Sophie Huber’s film, though sanctioned by the jazz record label, is no hagiography, interviewing key players and adding fantastic rostrum pictures of the era
This damn-near immaculate music documentary by Swiss film-maker Sophie Huber pays tribute to Blue Note Records, the iconic label most associated with mid-20th-century bebop jazz. Co-founded in 1939 by German-Jewish immigrants Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff, Blue Note became a home for artists such as Thelonious Monk, Art Blakey, Horace Silver, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter (the last two are interviewed here). The label also issued key work by Miles Davis, Sidney Bechet and John Coltrane among others who largely recorded elsewhere.
Although clearly officially sanctioned by the label’s current owners (having been passed like a parcel among corporate overlords, Blue Note is now distributed by Decca) this doesn’t feel like a slick, bland exercise in self-promotion. Instead, Huber crafts a respectful, crisply told but depth-plumbing history of the label, drawing from original recordings, vintage audio of studio chatter, and talking heads interviews. Those elements alone would have made for a great radio show or podcast, but what makes this especially cinematic are the lashings of rostrum shots of Wolff’s candid black-and-white photographs, including many rare shots from the archive’s contact prints, as well as deserved attention given to graphic artist Reid Miles’s striking cover art, an essential contribution to the company’s image.