Blue Note's Connoisseur Series


Blue Note Records was the prime record company for jazz artists over the last forty years. The label was formed in 1939 by Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff and some of the best jazz music ever to be recorded was released by Blue Note. To pay tribute to the "second wave" of jazz that occurred during the 1960s, Blue Note has released its "Connoisseur’s Series." There are over 40 albums that are featured in the series including recordings by Horace Silver, Wayne Shorter, Grant Green and Lou Donaldson. The majority of the albums were recorded at Van Gelder Studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Rudy Van Gelder was the master producer/ sound editor behind a veritable behemoth of Blue Note recordings. All of the album include the original liner notes as well as pictures that were taken during the original recording sessions by Francis Wolff. Here are a few of the re-releases that make up the "Connoisseurs Series".

Freddie Redd-Shades of Redd

Freddie Redd was born in New York City in 1928 from a musical family. In 1946, Redd joined the US Army where he first learned the piano and was exposed to the world Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillepsie. After three years in the service, Redd returned to New York City and enrolled in the Greenwich House Music School . While at school, he realized that his self taught approach was not suitable for the classroom, so he dropped out and began a long career of playing in clubs across the United States and in Europe.

Shades of Redd is a re-release from his 1960-1 original album which was the follow-up to Redd’s versatile stint as composer/actor/pianist for the Off-Broadway production "The Connection". The play was a departure from regular productions of the time as the musicians were integral to the play and were featured on the stage. The opening tune of Shades of Redd is called The Thespian which has a direct connection to "The Connection" as it was the moniker that Redd adopted while working on the play.

Shades of Redd features Jackie McLean(saxophone), Tina Brooks (tenor saxophone), Paul Chambers(bass) and Louis Hayes(drums) and the re-release features two new songs- Melanie and an alternative take of Ole. The album is an excellent snapshot of Redd during the peak of his career. Redd was one the great bop pianists of the Post war era in which he abandoned the melodies of the Swing Era and assumed full blown improvisations. This was the musical approach that was to define jazz for years to come. Due to many drug and personal problems during his 45 year career, Redd rarely entered the recording studio. As a result Redd recordings are hard to come by, so Blue Note has done many a jazz fan a favor.

Bennie Green/Soul Stirrin’

Bennie Green was characteristic of the transition from Swing to Bop. As a youth, Green played trombone for the Earl Hines Orchestra. Earl Hines was one of the biggest innovators of the piano who, along with Louis Armstrong, kept many a foot tappin’ during the World War Two years.

When World War came to a close in 1945, American society began to change. During the war, women had their first taste of equal rights, technology was beginning its exponential boom and affluence was reaching Americans all across the nation. Just as society was changing, so was the face of modern jazz. The Big Bands were slowly dissipating and being replaced by smaller, solo orientated quartets, quintets, and sextets.

Bennie Green was on of many musicians who ushered in this new era with great musical enthusiasm. After the war, Green teamed up with Earl Hines once gain, but in a much smaller outfit. Over the years, Green recorded a many albums, serving as the bandleader for the Blue Note, Decca and Prestige labels.

Soul Stirrin was recorded in 1958 with Gene Ammons(Tenor saxophone), Billy Root(tenor saxophone), Sonny Clark(piano), Ike Issacs(bass) and Elvin Jones(drums). The album features some vocal experimentation by Bennie Green and composer Babs Gonzalez.

Baby Face Willette/ Face To Face

Baby Face Willette sounds like he should be a Chicago gun toting’ gangster. Quite the contrary as he was a New Orleans born organ madmen. The name is appropriate for Willette as he resembled an eager listening youth more than a seasoned virtuoso. Willette did not inadvertently happen upon the organ for he first started playing the piano when he was 4 years old. Both of Willette’s parents were pianists and he was repeatedly exposed to wonderful sounds of the organ in his father’s church.

In the early stages of his career, Willette focussed primarily on playing the piano. He played with countless gospel and R&B bands that constantly toured across the North American content. Willette was the 1960s version of a modern day touring band: playing a different gig everynight, always on the road and getting paid minimally. It wasn’t until a stop in Chicago that Willette switched over to the organ and took his music in the new direction of jazz.

