Thursday, March 22, 2012

March 22: Alfred Lion

All across the entire history of recorded music, there are a number of massive misconceptions that have in many ways been created by the mass media.  Whether it is a misleading generalization of a certain style of music or and idea that some aspects of music are unattainable by certain people, one can make a rather substantial list of such occurrences.  However, it can easily be argued that amongst all of these stereotypes and assumptions, few have been more persistently incorrect than the idea that "adults" cannot grasp what is "hip" or "cool" within the world of music.  In fact, as one goes back in the decades of recorded music, the reality becomes clear that it was often ONLY those who were somewhat advanced in age that were willing to take chances on more "cutting edge" or "different" musical styles.  Looking at the owners, founders, and heads of many of the most important music labels for nearly half a century, they were all in such a category, and few individuals were more important in the progression of music, as well as an example of this truth than the great Alfred Lion.  After emigrating to the United States from Germany in the late 1930's, legend says that Lion attended a concert at Carnegie Hall, and it was following this performance that he decided to form his own record label; and this move would forever change the course of music history.

Truth be told, it was less than one year after Lion moved to the United States that he and Max Margulis founded their new record label, and to this day, there are few labels that command as much reverence and respect as their own Blue Note Records.  The duo quickly started recording a number of different acts, and later that same year, they achieved their first "hit" in the form of Sidney Bechet's take on the song, "Summertime."  Though most people are unaware, this single was also significant due to the fact that it was issued on a twelve-inch 78 record, as opposed to the ten-inch version that was "standard" at the time.  Following World War II, Blue Note Records began to delve deep into the world of jazz music, attempting to seek out the most original and outright talented performs all across the country.  This is what began the relationship between the label and Thelonius Monk, and many of his greatest works were done during these early sessions.  However, the label was struggling to stay afloat until they happened across a young performer named Jimmy Smith.  In reality, it was his recordings that kept Blue Note Records in business for a number of years, before the label became synonymous with the "hard bop" style of jazz.  As soon as they "discovered" this sound, Blue Note Records quickly became the home to the style, and few epitomized this sound better for the label than the great Art Blakey.

It was also during this period that Alfred Lion brought in an engineer named Rudy Van Gelder, and his work can be found on many of the most important jazz records in history.  However, Blue Note Records also make great forays into the "avant" school of jazz music, and artists like Andrew Hill and Cecil Taylor both cut a number of phenomenal sides and albums for the label.  Throughout the latter half of the 1950's and for a majority of the 1960's, there was not another label anywhere on the planet that could hold its own against Blue Note within the world of jazz music, and even all these decades later, the name alone retains its almost mythical status.  At the same time, Alfred Lion became known for some of his rather unique approaches to the recording process, one of which is almost seen as "blasphemous" within the world of jazz.  Making it known that he wanted each session to have a unique power and tone, Lion would often encourage or demand the acts rehearse the pieces before the actual recording took place, and while some may see it as "defeating" the "purpose" of jazz, the reality remains that the recordings he created are far and away some of the most impressive and enduring in jazz history.  Though in modern times he may have been considered "too old" to understand what was worth recording, there is no arguing that in his day, there was not another individual as vital to the progression of music than the great Alfred Lion.

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