Alfred Lion was the founder of Blue Note Records, and under his and Francis Wolff's leadership, Blue Note was for many years the top independent jazz label. Lion first discovered jazz when he saw Sam Wooding's Orchestra in Berlin in the '20s. He emigrated to the United States in 1938 and inaugurated Blue Note with an Albert Ammons-Meade Lux Lewis session on January 6, 1939. Wolff joined the label that October and would share artistic control of Blue Note with Lion until his death in 1971. At first, Blue Note concentrated on small-group swing, Dixieland, and boogie-woogie. However, in 1946, Lion and Wolff took time off to change the focus of the label. Inspired by Ike Quebec, who pointed out some of the greats of modern jazz, Lion soon signed up Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell. Although Blue Note had always been impressive, the company really came into its own in the mid-'50s when it started recording hard bop extensively, including Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, Horace Silver, and the up-and-coming organist Jimmy Smith. Lion believed that each record should be special, so rehearsal often took place before sessions, an unheard-of practice for a small jazz label. The 1955-1967 period is often thought of as Blue Note's prime, when they had such major artists as Lee Morgan, Donald Byrd, Kenny Dorham, Curtis Fuller, Wayne Shorter, Hank Mobley, Jackie McLean, and many others recording gems on a regular basis. In addition to hard bop and soul-jazz, Lion was open to the sound of the avant-garde, and Cecil Taylor and Ornette Coleman recorded major sets for the label. In 1966, Lion and Wolff sold Blue Note to Liberty, and decline soon set in. Lion retired altogether in 1967, but fortunately, he lived long enough to see Blue Note revived in the mid-'80s. ~ Scott Yanow, Rovi

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