The outside packaging reminds us that the founders of Blue Note Records, German immigrants Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff said: "It must schwing." This is back in 1939, where the proprietors became synonymous with the development of modern jazz during the record label’s fruitful existence that also witnessed difficult times along the way. Featuring vintage clips of drummers Art Blakey, Tony Williams and trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, this flick also contains quite a few interviews with Lion’s wife Ruth, bassist Bob Cranshaw, basketball great and jazz advocate Kareem Abdul-Jabbar among many others.
In its infancy, Lion recorded stride pianist great Albert Ammons, and had a hit via clarinet great Sidney Bechet’s rendition of "Summertime." Hubbard iterates that the label was largely about affording the musicians a chance to do something different, to complement a mindset that wasn’t solely geared to sales. With that said, these practices go against the grain in today’s world. While Cranshaw says that, the musicians needed to have a sense of direction and a "feel-good" vibe.
In sum, this film provides a soup-to-nuts chronology of the record label’s existence up until the late ‘80s when it was revived under the leadership of Bruce Lundvall. They trace the steps leading to the engagement of legendary engineer Rudy Van Gelder amid slow-motion footage of saxophonist Dexter Gordon, along with discussions and pictures of the highly artistic and appealing album cover designs. On the flip side, music performance footage is skimpy and the program is a bit on the chatty side. However, the movie looms as a rather comprehensive snapshot of the record label’s storied existence.
Running time: 91 minutes.