Face to Face was recorded in 1961 with an impressive lineup of Grant Green on guitar, Ben Dixon on drums and Fred Jackson on tenor saxophone. Face to Face was recorded two days after Grant Green’s first album, Grant’s Last Stand, which was the beginning of Green’s short-lived, yet brilliant career. Green laid down the foundation that so many other guitarists that followed: Melvin Sparks, Wes Montgomery and George Benson.

Fred Jackson/Hootin’ and Tootin’

One of the best things to come out of baby Face Willette’s album was the discovery of tenor saxophonist Fred Jackson. Throughout Face to Face, Jackson amazed both critics and fans with his work and it was through these sessions with Baby Face Willette that led to Fred Jackson to recording solo albums.

Hootin’ and Tootin’ was Jackson’s second album and was recorded during the Spring of 1962. The album features the slick organ work of Earl Van Dyke, the upbeat guitar of Willie Jones and Wilbert Hogan on drums. The 1997 re-release consists of the 1962 album in its entirety but it also has seven additional tunes from the original sessions. The liner notes states that the extra tunes were not released due to the poor sales of Hootin’ and Tootin’. For some reason, the blues-jazz-funk of Hootin and Tootin was not appealing to the ears of 1962. The times have changed.


Horace Parlan Quintet/On The Spur Of The Moment

When Horace Parlan was a child, the thoughts of becoming a talented pianist were nothing but a pipe dream. This is due to his bout with polio which partially crippled his right hand. In the end, it was his handicap that contributed to his unique piano style. His left hand would maintain the chords of his hand while his right hand was used for intense rhythmic sounds. Parlan has had a long career in which he has played with Charles Mingus, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Booker Ervin. On The Spur Of The Moment is one of Parlan’s earlier recorded efforts that combines a little blues, R&B and jazz.

The rhythm section on On The Spur Of The Moment consists of George Tucker(bass) and Al Harewood (drums). The two sound magnificent with Parlan for the three played with Lou Donaldson during the two years prior the recording On The Spur Of The Moment. To complement the musical integrity of the rhythm section, Parlan recruited the horn blowing brothers Stanley and Tommy Turrentine. In addition to spending their entire childhood together, Stanley(saxophone)and Tommy(Trumpet) also played in may professional jazz outfits together. Horace Parlan might as well been a Turrentine himself. The three grew up together in Pittsburgh and played together quite bit during the embryonic stages of their careers.

Freddie Hubbard/ Goin’ Up

The lineup of this album were the youthful all-stars of the Blue Note heyday. Freddie Hubbard was 22, McCoy Tyner was 21, and Paul Chambers was 25. The "old timers" were Philly Joe Jones and Hank Mobley who were in their late 30s. Although this band was dominated by youth, their skills were of a veteran quality. Chambers and Jones played with Miles Davis for five years, McCoy Tyner with John Coltrane and Mobley had made his mark with Horace Silver and Art Blakely.

As for trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, he was only 22 when he recorded Going Up which was his second album as group leader. Prior to this album Hubbard spent time touring in the bands of Quincy Jones, J.J. Johnson and Sonny Rollins. Going Up features two compositions by non contributing trumpeter Kenny Dorham, two pieces by hank Mobley, and tune by another non-contributing musician, saxophonist Billy Smith. The only song on Going Up penned by Freddie Hubbard was the closing "Blues for Brenda" which was written for his recent bride.

Bobby Hutcherson/Stick-Up!

The Vibes are one of the more interesting sounds jazz music. They have an interesting pitch and resonance that makes them different than any of the other instruments. It also seems that vibes players have a harder time reaching the public spotlight than other types of musicians. There have been some incredible amount of vibraphonists who have made the great such as Lionel Hampton, Carl Tjader, Milt Jackson and Roy Ayers but their ranks have been disproportionate to other instrumentalists.

One of the other great vibraphonists is Bobbie Hutcherson who was virtually Blue Notes main vibes man during the 1960s. Whenever there was the need for the vibes on a recording, Hutcherson was brought in to bang away. His sounds can be heard on assorted musicians albums such as McCoy Tyner, Grant Green, and Herbie Hancock. Stick -Up! was his fifth album and it is an excellent snapshot of Hutcherson at the peak of his career. The album features Joe Henderson(saxophone), McCoy Tyner (piano), Herbie Lewis( bass) and Billy Higgins(drums) and consists of all Hutcherson’s swinging originals with the exception of one Ornette Coleman tune.