roll Morton. In 1930 he recorded with his own band, the Six Hicks. Both Blue Note sextets on my record have Teddy Bunn at the guitar. He became known as a member of the Spirits of Rhythm.
This early Blue Note record also fascinates me, because it must have been part of the Peter Tanner collection. On the label his name was written. During the 1990s I had intense contact with him about the Hit of the Week-Durium project.
Hans Koert

Although I'm not a 78rpm record collector to the letter, I love to have certain record labels in my collection, because they tell a story. I found an early Blue Note record, released as the first 10-inch by Alfred Lion, the founder of the Blue Note in 1939. Keep Swinging loves to point you to his kind of special record labels. If you don't want to miss any contribution, follow Keep Swinging at Twitter (#twitter) or ask for its free newsletter. (

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